We Belong Here: Raquel Rosario Sánchez

The closing remarks from Raquel Rosario Sánchez at ‘A Woman’s Place is With Women: feminism, birth and motherhood’ held at the University of Bristol on Tuesday 3rd May 2022, organised by Woman’s Place UK and With Woman.

As chair of the event, this is the first time Raquel has spoken publicly since the outcome of #RaquelvBristolUni.

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The chair doesn’t usually speak, but I have asked the women on the team if I could please have a few minutes to address the elephant in the room. Or better yet, the elephant here in the Great Hall.

Four years ago, Woman’s Place UK held a meeting in Bristol. I was the chair for that beautiful meeting, and from the moment it was announced, I became the target of bullying and harassment from students and staff members at the University of Bristol who objected to my right to chair feminist meetings. This was despite the fact that the meeting was not held inside University campus.

The bullying continued for years. As many of you know, I challenged the way the University of Bristol responded to my targeting and I lost that legal case about two weeks ago. The judge in my case said that I was indeed the victim of the “violent, threatening, intimidating behaviour or language”, and that there was a “failure to respect the right of others to freedom of belief and speech,” namely my right to both.

He also stated:

“Generally, it is not for me in this case to pass judgment on the acceptability of the things said and done and whether the line beyond acceptable free speech was crossed but I do observe that the threat or use of violence such as the threat of throwing eggs or a punch obviously crosses that line and amounts to abhorrent and deplorable conduct.”

Nevertheless, he ruled that the University did not owe a duty of care to women like me. I’m not gonna lie: it does sting to lose a legal case. But then you get right back up and you realise that life goes on.

What has happened to me is unfair, but it is not a tragedy. There is a lot to be grateful for. I have a recognition that what happened to me was unacceptable. I withstood the pressure from transactivists and from my own academic institution, who went so far as to offer me money in exchange of me abandoning my PhD programme.

I said no, and I feel immensely proud that I said no.

After everything that has happened, I will obtain a PhD with the full support of my Centre for Gender and Violence Research, whose Head, Professor Marianne Hester, is a speaker with us tonight. I owe it to myself and to everyone who has supported me. But there’s no way that I could be having a graduation ceremony within this institution. Graduation ceremonies at the University of Bristol are held right here in the Great Hall. And I LOVE graduation ceremonies!

Ever since I was a little girl and watched both my mum and my dad walk up a stage just like this, get their degrees and officially graduate.

Walking up these stairs to get my diploma was a big dream of mine, when I first arrived in Bristol. But after everything that has happened, that dream is now gone. So, I thought… let’s have a WPUK meeting right here at the Great Hall!

You all have no idea how long I have been plotting and scheming to make this night happen!

I may not be able to have a graduation ceremony right here at the Great Hall but I’ve worked to create something even better: a gorgeous night, surrounded by women who are just as undaunted as me, speaking out about the issues that we care about. Defending and upholding each other’s human rights. In my mind and in my life, tonight has been my graduation ceremony. And I am so grateful to you all for being here celebrating with me!

A very vocal minority obsessed with kindness and “being nice” say that women like us are not welcome here. And my response is that we are already here. And we will remain here.

Tonight, this is Woman’s Place UK 30th meeting. We are gathered here because women did not sit around waiting for permission from external actors whose aims and objectives are contrary to the liberation of all women. We carried on in spite of the name calling, the slurs, the intimidation and the violent threats. None of us waited around for approval from the government, from established organisations or from the courts: we decided to organise regardless. Women do not need external validation to stand up for ourselves. We do it anyways.

Like our 2018 Woman’s Place UK Bristol meeting, we are also facing protests from people who would much rather women did not assemble. That we did not exercise our rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom to dissent from “gender identity” dogma. Some of them write: “WPUK last came to Bristol in 2018 – let’s show them that nothing has changed!”

This may be controversial, but I actually happen to agree with the transactivists who wrote that statement. For proponents of “gender identity” policies, it is true that nothing has changed. They are still relying on the same intimidatory tactics and violent threats that the judge in my case found to be abhorrent and deplorable.

But a lot has changed for women.

We became stronger, wiser, cannier and better organised. When public bodies failed in their duty to ensure the protection of women’s rights, we wrote guidance, published articles, held public meetings, engaged in controversial lunches, pasted stickers and ribbons in suffragette colours. We also created proper feminist organisations and spearheaded an international conversation about the consequences of autocratic creeds that seek to erode women and children’s rights, and the democratic process as well.

When things did not go according to plan, we became creative and engineered new ways to challenge this evolving, systemic backlash against women. Some of us even lost entire years-long legal cases and rather than sulk and weep, we got right back up and kept on advocating for what is right and what is fair for women.

Instead of grieving, we celebrated our own strength and tenacity… some of us while wearing glittery dresses!

I was reminded of the powerful words that Kiri Tunks, the co-founder of Woman’s Place UK, spoke at the Women’s Liberation Conference in 2020 at UCL. Speaking about what’s next, she said:

“We are going to need all your strength and fire in the days to come. We need everyone here to go back to their communities and organise. We need to build this movement in every village, town and city to ensure that women’s voices are heard and their rights upheld.

It cannot be left to those who have failed to speak, or who are too constrained by funding streams to speak for women. It is down to us. All of us. This is a movement. We are the movement. Let’s move.”

These past couple of weeks, many of you have reached out to me to essentially give me your condolences regarding the loss of my legal case against the University of Bristol. And from the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you to all of you for your kindness, support and solidarity over the years.

But tonight is a celebration of the strength and the tenacity of women, especially in the face of adversity. There is zero room for sadness, anger, regret or self-pity within me. My legal case was about moving all of us forward, and I am moving forward. Because this is a movement and we, every single one of us, are the women’s rights movement. So, let’s keep moving.

Thank you!

Raquel Rosario Sánchez (Chair) is a writer, campaigner and researcher from the Dominican Republic. She is currently a PhD Candidate with the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol. Her academic research focuses on men who pay for sex and explores how online communities for sex buyers construct and reinforce standards of masculinity. As a writer and campaigner, her advocacy focuses on ending male violence against girls and women. In recent years, much of her work has focused on promoting and/or strengthening sex-based rights on an international level.

@8RosarioSanchez

Coverage of this meeting

#WPUKWithWomen WPUK Twitter thread from the meeting

Bristol Post, 4th May 2022

A Woman’s Place is the key, Kay Green, 4th May 2022

Related reading

WPUK statement on Raquel Rosario Sanchez vs University of Bristol

Bristol University

A Woman’s Place is speaking out: Bristol

Statement by the Head of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol

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.