NICOLA Sturgeon has sought to allay fears that the Scottish Government's controversial gender reforms are damaging women's rights.

The First Minister said she understood some people had “sincerely held concerns”, and insisted the changes would not remove any legal protections women currently had. 

She also promised to invest £100m over the parliament to tackle domestic abuse and violence against women.

A protest against the perceived erosion of women’s rights last week attracted around 400 people to Holyrood, with the crowd booing mentions of the First Minister.

Many of those involved, who were branded transphobic by counter-protesters, oppose plans to allow people to legally change gender through self-declaration. 

Obtaining a gender recognition certificate currently requires a medical diagnosis and takes at least two years. 

The Scottish Government plans to remove the medical element and shorten the timescale to three to six months, relying on self-declaration in front of a notary public or a justice of the peace instead.

Opponents fear the move will see men who identify as women using single-sex spaces and services intended for natal women, and that some may abuse the system.

READ MORE: Sturgeon booed by Holyrood demo for 'ignoring women's rights'

At last week's demo, Marion Calder, of For Women Scotland, said such legislation was eroding the sense of what it meant to be a women.

She said the Government had chosen "to ignore biology and believes that gender has a higher value than sex, and we’re saying that’s not correct. Sex must count.”

Setting out her administration’s annual legislative statement to MSPs, Ms Sturgeon confirmed a Gender Recognition Reform Bill would be introduced this year.

She said: “I understand that some have sincerely held concerns about this legislation.

“It is therefore worth stressing what it will do - but also what it will not do.

“It will make the existing process of gender recognition less degrading, intrusive and traumatic.

“In other words, it will make life easier for one of the most stigmatized minorities in our society. I think that is something any Parliament should feel a responsibility to do.

“What it will not do is remove any of the legal protections that women currently have.

 “We should never forget that the biggest threats to women’s safety come - as has always been the case - from abusive and predatory men; from deep seated sexism and misogyny; and, in some parts of the world, from lawmakers intent on taking away basic freedoms and removing the rights of women to control our own bodies.

“That is why I can also confirm that in this Parliament we will invest £100 million to tackle domestic abuse and violence against women, and support the frontline organisations who help them.

“And we will take account of the recommendations of the Working Group on Misogyny and Criminal Justice, which is due to report next year.

“We will also take forward our ground-breaking Women’s Health Plan.”

Stonewall Scotland director Colin Macfarlane welcomed the Bill.

He said: “Trans people across Scotland have been waiting far too long for equality, and this vital change will simply make it easier for trans people to live their daily lives by having the right gender recorded on their birth certificate. 

“These reforms are long-awaited, with the process having gone through two public consultations over the last four years and leaving trans communities in limbo. 

“While we still have some concerns over both three-month periods of time proposed in the new process, we will continue to work with the Scottish Government and MSPs to ensure that this reform is the best it can be for trans communities in Scotland.”

However Ms Calder, who organised last week’s demo, said the First Minister was “giving away the word woman for £100m”, with much of the money going to organisations which already backed her reforms.

She said: “Redefinfing the word woman, allowing any male to change their birth certificate to female, is the ultimate sexism.”

Policy analysts MurrayBlackburnMackenzie added: "The consultation on the previous draft Bill raised serious questions that currently remain unanswered.

"These include a failure to address the interaction between self-declaration and the operation of single-sex exemptions under the Equality Act 2010, and a failure to define ‘acquired gender’, making it impossible for this to be demonstrated, or the system to be regulated.

"Other concerns include cross-border effects and the potential misuse of privacy provisions. Nor has the Scottish Government produced any evidence to support its view that the proposed changes would not have a negative impact on women and girls.

"To build consensus in this area, the Scottish Government needs to listen to and engage with the specific concerns raised by women and be open to working constructively during the legislative process.”