Updated: Apr 3
We publish this blog to mark the launch of #RespectMySex or lose my 'X'. A nationwide campaign ahead of the upcoming elections. We are proud to be part of this campaign via our cross-party working group, Women Uniting.
WEP's Scottish Spokeswoman and Caucus member on why she resigned her role.
What is a poor confused Women’s Equality Party member to think?
Women’s Aid (in England), only two weeks ago, released a statement on single-sex spaces and services. (Read more here). It really should be entirely uncontroversial: acknowledging that some survivors of sexual violence require female-only environments to feel safe and start to recover from their experiences; acknowledging also that trans women can be subjected to sexual violence and need support.
Balancing the needs of different groups of survivors by arguing for the provision of different services, the statement has been widely welcomed by women’s groups, and criticised by those who apparently haven’t read it and think that it says trans survivors shouldn’t be helped.
The statement was also explicitly welcomed by Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, in a pair of tweets which read:
"I welcome this statement. It aligns with our party policy and was supported by our members’ assembly in 2020. The recent trend towards gender neutral commissioning is a huge threat to women’s services, alongside piecemeal, short term funding. We stand with Women’s Aid in fighting against gender neutral commissioning and for sustainable funding for specialist services for all women, including trans women".
A lot of us have known for a long time that official party policy is – and has always been – in favour of single-sex spaces, as allowed by the 2010 Equality Act. After all, some of us wrote the policy!
We have also known for a long time that many of the party’s high heid yins (to use a good Scottish phrase) were not supportive of that policy, being much more concerned with insisting on everyone’s right to self-identify. They pushed the inaccurate and unhelpful view that the supporters of sex-based rights within the party were wrong and bigoted.
We have known that Mandu was, as she put it, excited at the possibilities of self ID, even as she argued for respectful dialogue. We have looked in vain for any support from the Party leadership as women like us were denigrated as TERFs and transphobes. Some even expelled from the Party.
Our representatives with particular responsibility for the policy area of ending violence against women and girls have been conspicuously silent on the subject of single-sex spaces.
(Policies that they are mandated by paying members to promote -ed) But now it seems Mandu is saying she thinks we are right. So why have so many of us, the architects and supporters of agreed WEP policy, reached the conclusion over the last few years that the party does not agree with or listen to us, and our only option is to leave and concentrate our feminist energies elsewhere?
Is it too late for us to return to the WEP fold?
My own relationship with the party has changed in various ways over the years since I joined as a founder member. First I was an enthusiastic newbie, learning about activism and loving the feeling of having found a political home after many years as a floating voter. Gradually I progressed to the status of official WEP representative, as Scotland spokesperson and a candidate for Holyrood.
My current incarnation is as disillusioned ex-spokesperson, sick of waiting for the Party to stand up against the worst excesses of trans rights activism, and wondering why I can’t quite bring myself to leave it altogether when it is letting down women who so badly need it.
Three things brought my disillusion with the party to a head. One was the party’s reluctance to say anything about the row over the CEO of Edinburgh Rape Crisis describing traumatised women who don’t want males in their refuge spaces as bigots. There were a couple of cautiously-worded tweets from WEP Scotland, but even they were only because I pushed for it, and they avoided the question of whether someone who is legally and actually male should be CEO of a Rape Crisis Centre in the first place.
Another was reaction to the prison judicial review of the policy of housing male prisoners, including sex offenders, in women’s prisons if they declared themselves trans. The review said, effectively: This is very bad for vulnerable women in prison, but what can we do? It’s legal!
I said to party officers that I thought the judgement was a textbook example of institutional misogyny and the Women’s Equality Party should be all over it…
No press statement.
Not even a tweet.
And the third thing, the final straw, was my experience of going to a rally outside Holyrood to protest about the Scottish Government’s plans for reform of the Gender Recognition Act that is eroding single-sex spaces and services. I was very disappointed that no other Scottish WEP members were there. I was also disappointed, and angry, that WEP was not there officially. WEP representatives should have been behind the mic, and the party should have been (and should still be) right at the forefront of the ongoing fight for women’s rights in Scotland. Instead I received no hint that any such action would be welcomed or approved by the Party, or many of my Scottish WEP colleagues.
So I wrote my letter of resignation as Scotland Spokesperson, setting out my disappointment and frustration; not resigning from the party altogether, but saying that I could no longer be its public representative when its public stance on this was so at odds with what I thought was right.
And now, months later, Mandu appears to be saying she thinks that all the party members and ex-members who have expressed concern about self-ID might just have a point.
So I am wondering. Why did she accept my resignation – and the resignations of so many other gender-critical women? Why didn’t she fight harder to persuade us to stay? Why was the response just to watch us leave, when it could have been so different? Something along the lines of: We appreciate the party is divided on this, and we need your voices as well as the ones that disagree with you. Please don’t go. Of course there’s room in the party for you and your views. Go ahead and go public with them and we’ll support your right to speak out in support of single-sex spaces and services, they are party policy after all.
Many of the women who have either left the party or (like me) are hanging on by their fingertips are still suspicious of the WEP Party machine, and deeply hurt that believing in WEPs own policies has made us unwelcome.
If Mandu is publicly endorsing statements such as the one made by Women’s Aid then she has my support. I suspect she will need all the support she can get.