Sophie Walker's Letter to Mandu Reid
Below is a copy of the letter former WEP Party Leader has sent to Mandu Reid in light of her motion to this year's Conference, entitled Gender Self ID and Single Sex Spaces
We thank Sophie for her intervention and her frank and erudite explanation of why this motion runs contrary to all that WEP purportedly stands for and has promised to do
I’m writing to ask you please to scrap your proposed motion on self-ID to the Women’s Equality Party conference this weekend. I think you’re making a terrible mistake and wish you would reconsider.
I have no right to ask this of you except as one feminist to another. I am not a member of the Women’s Equality Party and have not been for a while. The leadership and management groups in the party do not make it a comfortable home for women who do not accept the ideology of gender. I left for many reasons but this was one of them. (I am aware of course of the irony of this. I feel responsible for every woman who left WEP when I was Leader on the same grounds, as I struggled to hold the party together around this schism.)
But here we are, and history is repeating itself. Four years ago, a group of WEP members brought a motion to conference to ask members to approve a policy of self-ID: That anyone could be a woman on their own say-so. I was deeply concerned about the implications of this motion and that it could be passed as party policy by the small percentage of party members present in the hall. Working with the members who brought that motion – to whom I am still grateful – we instead held a special debate, and the motion was referred back, with a request that the party undertake a members-wide consultation.
That consultation should have happened on your watch, Mandu. But instead, WEP held a small and tightly-directed Members’ Assembly with selected members, which did not discuss or ask for a vote on the ideology of self-ID. What that Assembly did show at the end of the process was that there had been a significant shift among those members from a pro self-ID position to an anti self-ID position on the subject of single sex spaces. Your Assembly did not further explore this, nor cover the issue in the context of, for example, men identifying as women in prisons (have you read the research published by the British Journal of Criminology on the concerns of female prisoners that a number of trans women were reverting to a male gender after leaving women’s prisons?) Nor did it discuss the increasing participation of men identifying as women in women’s sporting events. (Have you read Women In Sport’s report concluding that the inclusion of trans women in female categories in most sports cannot be balanced with fairness, and in some sports, safety?) Nor did the Assembly discuss medical intervention on children or the political pressures on parents to go along with ideas of ‘being born in the wrong body.’ (Did you read the Cass review’s interim report that found gaps in the evidence base for puberty blockers, or the new NHS guidance that sharply deviates from a ‘gender affirming approach’?)
Instead, now, you have brought a motion, as is your privilege as WEP leader, that states: “The Women’s Equality Party supports the right of transgender people to self-determine their gender” and goes on to state: “The Women’s Equality Party was founded to fight for all women, including trans women.”
Mandu, I was there when WEP was founded, and I have to say that those early discussions were not about fighting for trans women, but about creating a coalition of anyone and everyone who would support a political party for women who experienced oppression, discrimination, abuse, poverty and more as a result of their sex. At the time, the mantra ‘Trans Women Are Women’ was still broadly understood as a statement of solidarity, rather than an insistence on fact, with all the questions that insistence is now posing in terms of women’s rights, spaces and freedoms. So your motion seeks to do two things here: It passes a policy of self-ID without a full membership vote or exploration of the impact on multiple policies, and it rewrites the history of WEP. I don’t think this is wise.
It has never been more urgent to have a forensic assessment of the impact on the feminist movement – a movement for women, by women – and on women’s sex-based rights – our protected characteristics – and also on our rights to talk about our lives and experiences as females without being intimidated or threatened - by a movement that seeks to cast female as a feeling and recalibrate biology as fluid. It has never been more urgent to have a forensic assessment of the impact of trans identifying males in women’s sport and prisons and all spaces and workplaces where women find themselves being told that their life experience of sex-based discrimination, and their wishes and hopes and freedoms must be held against, and in equal regard to - and increasingly, in check by - a male imagination of woman.
Mandu, ‘woman’ is not a costume, or a feeling in a man’s head. My great fear as Leader of WEP was that if a motion for self-ID passed, I simply would not be able to do my job. I don’t know how you write policies for women, if anyone can be a woman. You say in your motion “we do not believe that gender self ID has to be at odds with the protections that women have fought so hard for” – yet you present no answer at all to how you propose to deal with the situation in prisons, in sports and in all the spaces and places where women are directly threatened and losing their protected rights to participation and private space because of self-ID policies. You don’t even raise the issue of where policies of self-ID may be – are already being – abused by violent and manipulative men. I think it’s very telling that you talk only about domestic abuse services in your motion and only in terms of appropriate funding. (Did you see - just this week - the letter from the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls expressing concern that unrestricted self-ID could potentially open the door for violent males who identify as men to abuse the process of acquiring a gender certificate and the rights that are associated with it?)
You must see that your motion does not add up, surely?
Finally. Your motion says “We are committed to resisting the growing division in the feminist movement.” The thing is, Mandu: There is division. Pretending you can resist it, or that it’s not really there, or trying to hold two different opinions while clearly preferring one, won’t wash. Take my advice on this – I’ve been there. And despite all the difficulties and mistakes, I have been glad and relieved that WEP is still the only UK political party that says it prioritises women’s equality, that has not – yet – adopted a policy of self-ID.
Something to note here is that after your motion passes (which I’m sure it will, given the number of women whose worries about self-ID have been dismissed by the party as bigoted or not important) – well, one of the next motions on the agenda is one that asks to include members and supporters more collaboratively in the formation of policy motions. I don’t think I need to say any more about that.
Leading WEP is a tough job. I have watched you take it on with determination and good cheer, and I salute you for that. But leading WEP is also an immense privilege and responsibility. There isn’t another UK feminist political party. WEP is it. So please, before you do this thing, consider what it will say about who feminism is for, who it supports, and who it really, finally, centres.