Nicola Sturgeon’s Gender Recognition Act reform ‘will affect women’s prisons across UK’

Nicola Sturgeon promises second referendum by end of 2023

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The Scottish First Minister has said she expects her ministers to support plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) in Scotland, arguing that concerns over the impact on women’s spaces are “not valid”. She urged attention be placed on “real threats to women’s safety”. Much controversy has surrounded Ms Sturgeon’s decision to reform the GRA, having promised major reassessments ahead of the 2016 Holyrood elections.

Currently, to obtain a certificate legally recognising their acquired gender, a transgender person requires medical evidence and a two-year period of living as that gender.

However, the Scottish Government proposals would remove the need for medical assessment, allowing someone to obtain a gender recognition certificate through self-declaration after six months.

This is intended to make the process easier and more accessible, and would apply to anyone “whose birth (or adoption) was registered in Scotland” according to the National Records of Scotland.

However, Dr Nicola Williams, campaign director for consultancy group Fair Play for Women and research scientist who specialises in human biology, told that Ms Sturgeon’s actions will likely spill over into the rest of the UK.

This is because any Scottish person living in the UK — England, Wales or Northern Ireland — may return to Scotland to undergo the certificate process.

While Ms Williams said we must “respect” and take “seriously” the rights of transgender people, she added that Ms Sturgeon’s move could have implications for women’s prisons across the UK, not just Scotland.

She said: “If Scotland does do this, there will be an impact in the rest of the UK.

“It will mean that, as the proposals stand, it will allow anyone in the UK born in Scotland to be able to get one of these certificates.

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“There are lots of people who live in the UK who were born Scottish, and there are a lot of people in prison who were born Scottish and are in UK prisons.

“If the Scottish proposals went through, it could mean that Scottish-born people in English prisons would be allowed to change their birth certificate and they would be eligible to be in women’s prisons in England.

“So this isn’t just something that is happening in Scotland that people in the rest of the UK don’t need to think about.”

In July, the High Court for England and Wales ruled that it is lawful for trans women to be housed in women’s prisons.

A case had been brought by a former female prisoner who claimed she had been sexually assaulted by a trans prisoner.

She argued that her human rights were violated by having to be in the same prison as transgender women with convictions for sexual or violent offences against women.

But the judge ruled that barring all trans women from female prisons would ignore their right to live as their chosen gender.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) argued the policy pursued a legitimate aim, including “facilitating the rights of transgender people to live in and as their acquired gender (and) protecting transgender people’s mental and physical health”.


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According to MoJ equalities data for England and Wales, as of April 2019, women’s prisons had 34 transgender inmates, 30 of whom reported their legal gender as female and four as male.

When asked what gender the prisoner identified as, 11 identified as female, 20 as male and three did not provide a response.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request released by the MoJ in 2020 revealed that of the total 97 sexual assaults in women’s prisons between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2019, seven “were incidents where prisoners who identify as transgender were involved”.

The document read: “And of the seven incidents, six were assaults where a transgender prisoner was the assailant or suspected assailant.

“In the seventh incident, the transgender prisoner had ‘active involvement’, which means they didn’t necessarily start the assault.”

Meanwhile, in a recent interview with the BBC, Ms Sturgeon set out her intentions to push ahead with her GRA reforms.

She said: “I don’t think anybody could accuse me of rushing into this.

“There’s been two public consultations. We have listened very carefully — but you know we had a manifesto commitment to move forward with this.

“Gender recognition reform is about changing an existing process to make it less degrading, intrusive and traumatic for one of the most stigmatised minorities in our society and I think that is a good thing to do.

“It does not change in any way shape or form, legal protections that women have — and that’s something that’s very important to me as a lifelong feminist.

“We shouldn’t forget there are big threats to women’s safety and women’s rights.

“They come from sexism, misogyny, principally from abusive and predatory men, and we see lawmakers in other parts of the world, Texas, for example, trying to take away the right of women to control their own bodies.

“So we should focus on the real threats to women, not the threats that, while I appreciate that some of these views are very sincerely held, in my view, are not valid.”

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