Nicola Sturgeon has denied that gender recognition reform legislation is being “rushed” through the Scottish Parliament.
The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill was approved at stage one by MSPs in October, with a view to it being voted on at its final parliamentary stage as early as January, 2023.
It is aims to simplify the process by which a person is able to obtain a gender recognition certificate.
However, opponents of the Bill have argued that it could risk the safety of vulnerable women.
The UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, Reem Alsalem, has urged ministers to complete a “thorough assessment of all foreseeable consequences” of the Bill before it becomes law.
Alsalem also suggested that MSPs had not been given enough time to explore the complexities of bringing forward the reforms.
The changes include reducing the length of time an applicant must live in their acquired gender from two years to three months, with an additional three-month reflection period.
It would also see a reduction in the minimum age for applying for a certificate from 18 to 16-years-old.
At First Minister’s Questions, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross urged Sturgeon to pause the legislation until MSPs are able to consider the views outlined by Alsalem.
The SNP leader told MSPs that while the Scottish Government takes the remarks of Alsalem seriously, they “do not believe that those criticisms are well founded”.
She added that other organisations working with women had also concluded that the comments were not well founded, including Rape Crisis Scotland and Women’s Aid.
Ross, however, insisted on the importance of listening to the UN official, pointing to her credentials as an expert in the area.
“For some reason, the Government seems determined to rush ahead at full speed to put this Bill through this month,” said Ross.
“The experts and women’s groups say (this) could have potentially damaging consequences.
“Now, the First Minister said the special rapporteurs’ criticism are not well formed.
“Reem Alsalem is a United Nations’ expert, she is a special rapporteur on violence against women and girls.
“I personally think very few people can speak with greater authority on women’s safety.
“The Scottish Parliament, including the committee in charge of scrutinising this Bill, has not had the chance to examine her evidence and hear from her in person, which the Cabinet secretary will be doing.
“So, will the First Minister agree today to pause this legislation so we can properly consider the findings of a leading, global expert on this crucial matter?”
Sturgeon insisted that the legislation has not been rushed, with work having taken place on the Bill over the course of six years.
She responded: “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 legislation, through consultation, introduction of draft legislation, introduction of legislation, the formal parliamentary scrutiny process, has been under way now, I think, for a period of six years.
“This has not been rushed, this has been done carefully and rightly so.”
The First Minister said that it is important to recognise the protections already in place, which she said the Bill would not change.
“It is the case already that registered sex offenders must by law notify the police of any change of name,” she said.
“That requirement applies to an individual, irrespective of what name they use or what gender they identify with, and that is important.
“Disclosure Scotland takes steps already to ensure that a person requesting a disclosure certificate does not succeed in avoiding the disclosure of any previous convictions by using a different name.
“So, it is important to recognise the protections that are already in place that this Bill does nothing to change.
“And many of the issues that are being talked about here, and many of the issues that are sparking concern I accept, are not issues that are changed or impacted in any way by the detail of this specific legislation.”
The SNP leader also pointed to the voices of others who have brought their experience and expertise to the debate over the legislation.
She said: “It is because we respect that person and the role they hold that we are treating these concerns so seriously.
“I would encourage every member to read the Cabinet secretary’s response on the parliament’s website.
“The Cabinet secretary will meet the UN special rapporteur next week, but there are other voices in this debate that also speak from a lot of experience and expertise, and it’s not right to dismiss them either.
“Because they are people who work with women that are subject to male violence every single day of the week.”
Sturgeon also told MSPs that the legislation is in line with the view already set out by the UN.
She concluded: “Given that we are speaking about a UN special rapporteur, the reforms in this Bill align with the stated position of the UN human rights office that trans people should be recognised legally, and I’m quoting, ‘through a simple administrative process that does not require medical diagnosis’.”