A LEADING European human rights professor has disputed claims that self-ID in Scotland will have “global significance”.

Dr Pieter Cannoot, from Human Rights Centre at the University of Ghent, said cases of abuse of the system “haven’t occurred” in Belgium or other countries where the policy is already in place.

There are eighteen countries where self-determination, the removal of the medical requirement and psychiatric diagnosis to acquire a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) to legally change gender, is in place across the world.

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Denmark, Malta, Ireland, Norway, Luxembourg, Portugal, Iceland and Switzerland, are other European countries who already have self ID, while Argentina introduced the policy in 2012.

Earlier this week, Reem Alsalem, the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, claimed that introducing self-ID in Scotland as part of the current Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Act would have global consequences.

Alsalem called for the bill, which passed its second stage earlier this month, to be paused, despite two previously lengthy consultations on its contents.

She suggested that self-ID would allow men to “abuse” the GRC process and “the rights associated with it”.

However Cannoot, professor of law and diversity who has written extensively on self-ID and trans rights, said that there had been absolutely no evidence of this coming to fruition since the country reformed its process for transgender people in 2018.

The National: Dr Cannoot said the issue of segregated spaces did not arise in Belgium while reforms were being passedDr Cannoot said the issue of segregated spaces did not arise in Belgium while reforms were being passed (Image: Supplied)

He said: “We have not seen any situation of fraud and the situation of a trans person being included in a certain segregated space and leading to violation of privacy or even sexual violence or something like that.

“The cases haven't occurred in Belgium.

“It's my understanding that they haven't occurred in any country where there has been this framework of gender recognition.”

Although Cannoot says there was an “explosion” in GRC applications after Belgium removed the medical requirement, he added it has started to drop in the following years.

In 2018, a peak of 742 applications were lodged, before stabilising to between 400 and 500 in 2019 and 2020. In 2017, the year before reforms were introduced, only 110 people made an application to legally change their gender.

However, he noted that while the change to the process was underway there wasn’t any discussions around “safety in segregated spaces”.

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Cannoot explained: “That was never a part of the discussion.

"What was part of the discussion was, there was also this rhetoric of people pretending to be trans in order to have access to certain benefits that they're not entitled to.

“But that was mostly in an identity fraud context and not necessarily in a context of protection against sexual violence or, you know, women's rights more broadly.

"The Gender Recognition Act in Belgium was adopted right in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks at Brussels airport.

"So a lot of the rhetoric was about what if a terrorist would try to disappear from the radar of the police and the Justice Department, would change their gender recognition or their gender marker and then for some reason, would be able to escape being followed by the Justice Department or whatever.

The National: Gender recognition reform in Scotland has already been delayed on numerous occasionsGender recognition reform in Scotland has already been delayed on numerous occasions

"There was this fear that there would be some fraud but it was never in the context of segregated spaces, protection of women's bodies or against violence."

The Belgian administration in 2017 was led by the Reformist Movement, a centre-right party but there were “no issues” getting the reforms passed, Cannoot added.

He explained: “I don't really know what the result would have been if we would be thinking of adopting this kind of legislation right now.

“We also right now see that the gender critical, gender ideology discourse is also spreading on social media, which is of course spurred by the extreme radical right.

“Finding the arguments in the TERF [Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist] wars that are going on in the UK, they are slowly spreading to our context.

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“I don't really know what would have happened if we were thinking of adopting this kind of legislation right now. At least four years ago, that rhetoric was completely absent."

Belgian feminists, Cannoot added, backed the proposals as they were “autonomy based” and liberal.

He added: “They were concerned with certain pragmatic consequences in terms of do we lose tools to fight women's oppression in this country, but it was never about some considerations of safety that separate spaces would be now. They were trans-inclusive.”

Allied Rainbow Communities (ARC), Malta’s LGBT organisation, said that citizens aged 16 and over only have to make a “simple declaration” to a notary to change their gender.

Malta has some of the most progressive LGBT policies in the world, and introduced self-ID in 2015. Arc said: “From our experience, this has been a huge step forward for the trans and non-binary community in facilitating their wellbeing.”


Katy Montgomerie, a UK based trans rights activist, said that those opposing GRA reforms “don’t even know what it does” and it was “ridiculous” to suggest changes to an administration process to allow trans people to legally change gender would lead to abuses of women’s spaces.

She added: “We can just look at the tens of other countries who have similar laws, some for over a decade, and see none of the fearmongering materialises.

“If they had data they'd be citing it, but they don't. This whole thing has nothing to do with the reality of the GRA and its upcoming reforms, it's a proxy political war over trans people's existence in society.”