Nicola Sturgeon confirms gender recognition reform back on legislative agenda

Nicola Sturgeon has moved to allay women’s concerns about reform of the law on gender recognition, but confirmed her government would push ahead with the Bill.

The Scottish Government had paused the reform of the Gender Recognition Act in 2019 after protests by new grassroots women groups concerned about “self-identification” rather than a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

A new consultation was held and the delayed results were published last week – though no percentages were given for how many individual respondents supported the move, or were against it.

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Ms Sturgeon told MSPs on Tuesday the reform of the law would be back on the legislative agenda in the next year.

Nicola Sturgeon has said the Gender Recognition Act will be reformed this year.

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Women protest at Holyrood as Scottish Government confirms controversial gender r...

Revealing her Programme for Government, the First Minister said: “I can also confirm that in this first year of the Parliament, we will introduce the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

"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 stigmatised 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.”

In the Programme for Government document also published on Tuesday, the government said the Covid pandemic had delayed the reform of gender recognition.

It said transgender people “should not have to go through a degrading, traumatic and intrusive process to be legally recognised in their gender” and the Bill being brought forward includes the same reforms as in the previous draft legislation, including the removal of current medical requirements.

Applications would be made to the Registrar General for Scotland instead of the UK Gender Recognition Panel, with applicants making a statutory declaration they “have lived in the acquired gender for a minimum of three months” – a reduction from the current two years – and “that they intend to live permanently in their acquired gender”.

An application could then be determined by the Registrar General after a three-month reflection period.

Ms Sturgeon stressed that reforms to the GRA would not effect women’s rights in the Equality Act.

She said the government would also “take account of the recommendations” of the Working Group on Misogyny and Criminal Justice – set up last year by former justice minister Humza Yousaf after concerns that women were not protected in the new Hate Crime Bill.

Led by Baroness Helena Kennedy, the group is due to report next year.

The government has also said it will publish a “Hate Crime Strategy” in 2022, to build “more inclusive and resilient communities – making it clear hatred and prejudice will not be tolerated”.

This will include “ensuring more people in Scotland are aware of what hate crime is and how to report it” as well as attempting to “safeguard those individuals who may become vulnerable to divisive and radicalising narratives, in a way that aligns with the needs of communities and the Scottish context”.

Ms Sturgeon said the government would “also take forward our ground-breaking Women’s Health Plan, and move to incorporate key human rights conventions into domestic law”.

The programme also said the government would invest in NHS Gender Identity Services as a result of increased demand.

"To improve access and delivery over the next three years we will centrally fund Gender Identity Service improvements until late 2024,” the document states.

“A plan for transformation of these services will be also developed and published by late 2021, and implemented in 2022‑2024. This work will include the voices of those with lived experience throughout.”

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