Reem Asalem (C: Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

UN expert says violent males could “abuse” gender-changing laws 

Serious concerns have been raised about the Scottish government’s proposals to reform gender recognition laws to make it easier to legally change sex without any medical treatment or surgery.

A UN expert says that “violent males who identify as men” could “abuse the process of acquiring a gender certificate and the rights that are associated with it” – adding that “this presents potential risks to the safety of women in all their diversity.”

The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, which has been Introduced to the Scottish Parliament by the Scottish Government, seeks to amend the Gender Recognition Act 2004 of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, making it easier for people to legally change their gender.

Under the terms of the proposed new legislation, those wishing to change their gender legally will no longer be required to have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria to apply for a gender recognition certificate.

The proposed amendment will also allow a reduction of the period that trans people seeking legal recognition of their gender must have lived in their acquired gender from two years to three months. The requirement that a Gender Recognition Panel consider and be satisfied by the required evidence will also be removed under current proposals.

Subsequently, the applicant would obtain a gender recognition certificate that certifies them legally in that gender. It will also lower the age limit from 18 to 16 years old.

Transgender activists argue that the current process to legally change one’s gender is too complicated and invasive. However, campaigners have long expressed worries about the gender recognition reforms – with a United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women and girls now warning the Scottish Parliament that such reforms could allow violent males to “abuse” the system.

Highlighting the potential increase in safety risks stemming from the legislation in a letter to the UK government, rapporteur Reem Alsalem expressed concern that such legislative change would potentially open the door for violent males who identify as men to “abuse the process” of acquiring a gender certificate and the rights that are associated with it. 

The UN expert noted: “For persons identifying as women, the certificate would create a legal presumption that they have the right to access women-only services, across Scotland. There are a variety of services that attend to anyone identifying as a woman, i.e. they consist of services and spaces for women born female, transwomen and other gender non-conforming women offered either in parallel or simultaneously and include shelters and support groups for victims of violence,” she added.

“However, I share the concern that such proposals would potentially open the door for violent males who identify as men to abuse the process of acquiring a gender certificate and the rights that are associated with it. This presents potential risks to the safety of women in all their diversity (including women born female, transwomen, and gender non-conforming women).

Alsalem went on to caution that proposals “do not sufficiently take into consideration the specific needs of women and girls in all their diversity, particularly those at risk of male violence and those who have experienced male violence, as it does not provide for any safeguarding measures to ensure that the procedure is not, as far as can be reasonably assured, abused by sexual predators and other perpetrators of violence”.

She also urged that it is vital that service providers in Scotland “continue to be able to provide both single-sex and gender-based services, and funding must be ring-fenced for a certain proportion to be single sex, balancing the needs of the different demographics without placing them in conflict.”

Pointing out the logistical problems with the legislation, adding that a simplification of self-identification does not make the process “fairer or more efficient”: 

“Currently, the Scottish Government does not spell out how the Government will ensure a level of scrutiny for the applications made to acquire a gender recognition certificate under the new proposal. It is not unreasonable to expect the Government to spell out what level of scrutiny will continue in the procedure, or detail important aspects of it, including the specific steps the procedure entails and the conditions for refusing such applications in the law itself or at least in the explanatory notes of the concerned legislation. 

“Other governments that have adopted a self- identification procedure for the legal recognition of a gender identity have done so. Simplifying and fast-tracking the procedure does not necessarily make it fairer or more efficient”.

On Tuesday, the bill reached stage two proceedings, with MSPs approving an amendment which would mean the legislation would have no impact on the Equality Act. 

Throughout the legislative process, Scottish ministers have insisted the bill would not change the current exemptions for single-sex spaces, however the special rapporteur called for greater clarity. 

She urged the Scottish government to set aside “sufficient time” to consider the consequences of the reforms, adding: 

“In finalising this bill and for future legislation, the Scottish and the UK governments must also make sure that current and future amendments to laws that have an impact on women and children are in conformity with the UK’s international human rights obligations, particularly in relation to the prevention of violence and the provision of services for victims of such violence”.

The letter expressing worry follows the resignation of one Scottish Minister from Nicola Sturgeon’s government over the issue of gender reforms in late October.

Community safety minister Ash Regan quit as a matter of conscience over the Gender Reform Bill championed by First Minister Sturgeon shortly before a Stage 1 debate on the Bill. Ms Regan was one of 15 senior SNP signatories who expressed concern in a letter to Sturgeon, which urged her not to “rush” into “changing the definition of male and female”.

The letter also expressed deep concerns about the potential ramifications for women of allowing people to self-identify their sex. In her resignation letter, Ms Regan said she had “considered the issue of Gender Recognition Reform very carefully over some time” and had “concluded that my conscience will not allow me to vote with the government at the Stage 1 of the Bill this afternoon.”

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