WPUK Manifesto: this is what we want

On 20th May 2019, we published our draft manifesto and asked for responses. Thank you to everyone who suggested amendments or ideas. We are delighted to publish a revised version of the manifesto.

We want to get this to every MP, MSP and AM in the country. If you agree with our demands, please make sure your political representative sees a copy.

Woman’s Place UK is a group of people from a range of backgrounds including trade unions, women’s organisations, academia and the NHS. We are united by our belief that women’s hard-won rights must be defended.

We are against all forms of discrimination. We believe in the right of everyone to live their lives free from discrimination and harassment. Women face entrenched and endemic structural inequality. This is reflected, for example, in the high levels of sexual harassment and violence against women and girls; the ‘gender’ pay gap; discrimination at work. This is why sex is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act (2010) which we believe must be defended.

This is what we want.

Economic status

Take action to achieve equal pay, such as compulsory equal pay audits, the collection of sex disaggregated data and better enforcement of the Equality Act 2010.

Introduce, as a right, a Citizens’ Pension based on the Dutch tax-funded model, payable at state pension age to each long-term resident and set at the Minimum Income Standard.

Reinstate universal child benefit for all children.

Value the caring work done by women. Invest in social infrastructure, including access to free universal childcare and adult social care.

Improve access to the labour market for women and an end to occupational segregation.

Prohibit redundancy in pregnancy and maternity; increased rates of Statutory Maternity Pay and Maternity Allowance, the right to breastfeed at work, and reinstatement of Sure Start grants.

Introduce a day one right to flexible working.

Increase levels of asylum support and protection.

Overhaul of the Universal Credit system to:

  • End the family cap that leaves children without welfare support;
  • Scrap the rape clause that forces mothers to disclose rape or coercive control;
  • Reduce the wait for payments;
  • Allow for separate payments by default;
  • Improve work incentives for second earners;
  • Restore the disregard for Maternity Allowance.

Restore the link between Local Housing Allowance and average rents.

An end to violence, harassment and abuse of women and girls

Recognise prostitution as sexually abusive exploitation which is harmful to all women and girls.

Implement the abolitionist model, criminalising those who exploit prostituted people (including pimps and sex buyers) and decriminalising the prostituted, providing practical and psychological exiting support.

Screen Shot 2019-07-01 at 10.16.28.pngRatify the Istanbul Convention.

Sustainable investment from national government, proportionate to demand, to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG), including single-sex support services, and specialist independent services run by and for women, BME women, migrant women, disabled women, lesbians, and services tackling FGM and other harmful practices.

Highlight and tackle the harms of pornography including the exploitation of women in its production and the hostile culture it creates for all women and girls in society.

Legislate to protect women and girls from the impact of porn culture on their lives, including clear penalties for image-based sexual abuse.

End ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ for abused migrant women, extend the Domestic Violence Rule and the Destitution and Domestic Violence Concession.

Improved access to healthcare

Free access for all women, including women in Northern Ireland and migrant women, to NHS services, including maternity care and abortion services.

Fund research and national collection of sex-specific data on women’s medical needs and the provision of woman-centred healthcare.

Implement the NHS strategy of Elimination of Mixed Sex Accommodation in hospitals.

Commit to uphold right to request a female clinician, carer or support worker and to have that request respected.

Female-only services for those with sex-specific conditions, mental health, drug and alcohol problems.

Challenge the bias in design and research which is based on a male standard to ensure that the sex-based needs and health and safety of women are properly addressed.

Education and training

Statutory provision of fully-funded and properly resourced inclusive Relationships & Sex Education taught by trained education staff.

An end to the provision of education by lobby groups and untrained or unregulated providers in all state schools and colleges. All external providers should conform to a statutory code of conduct and comply with the law including the Public Sector Equality Duty.

Introduce a duty on schools and colleges to challenge harmful gender, sex and other stereotypes.

Include women’s history and women role models as part of the statutory curriculum.

Address barriers to, and encourage representation of, women and girls in STEM and other male-dominated subjects.

Restore funding for adult education, Further Education, English as a Second Language, Higher Education, recognising the disproportionate impact these cuts have had on women.

Robust defence of the human right to freedom of speech in academia.

Take action to end sexualised violence against girls and women in education, and train teachers to tackle VAWG in schools, colleges and universities.

Law and criminal justice system

As a minimum, protect the human rights and laws we currently enjoy as European citizens.

Strengthen the Equality Act by restoring the statutory questionnaire; the duty to protect from third party harassment; and the power of tribunals to make wider recommendations. Enact Section 1 to compel action to reduce socio-economic disadvantage.

Enforce Public Sector Equality Duty and Equality Act, including duty on government and local authorities to carry out equality impact assessments of all new legislation.

Properly resource the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to ensure effective oversight and enforcement of the Equality Act by including clear guidance on the existing legal protections for single-sex services and a commitment to strengthening them where necessary.

Enshrine UN Convention to End Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) into UK law.

Defend women’s bodily autonomy and decriminalise abortion across the UK, including Northern Ireland.

Remove barriers to the employment tribunal system including extending time limit and increasing awards.

Better treatment by police and criminal justice system of women survivors of male violence and harassment as well as improved access to justice.

Overhaul aggressive immigration laws and end the hostile environment policy

Ensure equal access to the social security and criminal justice system for all women who have experienced domestic abuse, including migrant women, regardless of their immigration status.

End the practice by the criminal justice system of allowing offenders to self-identify their sex – particularly in relation to violent and sexual offences.

For a woman-centred approach

Better support and protection for women prisoners, including pregnant women and women with mental health issues.

Implement the recommendations of the Corston and Angiolini reports and reduce the imprisonment of women.

Effective resourcing and implementation of community-based sentencing for women offenders. Where women are housed in the prison estate, accommodation must be single-sex to protect their privacy, safety and dignity.

End the detention of children and pregnant asylum seekers.

Provide adequate levels of legal aid for criminal cases, restore civil legal aid as well as aid for all immigration and asylum cases.

Representation and participation in public life/media/culture/politics/sport

Increase representation of women (especially black and minority ethnic, working class, disabled, older, younger and lesbian women) in all walks of public life, including political activities and the labour movement.

Defend the use of sex-based mechanisms such as all-women shortlists.

Reinstate UK Women’s National Commission to ensure women’s voices are heard in public debate and policy making.

Government inquiry into media reporting of VAWG.

Action to end sexist, demeaning, objectifying, stereotypical images of women and girls throughout society and in particular in media, arts, advertising and the political sphere.

Proactive encourage women to participate in sports, leisure and the arts. Women’s and girls’ sport should be funded to the same level as men’s and boys’ from school to elite sports.

Support for sex-segregated sports, promoting a level playing field for competitions and encouraging and recognising the excellence of female competitors.

Women should be supported to pursue their right to freedom of association, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Read our original demands and our resolutions for 2019.


WPUK & Toilets

There has been much speculation about the expectations we have for the use of toilets at our meetings.

Below is the explanation we gave to Norwich Quakers when they asked us to clarify our position:

“There is no specific law relating to the provision of single sex toilets for adults.

However, provisions in the Equality Act 2010 allow for the application of single sex exemptions if it is “a proportionate response to a legitimate aim”.

Our position on the use of toilets is to ensure that everyone should have access to facilities that they feel safe and comfortable in.

This paragraph from the Quaker Life Central Committee (QLCC) draft discussion paper is in line with this position:

“We note that shared spaces such as toilets, changing and sleeping areas can cause anxieties and concerns for people. We believe that no-one should have to use shared spaces which do not feel comfortable to them. In a context of systemic male violence, particularly towards women, we are especially minded to examine the potential adverse impact of any policy on women and girls and to make efforts to remedy this. All Quaker premises and events ought to provide facilities which everyone feels safe and comfortable using. The usage of these facilities must be clearly defined and communicated and must offer choice for the individual.”

We ask attendees to use the toilets relating to their sex.

There are many reasons why women in particular expect to access single sex provision and, as a women’s rights group, we feel it is important to demonstrate the right women have to establish clear boundaries.

However, this became a particular priority after representations made to us by female survivors of sexual and domestic violence attending our events who were distressed at sharing toilets with people they experienced as male. As statistics show that 1/5 UK women have suffered sexual violence, this is a matter of real concern to us.

We therefore make sure that the venues we book offer either single occupancy unisex toilets as well as those designated male and female such as is available at the Norwich Quaker’s House.”

Also read:

Why ‘gender-neutral’ toilets don’t work for women

Mixed-sex toilets in schools




A Woman’s Place is on the front line: Hastings

IHave you thought about organising a WPUK where you live? We can help you and this account of how some of our supporters in Hastings did it should encourage you.

Ever-increasing numbers of adolescent kids believing they were aliens in their own bodies, trans people getting posts as women’s officers and using their positions to slap down women who expressed concern about their kids? Organisations we were members of changing the rules about women on advice from Stonewall, and not even telling us, let alone calling for views?

What do we do?


It must have been back in 2015/16 that I felt the stirrings of confusion and disbelief amongst my sisters in the women’s movement on Mumsnet as we were being told our questions and concerns over women’s rights were ‘transphobic’ and we were supposed to keep quiet and to not worry.

Then my son started school and parent-friends in a neighbouring county were reporting that their local authority had asked them to clarify how their 4 year olds ’identified’ with regards to gender on the school admissions form. My initial response was to think this was some kind of Daily Fail (mis)reporting but it was true. I looked at my son and wondered how he would identify if I asked him; my guess was that he would probably have responded with, very reasonably in my opinion, ‘a hedgehog’, given that that was/is his favourite thing. Feminists had read the situation for what it was and could predict where this was heading. Coupled with my love of sport, and seeing the massive disparity in transwomen being allowed to compete alongside women, I decided to get involved in doing what I could to help protect women and girls.

Not long before Labour conference in 2017, Maria MacLachlan was attacked at Speakers’ Corner for daring to photograph a public protest by trans activists. My resolve was solidified. Woman’s Place UK formed soon after and I started talking to Kay and other local socialist women about having a WPUK meeting in Hastings.  It was paramount that we stood up and forced this conversation into the open; our fears may turn out to be misplaced but we deserved the right to ask questions without fear of violence.


I’m a grandmother now, but Louise is still in those growing-family years, and an active member of Mumsnet, so she heard about all this sex-and-gender turmoil long before I did. At Labour’s 2017 conference, she introduced me to some women who were running a fringe event to discuss the issue. I didn’t go to the event, but I heard about a year of bullying and malpractice some of them had suffered because they asked awkward questions.

Pondering all this, trying to remember what I’d thought of sex and gender when I was a kid, I decided to write a piece on my own experience of sex and gender. I was vice-chair of my CLP at the time, and no sooner had I got my piece written than I found myself trying to referee a spat over the issue in a local leftie facebook group. What I discovered there was that there is *no* middle ground in this debate. You agree with the ‘affirmation only’ Queer Theory view, or you are a TERF and a Nazi.

The piece I’d written got snapped up by a website called FairPlay for Women, and, having been introduced to it, I read the whole site with increasing horror at the pressure being put on women to conform. Meanwhile, as my article got noticed, the tone of the debates got worse, and abusive, anonymous attacks started.

Then discussions on a women’s page led to the suggestion Louise and I should run a Woman’s Place UK meeting in Hastings, to hold a more comradely discussion.

The Plan

We started asking around for venues and almost immediately, one of the people who’d been ranting in all those Facebook rows, sent a scandalous email to our local council, telling them to stay clear of the mad, bad, Louise and Kay, and the dangerous WPUK. Then one of the venues to which we’d made enquiries said the local Pride director had sent them a similarly slanderous email. We had been to the police and the council early on, and told them exactly what we planned to do, and agreed to stay in touch, so the email’s claims about our ‘secret’ and ‘deceptive’ plan to hold a WPUK meeting were, we thought, pretty easy to see through. I ran a series of memes to say the debate was both necessary and respectful, but two venues said ‘yes’ then ‘no’ even so.

We were getting rather too close to the advertised date of the meeting when we found a venue run by some gutsy women who weren’t going to be scared off easily. We had Sarah from WPUK advising and helping us, but we did feel pressure rising as we dashed to put everything in place. Local Pride and Rainbow Alliance groups put out messages telling people not to come to our meeting, lest their minds be filled with hate, and I wrote my own piece saying why I thought they should come.

The drama built up. On the day of the meeting, a bomb-threat was added to the attempts to head us off. A friend who lived near the venue was keeping an eye on the place, and saw police doing the same. We were booked out, and Sarah was suggesting to us that it was time to release the venue details but I was reluctant, as a couple of the too-late applications for tickets seemed to me to have connections with the would-be saboteurs.

The Meeting


I felt as though I hadn’t slept for weeks. I’d been buzzing – I always find event management a strange mix of exciting and distressing but never before had I been involved in setting one up with an ‘opposition’ team trying to thwart it. Hearing about their plots to ‘silence’ us make me take triple care over ensuring everything would work. It was a fantastic experience, because of those who supported us – in the police, the council, our CLP and from the women’s movement, we were discovering people who were used to working in the face of aggressive disruption. I was learning from them, daily and I know that the friends I made then were friends for life – the very antithesis of ‘fairweather friends’.

By the time our chair, Megan Dobney, called the meeting to order, I felt quite overwhelmed with a new discovery about what ‘solidarity’ really feels like. The women who ran the venue, the security guards on the door, the speakers, the people who had had the courage to buy tickets and come despite all the barracking around the town, the female councillor who told us she didn’t necessarily agree with our views, but that women should always step up to help each other when threatened because ‘some people can’t stand strong women’. Our speakers – Philipa Harvey, Kristina Harrison, Jeni Harvey were calm, fair and informative. The speakers from the floor were electrifying – brave women, some who had been bullied or side-lined for their views, some who hadn’t had a chance to speak before.


Kay and I had to devote a lot of time and energy into planning the event alongside Sarah. This was mainly because we had local trouble-makers to contend with.  However, it was a fantastic ‘know-who-your-comrades-are’ sorting exercise! The police were very reassuring when we sought their advice and assistance.

The day of the event was wonderful! To see, hear, and feel, all us women coming together in solidarity and with the unspoken recognition that yes, we bloody well have the right to stand up and be heard, well, it was life affirming. The power in that room could’ve taken on, and defeated, an army of hardened misogynists.

Our speakers presented the different angles of our struggle most reasonably and this led to a very constructive Q&A session that furthered everyone’s understanding of this issue and its very real impact on women and girls.

The Rest of My Life


It was all over remarkably quickly, we’d tidied up the venue, had angsty moments with people who’d lost each other, or lost things, and then we tumbled into the pub – and that night I now look back on as a turning point in my life. I had learned that I have power, I have energy, and that if I do what I believe is right, even against opposition, new people come to the fore, people I understand, and who understand and support what I’m trying to do. I owe immense gratitude to Woman’s Place UK: a transformative group for women.


WPUK events are addictive, you can’t just attend one. And, although the speeches are available online, you don’t get to feel the amazing atmosphere of being there and it’s that atmosphere that has helped drive me on and feel reconnected to the women’s movement as a whole. To organise a WPUK event is to feel part of something much bigger than yourself and the present, it is to know that you are a part of a team working tirelessly to improve the lot of our sisters growing up now, and those yet to be born.



Support Julie Bindel

We are disappointed that The Guardian has made an editorial decision to ignore the views of women by not publishing our response to their mendacious account of the attack on Julie Bindel when leaving a meeting in Edinburgh. This attack is symbolic of all the verbal, physical, online and workplace violence faced by women who speak out on issues that affect them.
This was the letter we sent:

“The Guardian’s reporting of an attack on leading feminist Julie Bindel after a packed event in Edinburgh on Wednesday night is a travesty. We and many other women are outraged at the trivialisation of misogynistic violence.

The attack, which took place as Julie left and was witnessed by several people, was reported as though it was a minor detail in a story about members of an LGBT+ university group resigning in protest at the meeting.

The minimalizing of violence against women, and the implication that it is provoked by our behaviour, is dangerously commonplace in UK society. We are sickened to see The Guardian dancing to the same tune.

Journalism requires the reporting of facts as well as a narrative arc. By failing to properly report this act of violence against Julie Bindel, the Guardian has shown it is unworthy of its female readership and is part of the oppression we face.”

The list of names below is made up of the original signatories as well as people who subsequently added their names to show their support.

There are 1,009 names listed below.

We would like to thank everyone who has come out in support of Julie and all women who are fighting for their rights.

We will send this letter and list of signatories to the Editor of the Guardian to make sure they understand how strongly people feel about this article and to lobby them to take the concerns of women more seriously.

Thank you all very much

Woman’s Place UK

List of Signatories

Kiri Tunks, Co-founder WPUK

Judith Green, Co-founder WPUK

Ruth Serwotka, Co-founder WPUK

Karen Ingala Smith, CEO nia

Lisa-Marie Taylor CEO FiLiA

Helen Steel

Joan McAlpine MSP

Professor Rosa Freedman

Dr Gale Macleod

Professor Sarah Pedersen

Dr Shereen Benjamin

Claire Heuchan

Philipa Harvey, TUC Women’s Committee (pc)

Professor Alice Sullivan

Dr Holly Smith

Professor Sophie Scott

Professor Kathleen Stock

Professor Selina Todd

Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans

Dr Laetitia Pichevin

Professor Debbie Epstein

Professor Lesley Gourlay

Raquel Rosario Sanchez

Holly Lawford-Smith

Ali Ceesay

Kim Thomas

Dr Jane Clare Jones

Abigail Burnyeat

Kay Green

Therese O’Meara

Jayne Egerton

Charlotte Delaney

Ruth Conlock

Cathy Devine

Rebecca Lush

Pilgrim Tucker

Jeni Harvey

Dr Louise Moody

Dr Emma Hilton

Angela Wild, Get the L Out

Maya Forstater

Cllr Sarah Field

Bea Campbell

Anna Morvern

Anita Rothon

Diane Jones

Dan Fisher, Editor in Chief, Uncommon Ground Media

Dr Victoria Whitworth

Kate Styles

Janet Fraser

Lorna Miller

Mark Hewitt

Valerie Stevens

Kate Scottow

Kirsty McKenzie

K J Stevens

Andi Lavery

Jean Bartrum

Emma Dolan

Andrea Davies

Grace Rungsee

Julie Scott

Sue Riley

Vanessa McCulloch

Geraldine Curtis

Sabrina Kaltner

Alexandra Ireland

Helen Saxby

Jenifer Lavery

Kruti Walsh

Emma Chesworth

Tish Naughton

Sibyl Ruth

Jo Colwell

Colin Chalmers

M Ranners

Michelle Reilly

Kate Makowiecka

Sarah Honeychurch


Emily Bland

Jill Gardner

Louise Somerville

Carrie Ann Reeve

Magdalena Zawojska-Smith

Magi Gibson

Chris McMurray

Carrie Ann Reeve

Anne Wilkinson

Jenny Ross

Bridget Palmer

Alison Simmons

Louise Pennington

Caroline McCready

Steph Booth

Francis Davidson

Jenny Bell

Paula Dauncey

Pippa Banham

Clare Sumner

Charlotte Mortimer

Deborah Cameron

Lynne Clark

Sandra Smith

Julie Armstrong

Anne Robinson

Sharon Clifford

Laura Hall

Bronwen Salter-Murison

Stacey Lyon

Kerry Daynes

Jacqueline Roberts

Maria Ezuanyamike

Lee Nurse

Emma Brooks

Maria Chapman

Linda Taylor

Cath Janes

Margaret Ann Merrick

Catherine Smith

Dr Madeleine Jowett

Catherine Bjarnason

Neil Anderson

Jeanette McCrimmon

Sarah McGrail

Daniel McBrearty

Amber Chapman

Penelope Kirwan

Jo Campbell

Marjory Smith

Lorraine Nutt

Trina Budge

Carolyn Bednarski

Marion Calder

Susan Smith

Barbara Buck

Kim Harding

Michaela-Clare Addison

Alison Breen

Sue Walsgrove

Dr Luisa Cescutti-Butler

Liz Lucas

Ann Sinnott

Hazel Tarragon

Norma Hurley

Melissa Kramer

Ceri Dyke

Sandra Easton-Lawrence

Milly Robbins

Dr Amanda Schierz

Lynn McGrath

Alison McQueen

Susan Flindt

Jane Tucker

Tania Elissa

Claudia Raven

Sue Henderson

Doreen Milne

Jacqui Spink

Anne Greagsby

Eleanor Byrne

Margaret Nelson

Tinnekke Bebout

Frances Gillard

Shirley Wishart

Sandra Salmon

Barbara Hughes

Sam Keene

Lesley Semmens

Sue White

Rob Harkavy

Jerry Ozaniec

Fiona English

Dawn Laker

Cathy Wintersgill

Hilary McCollum

Elizabeth Pickett

Bridget Lawless

Jo Hill

Jess Smith

Tracey Smith

J Gourley

Caroline Spry

Allison Downing

Marion Talbot

Barry Slater

Ken Stringer

Tania Ziegler

Alice Dawnay

Emily Weir

Celia Coulson

Mitch Taylor

Lorraine Simpson

Shelley Charlesworth

Annie Bishop

Leanne Bentley

Maria MacLachlan

Caroline Goode

Emma Hamilton

Val Garwood

Claire Wilson

Lavinia Mulholland

Dr Maya Bowen

Gaynor Harding

Patricia Spencer

Sheffield Women of Steel Resisters

C F Disleny

Alan Heness

Shelley Williams

Erika Luukas

Bronwen Davies

Lola Muñoz

Jody Drinkall

Katherine Aiken

Marjorie Caw

Annie Thomas

Miriam Yagud

Karen Broady

Catherine Muller

Lynn Alderson

Alice Bondi

Kate Jerrold

S J Atherton

Gwenan Richards

Lucy Masoud

Christine Radcliffe

Amber Ravenscroft

Diana Peek

Noele Pace

Sue Kay

Helena Coates

Natasha Samuel

Anne James

Kate Howard

Sarah Bowden

Ginny Eldridge

Lorrie Hartshorn

Alison Jenner

Corinne Judkins-Nugteren

Joy Saunders

Delyth Rennie

Laura Capnerhurst

Barbara Spence

Amy Eileen Hamm

Helen Gibson

Rachel Moles

Caroline Ezzat

Tonje Gjevjon

Elizabeth Lower

John Lish

Cathryn Atkinson

Philippa Hammond

Merri Ann Langhorst

Glynis Millward

Sasha Wilkins

Helen Joyce

Ruth Alinek

Jennifer Smith

Alex Pringle

Rachel Hardy

Jacky Girling

Cathi Wheatley

Carol Fraser

Fiona Macaskill

Claire Williams

Linda Van Bergen

Judith Jackson

Janice Vaughan

Anna Prats

Hugo Patton

Elizabeth Aitken

Sharon Jenkins

Sarah Johnson

Sue Taylor

Laura Tennant

Elizabeth Donnelly

Ophelia Benson

Anna Childs

Sue Welsh

Gita Sahgal

Bibi Shaw

Cathryn Evans

Roy Wilkes

Dr John Armstrong

Judy Mackenzie

Bea Jaspert

Trezza Azzopardi

Lynne Sheridan

Professor Kathleen Richardson

Cllr Caroline McAllister

Professor Michele Moore

Helan Shuker-McMahon

Victoria L

Sally Grover

Dr Jenny Wilkes

Gill Smith

Sherri Ingrey

Joanna Bornat

Ruth Todd

Deborah Holland

Susan Moffat

Anne-Marie Hickling

Fiona Baker

Dr Sarah Rutherford

Dr P J Hewson

Justine Abbott

Andrea S

Karen Kennedy

Bridget Leichner

Jeni England
Ann Allen
Tracey Fitzgerald
Arthur Heeley
Helen Milburn
Dawne Brown
Richard Scorer
Lauren McGovern
Andy Pearce
Sabine Ingeborg
Lily Brown
Rachel Corry
Stephen Madill
Lorna Shiels
Stella de Felice
Heather Graham
Jane Ayres
Julia Aparisi
Emma Austin-Grace
Karen Raynor
Claire Nicholson
Sarah Aird-Mash
Mair Owen
Julia Lamb Tod
Nina Cranmer
Inge Kleine
Jill Nesbitt
Jo B
J K Cooper
Dr Jo Meyertons
Deborah Barker
Sarah Bailey
Keith Southwell
Natasha Perry
John Heeley
S Morrison
Nicola Radford
Jacky Hoyoake
Alison Macnair
S J Gray
Juliet Harris
Helen Mary Jones
Rebecca Vaughan
Malcolm Schonfield
Tony Guillan
Nicola O’Brien
Vicki Wharton
Katharine Harris
Clarissa Payne
Moira Luccock
Imogen G
Anne Bevan
Olive Sneddon
Nicola Carr
Carol Jones
Kate Williams
Rebecca Stanton
Amanda Perl
Paul Madill
Emma Payne
Dr Amanda MacLean
Claudia Clare
Rose Reeve
Susan Millership
Celia Kerr
Lesley S Jackson
Amanda Lutchford
S L Bondarchuk
Tessa Sheridan
Victoria Hood
Alison Wren
Edmonton Small Press Association
Debora Singer
Cllr Mark Dobson
Caitriona McGilvray
Fiona Robertson
Jocelyn Gaskell
Sibyl Grundberg
Fiona Davis
Helen Watts
Kerry Gregory
Cathy Barnett
Rosalind Sampson
Dr Susan Tollerfield
Jayne Gosnall
Rachel Rooney
Tina Brotherton
Amaryllis Elphick
Meghan Murphy
Dr Katherine Baxter
Gerald Madill
Christy Lawrance
Rosemary Dun
Julie Matthews
Joanne Lawrence
Jeremy Stangroom
Rachel Edney
Carol Leyland
Bernadette Halpin
Alexandra Sinclair
MaryFaith Autumn
Janey Hutton
Jean Scales
Jessica Shepherd
Anne-Marie Mackin
Andreia Nobre, QG Feminista
Frances Wright
Clare Crestani
Linden Ash
Sandy Thomson
Guffi Chohdri
Patricia Hardman
Emma Barraclough
Paula Bolton
Mo Quinn
Jessica Ahlberg
Ian McNee, Wolverhampton SW Labour Party EC (pc)
Susan Carlyon
Andrea Smith
Bev Jackson
Jenni White
Jade Milne
Lizzie M
Anne Butler
Wendy Ross
Maggie Mellon
Julie Layden
Krista Moore

Megan Baglow

Katerina Cruz
Janet Pontin
Mary Gordon
Angela Clark
Kimberly Everett
Emma Bateman
Elice Davies
Ruth Dineen
Peter Simonsson
Jo Cohen
Dr Catherine Scott
Vanesa Randerson
Barbara Muldoon
Katie Bloor
Marianne Madill
Dianne Vine
Laura Protheroe
Donna Critchley
Paula Orbea
Christine Fireheart
Paula Coster
Joy Vann
Mikaela Henderson
Debra Wright
Lara Yates
Elizabeth Gardner
Cynthia Piña
Paula Fraga Arias
Toni Morris
Imogen Saiz
Naveen Hussain
Katharine Knight
Jenny Walsh
Liz LeMasson
Shauna Devlin
Heather Harvey
Carmen Freixa Zurita
Sharon Fraser
Sue Matthews
Richard Lavazanian
Alison Garraway
Laura Davies
Marion Morris
Catherine Dobson
Elsa Antón
Julie Ann Richards
Sheila Cochrane
Yolanda Martos Wensell
Chris Holt
Andrew O’Neill
Lyndsay Hopkins
Victoria Gilbert
Debra Helme
Sue Gill
Audrey Ludwig
Jennifer Milligan
Marta Garcia de la Vega
Tracy Clifford
Graham Samson
Gail Slavin
Noelia Garcia Madrid
Dr Adam James Smith
Catherine Wright
Helen Russell
Katherine Brierly
Carlotta Sassoon
Isabelle Tracy
Heather Thornton
Ann Moran
Jeanette Hartley
Sally Jackson
Claudia Pavia Kaplan
Jill Harris
Siobhan Owen
Pippa Davies
Siobhan Owen
Liz Henze
Sarah Davies
Margaret Chowdhury
Bec Fawcett-Howitt
Sonia Gibson
Rita Rake
Catherine Mason
Kate Lee
Heather Pymar
Lin Harwood
Julie Layden
Abigail Rowland
Chloe Bryan
Ailsa Holland
Julie Furlong
Sara Stewart
Leeds Resisters
Dr Deirdre O’Neill
Annie McDowall
Annie Wright
Radha Burgess
Teresa Hobday
Jean Hatchet
Helen Self
Mary Hinsley
Victoria Gill
Lisa Sparrock
Carina Moravec
Andrea Jackson
Amanda Evans
Fenella Maddison
Dr Laura Green
Caroline Horne
Pippa Booth

Dr Chloe Houston

Michael Hession, Esq

Susan Matthews

Anya Palmer

Stephanie Davies-Arai

Jane Wainwright

Wendy Lee

Ann McTaggart

Ann Hutchinson

Michelle Thomson

Caroline Tait

Jacqueline Mcsharry

Jane Wainwright

Iris Walker

Geraldine Homewood

Andrew Hitchcock

Alison Hargreaves

Melissa Midgen

Louise Paine


Kerry O’Boyle

Amy Anderson

Caroline Hurley


Nicole Diamond

Christine Hankinson

Graham Linehan

Lisa Randall

Hazel Pegg

Nellie Munro

Joanne Priest

Diane Martin CBE

Eleanor Saville

Mujeres por la Abolición

Polly Clark

Angela Marshall

Angela Neale

Stella O Malley

Rachel Broady

Sarah Tanburn

Kristina J Harrison

Rachel Meyrick

Jesse Smith

Dawn Gibbs

Tricia Reilly

Lucy Lord

Jo Honey

Rose George

Sally Jones

Lesley Smith

Hilary Adams

Annabel de la Nougerede

Judith Jones

Elena Caton

Jennifer Eaton

Julie Goldsmith

Bev Tatham

Jo Waugh

Beth K.

G Daugherty

B Longstaff

Denise Sumpter

Leila Hilal

Karen Böhr

Angie Smith

Mark Ditchburn

Tessa McInnes

Peter Sage

Terri Jay Moore

Emma Thomas

Susie Colcutt

Chris Owen

Lorien Helm

Cerian Williams

Holls Jaybee

Catherine Baird

Claire Jones

Dr E M

Julie-Ann Walkden

Sarah Gellner

Claire Calverley

Keren Howard

Liz Aspden

AnneMarie Picchiottino

Mark Pulleyn

Claire Graham

Elaine Fraser

Deborah Herman

Janet Newsham

Anna Hutchinson

Sadhana Stone

Thomas Fernee

Liz Gower

Elizabeth Gordon

Sue McGill

Louise Branch

Peter Madill

Lynne Anderson

Ann-Marie Stacey

Gail Heath

Michael Lebednik

Ellie Smith

Kerrie Wilson

Debbie Dowler

Celia Sweeney

David McGiffen

Alison White

Alexandra Geddis

Sarah Campbell

Paige J Bramley

Jessica Goldfinch

Lauren Vargues

Monica Kurnatowska

David Jones

Kellie Ziemba

Vic Davies

Jessica Cruz

Elizabeth Griffiths

Jackie Macadam

C O’Brien

Annie Gwillym Walker

Dr Gillian Spraggs

Kate Anderson

Catherine Daniel

Kate Hill

Martin Dufresne

Margo van der Voort

Dr Lesley Kay

Nassim Nobari

Tracey Webber

Marlene Mason

Siaron Phillips

Sarah Galloway

Ronan Stenson

Valentina Furlong

Kelly de Jong

Sue Smith

Neli Busch

Michelle McGurn

Tina Lord

Elizabeth Carola

Beverley Landricombe

Tasia Aranguez

Cheryl McKenzie

Dee Sheehan

Jan Oliver

Sally Wainwright

Jenny Strom

Karel Dander

Sarah Mccann

Keith Morton

Owen Van Spall

Dr Angela Dixon

Christina Hernandez De Dios

Debbie Taylor-Osborne

Debbie Hayton

Amber Davis

Linda Oubridge

Emina Srebric

Issy Dickinson

Jeanna Hoch

Melinda Liszewski

Stacey O’Brien

Richard Collumbell

Nicola Benge

Susan Jack

Debra Bolderson

Dr Valerie Martin-Radcliffe

Dr Pamela Thompson

Anni Tracy

Y M Parsons

Susie Cottee

Ingrid Lyberg

Steph Benn

Karen Chisholm

Dr Laura Read

Andrew Noble


Sarah James

Emma Johnson

Lisa Proctor

Ani O’Brien

Rosalyn Harkin

Kate B

Natalie Carley, Q4 Collective

Tara Hubbard

Lynda Clarkson

Carol Easton

Katie Donnellan

Sandra Adams

Doreen Copeland

Claudia Figueira

David Thomas

Shane Cormican

Susan Sinclair

Joanna Bowers

Lorraine Payne

Hannah W

Tessa Singh

Kay Diffley

Audrey Meroe

Emma Palmer

Richard Keatley

Dr Eva Poen

Pat Williamson

Trish Lavelle

Lorna Fitzpatrick

Isabel Dugher

Tanya Carter

Onjali Qatara Rauf

Michelle Quinlan

Eve Coy

Bev McGregor

Eleanor Hill, Lleisiau Merched Cymru (Women’s Voices Wales)

Anne Robertson

Charlotte Wagner

Debbie Fisk

Anny Anderson

Jenny Dee

Nina Gadson

Gina McCaughan

Daressa Mullen

Diane Holyoak

Janet Lallysmith

Fionne Orlander

Michael Conroy, @MenAtWorkOrg

Clara Cassidy

Adam Burns

Simone Watson

Carol Angharad

Francesca Cambridge Mallen, Let Clothes be Clothes

Bernadette O’Malley

Daisy Jones

Rowena Russell

Helen O’Brien

Lena Munday

Josephine Liptrott

Betty Curtis, Get the Q Out

Gail Cameron

Heather Findlay

Claire Malone

Ian F Saunders

Dee Adams

P Michaelson

Rebecca Liebman

Rachel Miller

Barry Larkin

Christina Perez

Aida Rey Pazos

Sophia Dean

Gloria Valera

Laura Corballis

Martyn Everett

Hope Lye

Gail Sawyer

Vicky Frankland

Catherine Block

Keith Pirie

Tim Carter

Kate Lewis

Heather Leask

Lesley Hart

Lesley Masheder

Linda Killen

Yvonne Roberts

Jane Llewellyn

Helen Miller

Michelle Russell

Elaine McKay

Ruth Lavery

Rocio Reguera Candal

Isla Alexander

Brenda Ellis

Francis Nelson

Prof Perdita Stevens

Miranda Newsom

Yvonne Dziennik

Jois Rocha

Samantha Haycock

Maria Rey

Angela Arias

Jay Edge

Sara Moore

Donna Buckley

Carole Shepherd

Diana Toynbee

Kayleigh Parker

Lesley Whitefield

Vanessa Howard

Charlie Hadley

Lindsey Walker

Rebecca Whitby

Elizabeth Coulter

Roger Dubar

David Lyons

Elise Breugelmans, Feminist Women of Coventry

Andi Main

Lara Thompson

Kath Anderson

Norma Moore

Allison Bailey, Barrister

Cath Jones

Roseanne Cameron

Sarah L Nield

Suzanne Kimm

Kirsten Murray

Hugh Meechan

Jennifer Rubio

Clare Lennon

Amy Stratton

Stephanie Cole

Bev Blackhall

Thaddaeus Eckard

Patricia Garside

Lisa Ware

Sarah Digby

Kit Marsters

Caroline Barnard

Hayley Phillips

L Whittaker

Sonia Poulton

Rebecca Truscott

Sarah Decent

Emma Whiteley

Tracie Kanssen

M Carmen Viñes

Vicki Thornton

Alison Clarke

Sarah Tiley

Kirsty Johnston

Jo Todd, CEO Respect

Niamh McCabe

Lia Mariani

Philippa Lindsay

Monika Neall

Margaret Glover

Nathan Jay

Wendy Knight

Anna-Louise Adams

Karen Harris

Marian McCormack

Juliette Fioretta

Audra M Rourk

Verna Kilburn

Susie Hawkes

Andrea Clarke

Jenny Archer

Cathryn Spengeler

Gill Rimmer

Victoria Stacey

Leah Marriott

Ruth Thornett

Jane Robertson

Claire Robinson

Judith Berridge

Deborah Morgan

Lindsey Walker

Dr Sophie Allen

Frances Lumsden

Carol Cunningham

Emma Heyes

Audrey Gillies

Stasia Richardson

Dr Eleanor Scott

Judith Sim

Teresa Hewitt

Kate Williams

Elizabeth Pilling

Linda Wylie

Susan Carlyon

Tony Whiting

Amanda de Lussey

Tasneem Ahmed

Kate Grimes

Kate Carter

Jessica Fenn-Samuelsen

Gabriella Brady

Marta Bautista

Mick Martell

Lauren Leeman

Bonnie Poole

Kate Tyler

Sylvia Dobie

Keith Dobie

Daniel Baseley

Jackie Bourke

Claire Lewis

Donnica Colman

Dee Golder

Jo Hayes

Shoshana Handel

Siobhan Scullion

Jennie Dunn

Steve Rogers

Isla Arundel

Cordelia Mayfield

Prof Wendy Wheeler

Hazel Boyd

Heather Finlay

Tom Kennedy

Lindsay Wall

Anne Wilson

Rebecca Smith

Lisa Linton

Helen Macpherson

Susan Green

B Kirkland

Lowri Brueton

Kath Glover

Robyn Self

Chinzia Ogilvie

Rachel Masey

Sarah Pearson

Joolz Denby

Sharon Gascoigne

Helen Rayfield

Dr Morag Kerr

Rosemary Cadwallender

Madeleine Oliver

Paula Cole

Kirstie C

Anne Todd

Katherine A

Jules Woodcock

Valerie J Benham

Paul Connolly

Celia Wangler

Jennifer Tiffen

Feminist Women of Coventry

Marilyn Higham

Fiona Barry

Bonny Landsborough

Sarah Donachie

Oibhe Madden

Ruth Sinclair

Victoria Tebbs

Joy Mary Ledgerwood

Judy Mazonowicz

Alex Kenny

Debra Preston Helle

Deborah Ryan

Jane Schofield

Ruth Tweedale

Le Panayi

Jenny Dromey

M Teresa

Vicky Miller

Lauren Hamstead

Yvonne Manly

Cristina Mateos

Laura Wingham

Dr Diane Brewster

Lucy Early

Jim Gibney

Ellen Pasternak

Sian Henry

Alex Jordan

Victoria Diaz Auñon


We hope we picked up everyone’s names.

If you emailed us and your name is not here, please let us know and we will check our inbox.

We are not collecting any more signatures.

Thank you for your support and solidarity.









UCU Congress 2019 

This is a report from the mover and supporters of a recent motion on Academic freedom at the University & College Union ConferenceIt includes the text of the motion and amendment as well as speeches made in support of the motion. 

At UCU Higher Education Sector Conference on Sunday 28 May the following motion and amendments were debated in open session.  

Both amendments were carried before voting on the amended motion which was so close that tellers were required and the result declared 72 for, 80 against with 27 abstentions. 

HE32 (EP) Academic freedom to discuss sex and gender – University College London 

HESC notes: 

  1. UCU’s commitment to equality and academic freedom 
  1. that UCU members have much to contribute to public debate over definitions of ‘sex’, ‘gender’ and ‘gender identity’ 
  1. harassment has been directed at academics and activists. 

HESC believes: 

  1. that UCU members hold diverse views 
  1. members need not agree with the views of any academic to support their right to express them within the law (note 2) 
  1. civil engagement with reasoned argument and empirical evidence is a foundational value of HE, and essential for democracy. 

HESC resolves to: 

  1. re-affirm our commitment to academic freedom in research and teaching, and to the right of academics to participate in political debates 
  1. condemn the blacklisting and abuse of academics for exercising their academic freedom and lawful rights. 

HE32A.1 Higher education committee 

Add at end: 

  1. reaffirm that the rights of trans people and women are complementary 
  1. reaffirm the right of minority groups to self-identify 
  1. recognise the importance of the central involvement of trans, non-binary people and women in sex/gender studies/debates and campaign for the resources for this 
  1. calls for joint Women’s/LGBT+ Standing Committee session at Cradle to Grave conference and guidelines with Women’s/LGBT+ standing committee input on gender self-identification and cis women’s and trans rights enhancing each other. 

HE32A.2 LGBT+ members standing committee 

Add to resolves to iii and iv: 

  1. condemn any harassment of feminists and/or trans people for expressing views on sex, gender and gender identity; 
  1. construct spaces in which gender diversity can be explored through respectful dialogue underpinned by solidarity with all oppressed groups and the promotion of unity in action by women and trans people in the face of attacks on either group. 

Here we reproduce draft versions of some of the speeches made in favour of the motion. 

Moving HE32: Holly Smith UCL UCU 

You might ask why we are bringing a motion to Congress when UCU has established policy on academic freedom. Debates on sex and gender have become so heated that if you haven’t been following closely you might be shocked to hear about student campaigns for the summary dismissal of our members, universities inundated with demands to cancel lectures and events, a whole conference on Prison Abolition with 300 people registered cancelled by the Open University.  

One of the worst examples is the case of Professor Rosa Freedman an international expert on Human Rights Law who works with the United Nations to establish legal protections for minorities, including LGBT minorities. Last year Prof Freedman was approached on campus by a young man who called her a “transphobic Nazi who should get rapedas reported in the Guardian. Professor Freedman has endured shocking levels of harassment including death threats, calls for her to be sacked, calls for her to be no platformed wherever she goes to speak, and her office door being urinated on.  

The UCL branch stumbled into this last year when 6 members, including 3 of our branch committee and current and former Equality Reps, signed what we thought was an uncontroversial letter to the Guardian calling for academic freedom on sex and gender. Since when we have been slandered as bigots, but the worst thing has been a Facebook account which asked: please send photos of dead feministsposted a hit list of academics deemed to be bigots (including those who had signed the letter to the Guardian). The UCL branch have been brilliant supporting us. 

I think it is important to distinguish between disagreement, critique, and protest (which are absolutely legitimate in HE) and harassment, threats and calls for our members to lose their jobs. I hope that some of you picked up the article we wrote in the Morning Star on the way in, where we argue that fascists should be ‘no-platformed’, but not UCU members and human rights lawyers.   

Sex, gender and gender identity are issues about which our members hold diverse views, and even disagree about the definitions. The thing about academic freedom is that you don’t have to agree with anyone’s view to support their right to express it. We support the academic freedom of those who disagree with us, do you support ours? 

We welcome Amendment 32A.2 from the LGBT+ members standing committee, which is wholly in the spirit of the original motion in defending members and enabling respectful dialogue. 

Supporting speech: Judith Suissa UCL UCU 

We are not asking you to endorse or agree with the views of the people who have been victims of the kind of abuse and harassment Holly described.  What we are asking is that we send out a clear message that our commitment to academic freedom means that we cannot condone such treatment of our colleagues.  Academic freedom of course does not mean the right of anybody to say whatever they like.  Hate speech and incitement to violence have no place in our union or in our academic practice. But reasonable disagreement is part of the fabric of our work and our political activism. And reasonable people can and do disagree on the underlying issues within the framework of a commitment to trans rights and women’s rights.   

In a society rife with sexism, women need to discuss the reality of their bodily experience.  Both gender reassignment and sex are protected characteristics in the 2010 Equality Act, and if we want to fight sexism, we have to be able to talk about sex and sex differences. We have to be able to monitor and challenge sex-based discrimination, through for example campaigning on equal pay, protecting women’s services, and ensuring fair and appropriate healthcare.    

Academics from different disciplines have a range of views on sex and gender, and there is reasonable disagreement on the underlying assumptions, including amongst our own branch members who supported this motion.  But if merely referring to biological sex, or to sex differences, is enough to justify silencing, harassment and intimidation, then a lot of you may find yourselves on the receiving end of treatment that is not in line with our principles as a union, and that threatens both rigorous academic work and democratic culture.   

Whoever intends to speak against the motion, I hope that you will speak about the actual motion that you have before you.  

Supporting speech: Shereen Benjamin University of Edinburgh UCU 

I don’t have much to add to what’s already been said, but I want to give you a further example of why this motion is so necessary and so important.  

A group of UCU members at the University of Edinburgh are organising a panel discussion on women’s rights in a couple of weeks [1]. We’re not doing this as UCU, it’s part of our other work, but we’re all UCU members. Given the topic we expected to face criticism and protest, and of course that’s fine and something we fully support. But we’re facing much more than that.  

Within hours of the publicity for the event going live, the University was being tagged into defamatory tweets about the event, and our university Principal and my head of department started receiving emails calling on them to cancel it – in other words, the university was put under pressure to no-platform discussion of sex and gender. Some of those emails included misogynist and homophobic abuse of our speakers, many of whom are UCU members themselves.  

Since then, there have been online threats to stop the discussion taking place, for example by threatening to set off fire alarms and rape alarms, thereby attempting to prevent our speakers and audience members from exercising their academic freedom and lawful rights. Some of our speakers have received threats to their safety or their livelihoods if they participate. And I’ve had to spend time on email this afternoon dealing with today’s crop of online threats. There has been a constant stream of smears and unsubstantiated allegations stirring up hostility and fear on campus and beyond. As you can imagine, it’s a very intimidating situation for the organisers and speakers to find ourselves in, and we need to know that our union has our backs.  

The motion, and the very welcome amendment from the LGBT+ members standing committee, will provide re-assurance that UCU won’t stand for these sorts of threats to academic freedom. I urge you to support it.   

UCL UCU Right of Reply 

Our Branch Committee and our membership have a diversity of views on the substantive matters in the debates referred to in the motion. It is important that I tell you that. But they agreed that when our members face attacks because of their research and ideas, we have to defend their academic freedom. 

Speaker after speaker against the motion has claimed that it contains ‘transphobia’ written into the “fabric of its text”, but not a single one has been able to quote a single line or word of text to support this claim. They have said the context is what matters, but the context is a branch defending academic freedom for our members, regardless of agreement or disagreement with those members’ academic views. 

There’s been a claim that “opening up spaces” for dialogue in the amended motion gives problematic views an equal support from the union. It does not give anyone any support for their specific views, it just supports everyone’s right to engage in research and discussion. 

Some speakers have said the use of the word “blacklisting” is insulting. Well, in the strictest sense of employers passing rounds lists, this has not happened. But in the perfectly understandable extension of the term, where people face being put on lists with the intention of getting them fired or sanctioned in their jobs, this has happened. 

Finally, I just want to put it to you all: in order to oppose the motion and the academic freedom it proposes to defend, you would genuinely have to believe that the colleagues, our members, whose academic freedom it defends are engaged in hate speech and so beyond having their speech defended. The union has not adopted such a position. For that reasonyou should support the motion. 


Editor’s note

[1] This event, ‘Women’s Sex-based rights: what does (and should) the future hold’, took place in Edinburgh on Wednesday 5th June. One of the speakers, Julie Bindelwas attacked as she left the meeting.  

A Woman’s Place is speaking out: Bristol

If you are thinking of organising a meeting in your area we’ve produced this toolkit which pulls together what we’ve learned from our experiences. Some of the feminists who organised a WPUK meeting in Bristol in February 2018 discuss how they did it.

This was only the third meeting that we had help organise at a time when very few meetings of this nature were happening. We think the climate has changed significantly since then and that it is easier now for women to organise local meetings themselves. This testimony shows how far we have come.


When we had the meeting, beforehand it felt ‘tentative and dangerous’ and having to persuade people to come. Now ‘everyone’ has heard of it and it’s amazing the number of women who’ve come round and are very angry – lots of them are in in so many of online groups – and they mention they were at that first meeting or heard about it.

Elaine Hutton says “I think that’s what I’m personally ‘proud of’ that we raised awareness. There was such solidarity and relief that the meeting came off. And good co-operation between WPUK organisers and local women from different groups.”

Speakers from Transgender Trend, Lesbian Rights Alliance, Critical Sisters and Woman’s Place UK represented different stands of the fightback against the erasure women’s and lesbians’ rights and the attack on children’s and young women’s healthy bodies.

There was a simultaneous sense of being tired and stressed out from managing security – worried something might have slipped past our notice – and a huge high from witnessing the event go ahead on the night, knowing we had contributed to making that happen.

A highlight was the sense of having provided a forum for women to voice questions and concerns that had been held back and silenced for months, even years. Hearing the Q&A and the huge amount of “What can we do?” questions and personal experience stories from women from all walks of life, many active in the Women´s sector and Left parties – all who had found it difficult, if not impossible, to raise questions concerning the issues surrounding the potential clashes between women´s sex-based rights and the proposed Self-ID GRA Reform.

If you’re thinking about putting on a meeting, we’d say:

  • Find yourself a close knit team of 3-5 dedicated women you trust and go for it!
  • It’s best to have a range of skills so you can allocate different tasks to those best suited to them.
  • Do not underestimate the time and effort that goes into organising WPUK events. There is a tendency, even among women, to take for granted our own unpaid labour – so it can be tempting to think the events are easy to pull off. They are not, they happen thanks to the effort and toil of the organisers – be ready to dedicate both hours and mental headspace to it.
  • And remember to pat yourselves frequently on the back when the event goes ahead!

We’re so proud that between a small number of organisers we were able to contrive and pull off the third ever WPUK event in an extremely toxic and misogynistic environment that had made out any attempts to discuss the issues were bigotry and hate speech. This is the best aspect of WPUK meetings: that each one reaches women who before had felt isolated in their concerns – each inhabiting a separate island with no one tangible to discuss their concerns with. The events provide a physical space and a real opportunity for women to build bridges between each other.


Watch the films of the speakers at the Bristol meeting:

Jo Bartosch


Lynne Harne


Stephanie Davis-Arai


Judith Green

A Woman’s Place is turning the tide

Ali Ceesay was part of a team of women who organised a WPUK meeting in Brighton in July 2018.

Organising a WPUK meeting, may not feel like an easy undertaking. The notorious harassment of venues & speakers are well documented.

But times are changing. The baseless allegations, slander and smearing of WPUK are waning.


Because the more meetings they have, the louder our voices, the clearer the message.

In my town of Brighton our sex based rights are being erased.

Erased without debate, without consultation & without consideration. From council policy, to our Rape Crisis centre. I felt voiceless. I felt alone. I felt powerless. Women in Brighton needed a voice. Needed a platform. Needed Womans Place UK.

So I joined a small collective of local women to organise a WPUK meeting. I had never organised anything like this before. To be frank, it felt overwhelming. My head was buzzing with lists and outcomes. But it needn’t  have been. The combined expertise and passion of our local group combined with the experience of the WPUK team was formidable and exhilarating. For me- a newbie to this, it was the best work experience of my life.

We had disruptions, venue cancellations, misrepresentation in the press, protests. Each of these disruptions played out well. We got a better venue, the protests & smearing (although intimidating) simply served to demonstrate the bullying nature of many seeking to remove our rights.

All of the challenges, brought us organisers closer together. Humour, wine, righteous anger and a quiet determination bonded us all. We not only organised a meeting but we built a local network. Friendships stronger than ever, nearly a year down the line.  Still working together locally to represent the rights of women and girls.

And our meeting was a success. Helen Saxby, Kathleen Stock (both local), Gill Smith & Ruth Serwotka brought the house down. The people came, the venue held strong, the protesters were kept at bay & media coverage was good. Local influencers from politics, to charities, from the media were in attendance. We pulled it off!

So often as women we have to fight our battles alone.

Not now.

The experience of standing shoulder to shoulder in a congregation of women, learning from powerful orators, watching attendees finally given space, a voice and a microphone was exhilarating.

Knowing I had a small part to play in it, well that’s a feeling I will never forget.

Ali Ceesay

Organise your own public meeting where you livesee our guidance.

Watch the films of our speakers at A Woman’s Place is turning the tide (Brighton)

Helen Saxby

Kathleen Stock

Gill Smith

Ruth Serwotka


Women’s Right to Write

Audre Lorde

Raquel Rosario Sánchez spoke at Feminist Writers Talk Back! at the University of Bristol’ event on Tuesday, May 28th. Read this and you will have some idea of the hurdles that gender critical feminists have to face when they want to meet.

Thank you very much.

Thank you to our venue, the University of Bristol, for abiding by the law and respecting the fact that a group of overwhelmingly women do in fact have a right to freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and perhaps more relevant to our event tonight, freedom of thought.

These rights have been enshrined in law through the Human Rights Act 1998, and women’s right to self-organisation is protected by the Equality Act 2010. Meaning that if we had wanted to have a female-only meeting, we were perfectly entitled to do so. However, I did check the attendees list and we have some men among us. Thank you for joining us.

Thank you in particular to the amazing Campus Security Services and other security present tonight for their thoughtfulness in helping us prepare for this event, for the respect that they have shown to us, as a Feminist Student Society, and to the safety of our attendees. We are very grateful.

Thank you to every single one of the women present here. Thank you for participating with us in this celebration of women and their rights to think, talk and write. In the women’s liberation movement, we need women willing to step up and put these events together in spite of opposition, but we equally need women willing to engage and participate. Neither side can exist without the other, so thank you all very much.

Most importantly, I would like to thank the women from Women Talk Back!. Women who only attended one meeting and those who have become regulars participating in every single one of the consciousness-raising meetings. Women Talk Back! meetings are held almost every Sunday at the Multifaith Chaplaincy, here at the University of Bristol.

This event exists to honour the women sharing a panel with me today and also to honour the courageous women of Women Talk Back! Several of them are with us tonight (some are home studying hard and preparing for exams but they are with us in spirit). I would like to ask you all to please give a massive round of applause to these fantastic young women who have achieved something quite remarkable.

Who are these women? What is Women Talk Back!?

“The Feminist Student Society at the University of Bristol, Women Talk Back! provides a space for women to engage in lively discussion and debate. We are in pursuit of global liberation from all forms of patriarchy. We therefore centre all women who experience misogyny, but who may also face racism, anti-lesbianism, classism and other forms of structural discrimination that arise from male domination. Women Talk Back! are committed to the power of sisterhood and believe that it is only through an understanding of our similarities and differences that we can liberate ourselves from patriarchy.

We believe that dialogue with each other is the first step towards liberation from oppressive structures and practices. We welcome women from all backgrounds to join and take part in all aspects of the group. We aim to foster a culture of collective responsibility, care, and honesty with ourselves and one another.”

I have always loved the fact that Women Talk Back! meets at the Multifaith Chaplaincy here on campus. It is an affirmation that it is perfectly legitimate to share ideas and disagreements, as long as our common denominator is respect for one another.

Aside from that, it is quite a feat to get a group of young women to voluntarily dedicate three hours of their busy weekends to talk about the oppression, discrimination and collective liberation of all women and girls, worldwide.

When I attended the meetings, I would often look around and ponder how many professors right here on this campus wish they could keep their students’ attention for one hour… once a week! And here we have this feminist student society doing student-led teaching and activism; drawing fellow female students in to discuss their struggles and the fight against patriarchy.

If I have to spell it out: these young women weren’t dedicating 3 hours of their weekends to gossip about boys and booze. Even though, you know, that’s totally cool too! But they have created this space and nurtured it with love, respect and kindness for each other, and perhaps most crucial, for themselves. And when the pressure came, they stood their ground with remarkable poise, broadcasting to fellow students and feminists who were watching how to properly live their feminist ideals with dignity.

During the planning stages of officialising the group, I thought that maybe we should name it something fun and cool to get “the kids” on board. Something like ‘Feminism and Cupcakes! to attract a wider audience of university campus students. Evidently what I was doing with that proposal was just showing my age! (A couple of days ago, I sent May an email with the sentence “would it be okay if we livestream and live-tweet the event?” and I’ve never felt older in my entire life!)

The leadership of the group decided on something else: Women Talk Back! And how right they were to stand their ground on that front.

Who knew that in the year 2019 we would have to be grateful to academic institutions in the United Kingdom for allowing women the doubtful freedom to exercise the rights that have already been enshrined in law? Who knew that in the year 2019, women talking back and asserting their boundaries would be of note?

But it is. Same as it ever was.

Tonight, we celebrate women who talk back through their writing. I have no further commentary on the power of feminist writing than the events which have unfolded in the past couple of weeks, and in the past sixteen months.

If we want to test whether women do have the right to write, we shouldn’t look into the applause and the adulation they get when they write something that appears, on the surface, to be popular or formally acknowledged as the norm. We should pay closer attention to what happens when a woman writes what must not be written and what has not been approved.

Approved by whom? Evidently, by her superiors.

One of the struggles of feminists who want to organise events in university campus, is that if we tell women all the hoops that have to be jumped through to put on events, and the abuse that must be faced, then we might scare off women who are hesitant to engage. Yet, if we do not tell them, then we risk normalising misogynist dynamics and discriminatory processes which place far more scrutiny on peaceful women than on aggressive bullies who target women. Another struggle is having to deal with the many Dickhead SUs that operate within the UK! #SorryNotSorry

To use one example, we have over 100 women (and some men) here in this room tonight. Each and every single one of you had to be vetted. Oh yeah, we googled you and we cross-referenced you… We asked friends if they knew you and we looked up all your tweets! This was a security measure and we are happy to comply with whatever is required of us in order to hold this event.

But some nights, when I was alone in my computer, looking at your LinkedIn profiles and the pictures you took with your nieces on that trip to Barcelona, back in 2014, which you shared on Facebook… I thought to myself, how often are men required to do this? How many of the other student societies (there are dozens, if not hundreds) have to spend as much time, energy and effort as ours?

We are the only feminist student society in the United Kingdom which is female-only, and this is the price we have to pay for asserting our boundaries, as women.

I am sure each one of you is extraordinary but plainly speaking, we are just women holding an event to talk about our lives and the power of using pen and keyboards as a tool to fight back against patriarchy.

Tonight, we celebrate women who write. We celebrate Minna Salami, Victoria Smith, Jeni Harvey, Sarah Ditum, (our dearly missed) Beatrix Campbell, May Mundt-Leach and all the female writers who are with us in this room and in spirit, as well.

We celebrate them because a woman with a pen and keyboard is mighty.

A feminist writer commits the most grievous sin: the sin of assuming that she is entitled not only to hold thoughts inside her own brain, but that she has the right to express them outwardly and with other women. She is so brazen that she believes that her thoughts are so important, that other women (and men) may be interested in reading them. She truly has no shame!

A feminist writer with a pen and keyboard is a danger. I ponder: the 8-10 security men who are with us today are protecting whom and from what?

I suggest we end the section of these evening with the one and only Dale Spender, who gifted the women’s liberation movement with an almost 800-page volume singularly addressing the challenges that await feminist writers:

“We need to know how patriarchy works. We need to know how women disappear, why we are initiated into a culture where women have no visible past, and what will happen if we make that past visible and real. If the process is not to be repeated again, if we are to transmit to the next generation of women what was denied transmission to us, we need to know how to break the closed circle of male power which permits men to go on producing knowledge about themselves, pretending that we do not exist.

And this is to enter the realm of theory; not to mystify, intimidate or oppress, but to describe and to explain the experience of women in a male-dominated society which says that if such experience does exist, then it is of no account.

Into a context in which women have grave doubts about the potential of the intellectual, I am going to introduce the argument which contends that this is no accident; I am going to suggest that patriarchy has found it profitable to turn us away from the intellectual. We have been discouraged from formulating and building theories, for patriarchy finds this a dangerous activity on the part of women. This is why the theories we have constructed, again and again, and which show many similar features, have so effectively disappeared.”

But Dale Spender has not disappeared. She is alive in her writing, just like the women on this panel will live on through their work and will make company to the women who grab a cup of tea, pick up one of their articles or books, and reads them. 

We have not disappeared.

We are here, and I can see you.

If you look to your right, and to your left: you can see each other.

We are here, and the brilliant young minds of Women Talk Back! will guarantee that there will be many of us here, for years to come.

Dale Spender wrote that in 1982. She dedicated Women of Ideas (And What Men Have Done To Them) to her mother, her sister, her friends and herself. And I dedicate tonight’s event to the women of Women Talk Back!, to our speakers, to our audience, to my mum, to my sisters, to my female friends and to myself.

Thank you.

Raquel Rosario Sánchez is a writer and researcher. She specialises in ending violence against women and girls and is currently pursuing a PhD with the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol.

Stand up, speak out: Julie Bindel

Julie Bindel is a journalist, writer, broadcaster and researcher active in the global campaign to end violence towards women and children since 1979. She is talking here at the 22nd meeting of Woman’s Place UK.

Watch the film of Julie speaking at #WPUKLondon


I want to first give a big shout out to Woman’s Place, one of the most principled feminist organisations anywhere.

And my next point is about the female penis. Last year I was in Australia doing a book tour. So there were feminists were at the book tour and those Australian feminists say it as it is.

We were complaining about the liberal press and in particular one feature in one particular liberal broadsheet. They were reporting on the case of Karen White, the sex offender, child abuser, natal man who suggested to the prison service that he was in fact a transwoman and ended up assaulting, sexually assaulting, women in prison. These are the most vulnerable, assaulted women on the planet. One line stood out for me: “Her erect penis was visible above her tights.” And this Australian full-on lesbian turned to me and said, “The only time that her penis should be used in a sentence is when a woman has castrated her rapist and she’s holding it up.”

So I want to start a brief whistle-stop tour of my experience with the “trans Taliban”. It was in 2003, when I wrote my first article and the year before the Gender Recognition Act.

In 2003 I saw a small report in a tabloid newspaper about a teacher who had left her primary school as Miss, and was returning the following term as Mr, having gone through sex reassignment surgery. The press said she had had a sex-change and I realised I had not read anything in the British press about the misdiagnosis or the madness of transgenderism. I decided, having found absolutely nothing in the press about it to date, to write a feature on the diagnosis of transsexuality, and how misogynistic psychiatrists in the 1950s had come up with the notion of being “trapped in the wrong body”.

They were, as we know, anti-gay and anti-lesbian and totally reliant on sex stereotypes
In the piece I quoted a forensic psychiatrist called Fiona Mason, who I knew to be a feminist and who was expert on the effects of sexual violence on women and girls. She said:

‘I can’t imagine assessing anyone suffering from a serious disorder in under three hours. It can take three years to assess patients with complex problems. The trouble with some private clinics is that the patients are just given hormones after an hour-long appointment, which can have an irreversible effect on the body.”

I quoted the best known psychiatrist for diagnosing transsexuality, Russell Reid, who some years later would end up being forced to stop practising by the General Medical Council after it was discovered that he took approximately 45 minutes to diagnose someone as transsexual, before referring them for surgery and hormones. Many of his former patients regretted going through sex change surgery, including my friend Claudia, a great ally, who was one of his victims back in the 1980s.

And here I have to say that we cannot possibly ignore the fact that many natal males who live as the opposite sex – with hormones and surgery – are also victims of this hideous medical malpractice based on women’s oppression. Some suffer through this, and I hate hearing language used to demean people who’ve been through this – who are, to some degree, victims of patriarchy.

I wrote:

“In 2000 Reid was involved in controversy over the condition known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), where sufferers can experience a desperate urge to rid themselves of a limb. Reid was one of the psychiatrists who referred two patients with BDD to a surgeon for leg amputations. ‘When I first heard of people wanting amputations it seemed bizarre in the extreme,’ he said ‘but then I thought, “I see transsexuals and they want healthy parts of their body removed in order to adjust to their idealised body image”, and so I think that was the connection for me. I saw that people wanted to have their limbs off with equally as much degree of obsession and need.”

In the 2003 piece I also mentioned children. I wrote:

“Particularly disturbing is the apparent impunity with which children are diagnosed with ‘gender identity disorder’. Mermaids, a support group for children and teenagers with GID, has seen a dramatic increase in enquiries since it opened its doors in 1993. Children as young as 14 are receiving sex-change treatment, including being prescribed drugs to block the onset of puberty. Transsexualism is the only psychiatric or medical condition where the patients can, to all intents and purposes, diagnose themselves.”

The next year I left my job in academic research to do journalism full time and was asked to write a couple of columns for the Guardian weekend magazine. I had heard about the hellish legal case that Vancouver Rape Relief had been going through for 10 years that had recently concluded in their favour. A transsexual male called Kimberley Nixon had taken out a case against this absolutely superb organisation and on a “human rights” ticket, claiming to have been discriminated against because he wasn’t being invited to counsel rape victims because he had decided that he was a woman.

It was clearly a setup because the day after it was politely explained to him that he could not play this role, the human rights organisation in British Columbia issued proceedings against Vancouver Rape Relief.

So when I wrote this column I was angry and I went berserk about the diagnosis of transsexualism, male entitlement and the sex stereotypes that transsexuality promotes. It was shared worldwide amongst trans activists on personal blogs and list serves. It was before Facebook and Twitter. A forum, Gingerbeer, which described itself as an online social group for lesbians to chat and share information in the UK, had a policy of including transsexual males who identified as lesbians.

My article was a hot topic of discussion for at least a year. I could see, on visiting the site that the trans lobby had plans to come after the feminists. The Guardian received 200 letters of complaint about the column and the reader’s editor wrote his own weekly column on the issue saying that it was wrong to have published it. My editor, Katharine Viner, defended both me and her decision to publish it.

The gay press began to vilify me. I received hate mail and death threats on a weekly basis from all sorts of quarters. It was also the misogynistic gay male movement that ran the gay press. This harassment culminated in 2008 in a 200-strong demonstration against me outside the Victoria and Albert Museum where Stonewall was holding its annual awards ceremony. I had been nominated for journalist of the year, and quite frankly had it not been for the fact that I found out about the nomination via Pink News – or Penis News – in a “shock, horror – vile transphobe Bindel is up for an award” I would have not even attended the event, being no fan of Stonewall.

I happened to be escorted from the tube to the venue by Brian Padick, now a Lib Dem peer but a whistle-blowing police officer, past the 200-strong crowd calling for my blood, death, rape, whatever.

I didn’t win. But I had already found out from one of the judges who was appalled at what had happened that I was a clear winner, but that they did not dare give me the award in case the trans-activists stormed the museum. So instead it was given to a heterosexual agony aunt who had never been a journalist. A fair alternative, no?

That demonstration galvanised the transgender movement in the UK. From then on, everywhere I went to speak about violence against women and girls, there would be some kind of protest, picket, or attempt to disinvite me. Not me speaking about transgender issues – though I did try and on occasion succeeded in having a discussion with transpeople who wanted a reasonable conversation.

In 2009, I was given the honour of being the very first individual to be officially no platformed by the National Union of students alongside five fascist groups. The motion at the conference that decided my ban contained the sentence, “Julie Bindel is vile”. My name was misspelled – who says we are not paying for a decent education.

In 2010 I accepted an invitation to speak at an event called “Queer Question Time” at a notorious “queer” venue called the Vauxhall Tavern in London. There I was. Dozens of them turned up outside screaming and shouting that I was a Nazi, a bigot, a fascist, etc, etc. That I was Hitler (it’s always Hitler, never Pol Pot. None of your mid-range dictators ever get a look in).  And then they came into the venue itself, shouted and heckled all the way through my presentations, with one trans activist throwing an object at me on stage whilst screaming in my face. I thought – I’m just walking out. The videos can be found on YouTube.

As I walked out there was a queue of gay men saying they agreed with me and I was right to speak up.

It happened outside of the UK also, such as when Janice Raymond, heroic feminist and author of the 1979 classic The Transsexual Empire and myself spoke at a conference in Denmark in 2011 about the abuse of women and girls in the global sex trade. The pro-prostitution lobby, which is indivisible from the trans-Taliban, turned up at the event.

Outside of the venue they screamed and shouted about how bigoted, violent and dangerous we were, and proceeded to bang on the windows whilst a sex trade survivor was speaking about being pimped age 15.

You know if you took the words “actual” and “literal” out of their rhetoric there wouldn’t be much left.

In 2014 I did a debate at Essex University on pornography organised by academics, so the NUS was not involved.

It was with Jerry Barnett, producer of some of the most vile and racist pornography – including a parody of the taxi-drive rapist John Worboys.

I was screamed at as a fascist who was “causing actual, literal harm to transgender students” and biphobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, homophobic and not a real lesbian.

He got a free pass. That’s when I started to use the word Orwellian.

Probably their lowest point was when they attempted to get me disinvited from a talk I had been asked to do in 2017 at the Salford Working Class Library, the only venue of its kind in the country, on growing up a working-class lesbian in the north-east of England. They hounded and harassed the volunteers at the library, blocked their phone line, targeted all of their sponsors and supporters, tried very hard to get their funding pulled, and when they failed, turned up on the day to scream and shout. Leftist poster-boy Owen Jones was asked politely to give support to the library and denounce the bullies, but he declined. The brilliant Lucy Masoud has named him Talcum X. Faux working class, or rather: woking class.

The Working Class Library, because it is run by brave and principled people, did not for one second consider cancelling the event or replacing it with another speaker.

Which leads me to my key point. We saw this coming a long time ago. Those very few women you could count on one hand, with high profiles in the women’s movement, warned of this.

Some of you were not involved because you are too young or because of circumstances. But you are all here now. And that that, in and of itself, is a brave position.

I mean, I heard about Nina Power. This is someone who at the time went along with “transwomen are women” and signed a letter denouncing some of us.  Now she is being attacked for, I quote, “uncritically attended a Woman’s Place meeting”.

During the time I was being publicly and visibly harassed and abused, aside from my brilliant and close circle of friends, most people kept their heads down. I would get emails from feminist after feminist telling me they agreed with what I had said. They shared my position, but of course dared not say anything because they would come in for the same treatment as me.

I would then get the liberals telling me, an out lesbian since 1977, that they could not possibly support my position against transgender ideology, because the trans-rights movement, as they saw it, was exactly the same as the lesbian and gay liberation movement back in the 1970s. They refused to accept that this was a men’s rights movement, underpinned by the most pernicious misogyny, and supported by men who could scream “bigot, transphobe” and the likes at me and still be seen on the side of the progressives.

And then there were the free-speech warriors who told me that although they personally despised my transphobia, they defended my right to say it.

There were good people such as Mary Beard, until she saw the light. And then Peter Tatchell.

This deeply offended me. Caroline Lucas, the Green Party member of Parliament for Brighton Paviliongave an interview to Penis News in which she expressed dismay at my bigoted transphobic beliefs.

And then there were the women’s organisations.

Fawcett Society published its report on the organisation’s position on “gender” – meaning transgenderism – in order to look like good girls and cover their backs. They used me as an example of feminist transphobia that they disapproved of, quoting from a report in Penis News – not something I had actually said – that was as pernicious as it was inaccurate. I complained, and the reference was removed.

When I hear women and men say to me that they couldn’t possibly risk going through what we have been through, I tell them that the purpose of the abuse against those of us who have spoken out.

It is to act as a warning. I wouldn’t have chosen to be in that position. But I am.

Since when were we ever a women’s liberation movement that decided to keep shtum and let a few other women take the shit?

It’s not about me. It’s about 20-year old women at university or on the estates – facing being abused raped, their drinks spiked, denigrated. We all have a duty – moral, ethical and political to stand up.

Since when did we capitulate in case we were sacked or in case we were thought of as nasty women? Yes, some women have more to lose than others. If they lose their job, they are in trouble and might not be able to feed their kids. So we feed their kids, we do what women throughout history have done, during the time in the 1970s and 1980s when our refuges were run by volunteers who had to have a whip round to buy the food to feed the women escaping violent men.

But they can’t sack everyone. The most reasonable people – someone like Nina Power – are being called fascists. This is the unreality.

So we do what feminists have done in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia where they have no rights.

I have just come back from Uganda, where there is a 14-year prison sentence for same-sex encounters. It is much worse for women where lesbians are punishment raped, rejected by their families, live on the streets, and often pimped into prostitution, for being lesbians. What do they do?

They don’t go around saying, “I’m too frightened to speak out”. Uganda has the most vibrant lesbian feminist movement I know in the in global south. If they lose jobs then have to go to other women and say feed me. If we have to do that, we do that.

We can’t sit at the comfort of a computer screen.

Speak up.

Stop doing that anonymous thing. Stop saying, “I can’t say this.”

Yes you can.

When I was on the way to the airport leaving Uganda I thought I’m going to have the conversation on the trans issue.

I spoke with one fantastic lesbian activist. And she said, “You know that meeting we had with 50 lesbians. meeting 50 lesbians?”


“Well do you know why I nipped out for 10 minutes?”


“Well there were four transwomen demanding to come in and we were all telling our coming out stories and you were interviewing everyone. So I said to them: ‘I know you hate me. I know you’re going to kick up a fuss. But go away. There are loads of transgendered places for you to go. Loads of LGBT places for you to go. ’This is a women only space.’”

And she said she was raised with nine brothers and she just wasn’t having it.

So let’s just not have it.

Julie Bindel

20th May 2019







Sex, gender & development: Maya Forstater

Maya Forstater is an independent researcher, writer and advisor working on the business of sustainable development. She has worked with a large number of organisations, including the New Economics Foundation, UNICEF and the Center for Global Development. This is the text of her speech for #WPUKLondon on 20th May 2019

Her Crowd Justice fundraiser can be found at https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/lost-job-speaking-out/

Watch the film of Maya speaking at #WPUKLondon


Picture by Lily Maynard

My name is Maya Forstater. I lost my job working for an international development think tank for stating a gender critical viewpoint, and I am taking the organisation I worked for to employment tribunal.

A couple of Sundays ago I had the most momentous day, sitting on sofa in my pyjamas. I watched the crowdfunder that I had launched to support my legal case rise faster than I could have hoped. It raised over £60,000 in three days in mainly small donations including, I am sure, from many people in this room, as well as support from people such as Martina Navratilova, Sharron Davies and Tanni-Grey Thompson and people who know me in real life.

I am grateful for all of your support, which has allowed me to take the legal case forward, but I think, perhaps more importantly the strength of the response showed just how much support there is for making the law work for women on issue. The message that the success of the crowdfunder sent to me and to everyone watching it was “This matters”. “We are not going to shut up”. “And we are not alone.”

I am not going to talk about my case that tonight. What I am going to talk about is about how the issues about sex and gender relate to international development. This is based on a blogpost which I wrote (and drafts of which were part of what I was investigated for at work).

By International Development I mean government-to-government cooperation: aid, but also beyond aid: trade, diplomacy, human rights, advocacy for open government and democracy, migration and even international tax rules (which is what I worked on in my day job). It concerns the policies of the UK government and other rich countries, and also institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, and charities like Action Aid and Oxfam, and human rights orgs like Amnesty.

Increasingly all of these organisations are all thinking more and more about ‘gender’ in relation to international development. And by gender they mean sex

The Sustainable Development Goals have specific goals on gender – violence against women and girls, reproductive healthcare & economic.

By gender, they mean sex.

It is used as a polite synonym and also to encompass the expectations and constraints that societies impose on people because of their sex.

OXFAM just came out with a document calling for ‘feminist aid policies’ which highlights the reasons why ‘gender’ is recognised as such a critical issue in development:

  • At current rates of progress, it will take 202 years to close the ‘global economic gender gap’ (and by gender they mean sex).
  • More than half of the world’s women are legally restricted from working in certain sectors because of their gender (and by gender they mean sex).
  • It is estimated that 650 million women and girls worldwide were married before the age of 18, many of them facing violence and other severe violations of their rights.
  • At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation.
  • Thirty-five percent of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • Every day women do 16.4 billion hours of unpaid care work – at least twice as much, and in some settings ten times as much, as men.
  • Each year worldwide more than 200 million women want to avoid pregnancy but do not use modern contraception,
  • 25 million unsafe abortions take place.
  • Globally more than 130 million school-aged girls do not attend primary or secondary school.

None of this is to do with gender identity. These are things that happen to women and girls because of the way that society treats people because of their sex.

Organisations concerned with international development and human rights would struggle to articulate their goals, policies and research without a word to denote female people.

But as we know it is increasingly argued across Europe and North America, and by global elites that gender identity should overwrite sex as a legal and practical category.

Oxfam’s feminist aid document barely mentions the word ‘sex’, and I do not think this is accidental. Organisations working on gender and development are becoming coy about saying that by ‘women’ they mean, and have always meant, the female sex. They know it is controversial and few are willing to stand up for the biological definition of women, or even to hold open a space for clear, calm discussion.

Many influential funders such as George Soros’s Open Society Foundation foundation and international civil society organisations such as Amnesty International are calling for governments to allow people to change their legal sex at will, and to allow people to access single sex spaces of the opposite sex based on their gender identity. But none have promoted analysis or debate about how this would impact women and girls.

Others are just staying quiet – continuing to work on issues that affect women and girls and continuing to  say gender when they mean sex – and hoping that no one asks them to be clear.

When I raise this issue with colleagues in development, including those who work on gender issues, many say it isn’t a big deal. Debates on sex versus gender are toxic and controversial: what does it matter if they are not clear and explicit about the difference between ideas about gender identity and the reality of sex based oppression of women and girls? Where does it sit on the list of priorities of things that organisations should be concerned about, compared to big issues like climate change, humanitarian emergencies, corruption, economic development?

I think it matters.

Development at its heart is about organisations doing their job.

Countries become richer and people become better off  when there are more organisations, doing more complex jobs, better. And where people can influence the decisions which affect their lives. In other words; where organisations are accountable:

  • Schools teaching kids.
  • Universities building higher knowledge
  • Doctors and medics treating people
  • Governments and the firms they contract build infrastructure
  • Businesses investing providing products that people want and need, following rules
  • Governments collecting taxes, setting rules, delivering services.
  • Media reporting the truth

It requires ordinary people being able to hold these institutions to account.

If we can’t name things, and categorise them, and collect data. And speak the truth we can’t do this. And being able to name the difference between men and women is pretty fundamental.

If we can’t name basic truths it corrupts the heart of our organisations.

There are also specific reasons for international development organisations to find the courage and integrity to be clear about the difference between sex and gender identity.

Thinking about gender identity in international development and human rights organisations is often tied in with sexuality.

This reflects the fact that abuse and discrimination relating to transgender identity can be, in practice, an expression of homophobia. International development organisations are working to address the oppression and vulnerability of people based on what they call “SOGI” (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

Seventy-two states continue to criminalise same-sex sexual activity In some cultures gay men can be stereotyped as feminine, or as ‘failed men’; reduced to the status of women. In some cultures, men who have sex with men may get some acceptance if they adopt a feminine ‘third gender’ identity such as the hijras in South Asia.

But my understanding (and I’m not an expert) is that these identities are not akin to the idea coming out of elite Northern universities and debates in London and Washington which say that we must accept that “transwomen are women”.

When I talk to people working with these trans communities, in areas such as HIV and human rights, they say it makes sense to think about different groups, not to lump together the issues facing transsexual males with the issues facing women.

It is not at all clear that the way to address the very real problem of discrimination and violence against transgender people is to erasing the category of biological sex .

Human rights protections for people who are transgender do not depend on accepting the belief that men can become women. But rather to protect transgender status as a legal characteristic with its own protections from harassment and discrimination.

Secondly, this matters for international institutions in their work on gender (by which they mean sex), and in their own institutional cultures.

Development organisations are trying to shift from having headquarters in rich countries developing policy, and staff and partners in developing countries to implement it.

They are trying to turn that upside down – to support people to have power, control and agency.

These organisations already know they have hierarchy problems – white men at the top, diverse women at the bottom, and yet, in the name of equality and diversity, they are reinforcing this power dynamic by adopting the language and ideas of genderism.

This is not coming from the grassroots. It comes elite Northern Universities and it is being promoted as something which ordinary women must accept with “no debate”. I don’t think this is compatible with the idea of listening to women and respecting their agency. And I think it prevents us talking about and understanding structures of power.

It is polite to refer to people by the name and pronouns they request, and to treat everyone with dignity and respect. But inclusion does not demand that we forget about the power dynamics between men and women in society, or fail to notice when women are being told to be quiet and to be kind to protect the feelings, desires and status of male people.

Organisations, which say they are for participation and for giving power to ordinary citizens should pay attention to the upswell of grassroots, ordinary women standing up for the idea that sex matters, in the UK and around the world.

Human beings are a single species, and women and men exist around the world. The answer to these questions can not be the pragmatic one that some women are women because of their sex, and some are not. Development organisations think about women in developing countries are really talking about sex;  defined by biology, but at headquarters they define women as an identity based on womanly feelings.

Amnesty International for example recognise and promote the importance of single sex toilets in refugee camps. Yet at the same time it argues that allowing male people to self-identify into women’s spaces would pose no problem for women and girls in the UK.

So I argued in my blog  post: Human rights protections and public policies are needed both for women and girls, and for transgender people, whatever their sex. In order to do this we need to be able to talk clearly and openly.

I set out five principles to hold open a space for dialogue, debate and evidence on this in international development (adapting and borrowing from Women’s Place UK:

  1. Sex and gender identity are not the same. Be clear about what we mean.
  2. There should be open and evidence-based discussionon how potential policy changes will affect women’s rights, single-sex spaces, and safeguarding.
  3. Women and women’s organisations should be involved in policy debates. The human rights of transgender males should be protected, but it should not be assumed that the best or only way to do this is by undermining women’s privacy, dignity and safety.
  4. Data matters. Statistics on crime, employment, pay and health should continue to be categorised by sex. Information on gender identity may also be collected, but they shouldn’t be confused.
  5. People who express concern about impacts on women’s rights and women’s spaces should not be dismissed as hateful or bigots.

One of the things I said in the article was that you shouldn’t have to be brave to talk about this.

The more people who stand up and talk about it, the easier it is for the next people.

I only began to tweet and talk about it after reading and listening to so many people here.

And I thought because I worked at a think tank that does not take institutional positions and that supports academic freedom of speech I could talk about it.

But it turned out I was wrong. I don’t want this to be a cautionary tale, and I hope that what I am doing in taking the organisation I worked for to tribunal it will help to enable a whole lot of people to be a bit braver.

If I win my case will give some legal protection. But if more people speak up it becomes easier for others to speak up. If each of us speak up within our organisations, our professions and our communities we can turn this around.


Post script: in the Q&A portion of the event a question was raised “Should women work ever work with the right?” This is the gist of what I said, and what I think (taking the liberty to polish it into what I wish I had said better).

The idea that sex exists is like the idea that gravity exists. It will be shared by people across the political spectrum. Women are adult human females, they exist across the political spectrum, and as feminists I think we should be concerned for all women. I try to follow the Mumsnet motto that we don’t throw any woman under the bus.

Women should talk to and work with whoever they feel like! I think that people need to make their own decisions about who they will work with and how. We all have different tactics and beliefs, and we don’t need to agree on everything to work together on some things.

This fight is going to take allsorts; we need to engage with people across the political spectrum, and with people who are not engaged in party politics. Many women feel politically homeless right now. We need the academics and the activists, we need the t-shirts, and the billboards. We need the carefully argued articles, we need the legal cases. We need people who can be talk seriously and carefully and we need the stunts and laughter. We need the women talking this through on Mumsnet, and in local groups, who are getting brave enough to speak up.

I think we can be clear about the difference between defending the definition of women based on sex, while rejecting the idea that gendered stereotypes are an inherent part of womanhood, and those conservative groups for whom ‘men are men’ and ‘women are women’ means upholding patriarchal ideals of masculinity and femininity. We can draw a bright line between wanting to give women more control and wanting to control women.

The principle that I am standing up for is the need for respectful, serious evidence-based democratic debate and disagreement on difficult issues– we need to hold open a middle ground for that.

Maya Forstater

20th May 2019


Thank you to Lily Maynard for the pictures