THE UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women and girls has criticised the Scottish Government for not listening to female victims of violence during consultations for the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. 

Reem Alsalem also called on ministers to “complete a thorough assessment of all foreseeable consequences” before passing the legislation. 

She warned that MSPs had not been given “sufficient time” to explore many of the complexities of the consequences of changing the law

The Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which is currently working its way through Holyrood, had its last day in committee on Tuesday, with MSPs considering more than 100 amendments.

The legislation aims to reform the process by which trans people can obtain a gender recognition certificate.

Currently, they need a medical diagnosis and a two-year period of living as that gender.

However, the new Bill removes the need for medical assessment and allows someone to obtain a gender recognition certificate after six months.

Some critics of the law have raised concerns that the new legislation could have an impact on the single-sex exceptions in the Equality Act, and could potentially place women in danger from men who might abuse a self-identification system.

In her letter, Ms Alsalem said she shares 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.”

She adds: “This presents potential risks to the safety of women in all their diversity (including women born female, transwomen, and gender non-conforming women).”

Ms Alsalem goes on to say that it is “important to note that insistence on safeguarding and risk management protocols does not arise from the belief that transgender people represent a safeguarding threat.” 

“It is instead based on empirical evidence that demonstrates that the majority of sex offenders are male, and that persistent sex offenders will go to great lengths to gain access to those they wish to abuse,” she adds.

One of the examples of a single-sex exception given in the Equality Act is a domestic violence support units.

Ms Alsalem adds that avoiding “retraumatisation and revictimization because of patriarchal male violence against women in all their diversity, including women that are of the female sex, is essential for allowing survivors/victims to heal and live their lives to their fullest potential.”


The Rapporteur adds that she understands the concerns around the law as it currently stands, specifically the need for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, “even though it has not been considered a mental illness under the policy of the UK Government ince 2002 nor does the World Health Organization consider it as such.” 

“In addition, the process can be lengthy, and bureaucratic. These concerns and gaps in the process need to be addressed, as they violate international rights and standards.” 

However, she adds that “simplifying and fast-tracking the procedure does not necessarily make it fairer or more efficient.”

The letter also queries why non-binary people have been excluded from plans for reform.

Ms Alsalem says that these “are complex issues with very practical and real consequences for more than one protected group and the intersections between other protected groups and the wider society.” 

“I therefore strongly appeal to the Scottish Government to dedicate sufficient time to complete a thorough assessment of all foreseeable consequences of the proposed amendments and to ensure that its compatibility with related legislation, such as the Equality Act and other related legislation, is carefully elucidated to achieve legislative conformity.”

The Rapporteur commends the government for listening to the voices of transwomen, but says she is concerned that the “consultations for this proposal do not appear to have been sufficiently inclusive of other groups of women, most notably female victims of violence.” 

Scottish Conservative Equalities Spokesperson, Rachael Hamilton said the assessment proved that the fears over the planned reform were well-founded. 

She said: “This is just the latest criticism of the SNP’s deeply misguided plans.

“From the very start of this debate, the SNP have told women and girls that their valid concerns are imaginary and that these reforms will have no impact on their rights, safety or dignity.

“Yet this assessment from a United Nations expert proves yet again that women’s fears are well-founded.

“The UN’s expert on violence against women and girls has confirmed that the SNP’s plans lack crucial detail, fail to consider the needs of women and present ‘potential risks’ to their safety.

“I hope that the SNP will take this as a wake-up call and finally address the deeply-held concerns of women and girls over this shoddy and potentially harmful bill.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:“We have noted the letter from Ms Alsalem and we will respond in detail on the issues raised, many of which have been addressed by Parliament during stage 1 and stage 2 of the Bill.

“We have always been clear that the Bill does not conflict with our continued strong commitment to uphold the rights and protections that women and girls currently have under the 2010 Equality Act and we have accepted an amendment to put that position beyond doubt.

“There is overwhelming support for the principles of the Bill – which aligns with the stated position of the UN Human Rights Office that being trans is not an illness and trans people should be recognised legally ‘through a simple administrative process based on self-identification’.

“Over two-thirds of the Parliament and members of all five parties voted in favour at Stage 1.

"We have also noted the evidence given to the Equalities Committee in support of the Bill by the UN Independent Expert on Protection from Violence and Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.”