This is the text of a speech given by co-founder of Woman’s Place UK, Kiri Tunks, at our meeting co-hosted by Portsmouth University on Thursday 16th September 2021, A Woman’s Place is asking big questions.
The event is part of the “Big questions” seminar series and seeks to create space for ongoing conversations about feminism, sex, gender and sexuality in the 21st century by inviting speakers and organisations who seek to shape public policy from a range of different – and sometimes diametrically opposed – perspectives.
The University did not allow the event to be filmed.
We plan to publish the text of the speeches given by the other panellists in the coming days.
First of all, I would like to thank Portsmouth University for hosting this meeting and showing its commitment to debate, to freedom of expression, and to women’s rights.
Portsmouth is now the fourth UK university that has hosted a Woman’s Place event. We applaud all of these institutions for refusing to be cowed by harassment or intimidation into shutting down discussions about women’s concerns or to hide away from the important questions of our time.
In thanking Portsmouth, I also want to thank Northumbria University, University College London and Oxford.
Let’s hope we see more and more academic institutions commit to their founding principles; to the pursuit of enlightenment; and to the furtherance of understanding.
Let’s hope we see more universities protecting their own academics and students. The intimidation and harassment of Kathleen Stock, Alice Sullivan, Selina Todd, Raquel Rosario Sanchez, Jo Phoenix and Rosa Freedman is nothing short of shameful. And we know there are many more who have come under attack for simply wanting to ask questions and explore ideas.
So while we are grateful to the four universities who have done the right thing, we are setting down a challenge to the other universities, to education trade unions and to all the people who are part of these organisations:
- stop standing on the sidelines
- stop shutting down debate
- stop the intimidation and harassment.
Step up and do what you were built to do.
Socialism & Debate
Democratic debate has always been a socialist and feminist objective – without debate we don’t get better ideas or develop consensus or solidarity. It is this belief that brought Woman’s Place UK into existence.
We refuse to accept that women don’t have the right to assemble or to discuss matters of concern to us. We know that proper debate and discussion can only bring about deep understanding and robust solutions that work for all.
This is our 27th public meeting. Thousands of people – mostly women – have now attended at least one or one of the other events organized by other groups. Many of those women are now organizing their own. This is good for democracy.
But in any democracy, any movement, there will be a wide range of views. And it is the same for this one. Sisterhood does not mean that we have to agree with everyone or work with everyone. There are differences between people in the movement.
Building a sisterhood, building solidarity, takes hard work. To paraphrase many who have come before me, that’s why it’s called struggle.
We support the right to freedom of expression. But we also support the right for people to challenge ideas they think are wrong. That’s democracy.
We are opposed to any alliances with the far or religious right. We will not work with those who would attack the rights women fought hard to win.
Nor are we prepared to give up on the Left.
Our campaign is determined to be an anti-racist, socialist campaign which has in its sights genuinely progressive demands and solutions.
Woman’s Place UK is made up of women from left and progressive movements with decades of collective organising for equality and justice. We intend to work to make the left a movement which is respectful and representative of all.
There are now growing sections of the left who are now waking up to the problems of basing policies and actions on misplaced ideas of kindness instead of material reality.
We will continue to work to make those sections grow. We will not surrender our movement and its collective victories to those who refuse to engage with the reality of people’s lives.
In England and Wales, women have made huge gains in our collective campaigns to ensure our concerns are heard.
But in Scotland, our sisters are in the fight of our lives. And I say ‘our’ lives because any legal changes established in Scotland will have implications for women in the rest of the UK and across the world.
We all need to do what we can to support the women in Scotland in different groups who are in the forefront of this battle – For Women Scotland, Frontline Feminists Scotland, Sole Sisters, Women Speak Scotland and others.
The SNP and Scottish Greens have announced their intention to forge ahead with proposals to introduce self-ID. This is despite a poll which showed only 1/8 voters think this is an urgent priority. Nicola Sturgeon’s recent pronouncement on this proposal exposes her as a politician who isn’t listening and doesn’t understand.
She patronises and belittles women and our experience of discrimination and oppression.
She tells us:
[Self-ID] 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.
But we know it will. And we are lifelong feminists too.
She tells us:
We shouldn’t forget there are big threats to women’s safety and women’s rights.
As though we can forget.
She lectures us that these threats:
…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.
As if we didn’t know only too well where the threats come from.
And she tells us that our views
though very sincerely held, in [her] view, are not valid.
As if women are not used to being told we are not valid; we do not matter; we do not count.
But women are counting. And speaking. And listening. And organising.
Women are doing what we have always done when politicians and activists inevitably let us down.
We are doing it for ourselves.
Thank you for coming tonight.
Thank you for everything you are doing for women and girls.
Please keep doing it.
Other speeches from Portsmouth
We believe that it is important to share a range of viewpoints on women’s rights and advancement from different perspectives. WPUK does not necessarily agree or endorse all the views that we share.