Gender recognition reform in Belgium: lessons for Scotland

This briefing looks at gender recognition reform in Belgium and draws lessons for Scotland.

Gender recognition reform in Belgium: Lessons for Scotland

The analysis is based on data published by the Belgium Institute for the Equality of Women and Men (IGVM) which provides insights into how the introduction of a self-declaration model in 2018 affected the number and character of applications. The key points are as follows:

  • Between 2017 and 2018, registrations increased by 575%, from 110 to 742. This can partly be read in the context of the removal of demanding requirements (notably sterilisation) placed on those wishing to change their legal sex prior to reform, although it is less relevant to the increase in younger people making applications.
  • More than half of all registered changes in legal sex since 1993 took place after the introduction of new legislation in 2018.
  • Following reform, the average age of applications fell, particularly among natal females (transmen).
  • In 2018/19 transmen aged 16 to 24 years accounted for nearly a third of all legal sex change registrations (30%).
  • The proportion of transmen aged 16 to 24 years registering a change in legal sex was more than double that of transwomen aged 16 to 24 years, at 65% and 27% respectively.
  • These findings have implications for the current debate on data collection. The Belgium data suggests that statistically significant differences in results are much more likely for transmen aged 16 to 24 years than for the population as a whole, depending on whether sex or self-declared gender identity is reported.
  • Both the marked increase in applications and asymmetrical increase in applications among young transmen merit further consideration ahead of legal reform in Scotland, to understand the factors associated with these trends.
  • Under the Belgian model, changing legal sex is irreversible, except in very exceptional circumstances, which is intended to act as a safeguard. Similarly, the Scottish Government propose that a person wishing to change their legal sex ‘intends to continue to live in the acquired gender permanently’.
  • We would suggest that this provision also requires further consideration, given the potential for an increase in applications from young transwomen, as well as an apparent increase in those now re-identifying with their birth sex in the UK.