The First Minister, who was challenged at Holyrood by Scottish Tories leader Douglas Ross on changes around gender recognition in Scotland, said she wanted to make certain trans people were not further stigmatised.
The clash at First Minister’s Questions comes after a nine-page letter from Reem Alaslem, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, expressed fears the proposals contained in the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill could be abused by predatory men.
The Bill aims to make it easier for transgender people to obtain a gender recognition certificate (GRC) by lowering the age limit to 16, decreasing the time an applicant must live in their acquired gender and removing the gender dysphoria diagnosis requirement.
However, Ms Sturgeon, who confirmed social justice secretary Shona Robison would meet with Ms Alsalem next week, said the concerns were “not well founded”.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the Bill should be paused.
He said: “It is far better that this Parliament and this Government makes good laws rather than quick laws. We want to make legislation with full and proper consideration of all of the implications, but for some reason the Government seems determined to rush ahead at full speed to put this Bill through this month that experts and women’s groups say could have potentially damaging consequences.”
Ms Sturgeon said: “I take the safety of women and girls very seriously, perhaps more seriously than any other issue, as I’m sure all of us do. I spent much of my adult life and indeed all of my years in public office seeking to do things, along with others, that help advance the rights of women and girls and to ensure better protection for women and girls against male violence.”
The First Minister continued: “Regardless of any individual’s view on this legislation, one thing that cannot be said with any credibility or basis in fact is that it is being rushed through this Parliament.
“This process, through consultation, introduction of draft legislation, introduction of legislation, the formal parliamentary scrutiny, it’s been under way now for, I think, a period of six years.
“This has not been rushed, this has been done carefully, and rightly so.”
In a letter to the UK Government, Ms Alsalem said she shared the view the change could “open the door” for violent men to abuse the system in order to attack women, adding it “presents potential risks to the safety of women in all their diversity (including women born female, transwomen, and gender non-conforming women)”.
She did, however, welcome the spirit of the changes, which the letter said would bring existing legislation “more in line with international standards”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “It is because we respect that person and the role they hold that we are treating these concerns so seriously.”
The defence was issued after Ms Sturgeon was heckled over her Government’s plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act. Speaking at an event on violence against women and girls hosted by Zero Tolerance Scotland on Tuesday, one attendee shouted “shame on you” at Ms Sturgeon as she spoke