Gender: A view from Wales

The political context

Wales is a small country, with a small population (3.1 million). We are not England. We are not an offshoot of England. We are a separate, devolved nation with a small, socialist government. Labour has been the dominant political party for decades. They were re-elected with a greater share of the vote than ever before at the May 2021 elections. This socialist history has given us a progressive view of ourselves. This can be a positive or a negative feature. The negative aspects become clear when it comes to gender ideology.


Welsh Government is keen to stand apart from England and the Tories; to be seen as ‘progressive’. Gender issues are at the centre of this stance. What ‘progressive’ means in practice, however, is the rolling back of the rights of women, girls and LGB people. Embracing gender ideology erases sex – and sex matters. Instead of sex, we are presented with the nebulous concept of gender, a construct shaped by whatever culture an individual lives in.

The institutional capture of Welsh Government, local councils, universities, health boards, women’s charities such as WEN Wales and Chwarae Teg, and many other organisations in Wales, reveals just how pervasive this pseudo-progressive ideology is. Yet opportunities to discuss this capture are almost non-existent. Debate is shut down; women self-censor or are silenced. During the recent Welsh election campaign, women who dared question this ideology at hustings were not only censored during Q&A sessions but were subsequently locked out of the online debates.


The Welsh Parliament – the Senedd – is too small. Scrutiny and accountability is limited. There are insufficient members to keep proper checks on how it is run. Stonewall is a serious problem. Their influence on government policy is pernicious. They have been allowed to function as ‘consultant not consultee’ as a retired UK judge put it.

Key cabinet positions can be dominated by the same people year after year, with individuals rotating through key roles. Finding allies can make or break  campaigning efforts, or can be suddenly irrelevant when a cabinet reshuffle wipes out all the progress we have made.

Policy areas where women’s rights are (marginally) less eroded are generally those which are not yet devolved. Currently, education, health and policing are devolved to Welsh Government, but the Equality Act 2010, crucial to women’s rights in the UK, is decided in London. However, the newly elected Welsh Government are keen for the Act to be devolved too so they can introduce self-ID.

Many of our members have been pulled in for disciplinary hearings or have been threatened with losing their positions if they do not keep quiet about the injustices they see. They are bullied into silence, slurred as transphobic and bigoted.


Welsh media and UK media which reports (occasionally) on Wales, is scant. Print media has small and geographically fragmented circulation; there is very little Wales-focused investigative journalism on any platform. Discussions around the conflict between women’s rights and trans rights tend to be superficial and/or ideologically biased. None of what we read shows the full picture of what is happening or the threat we are facing.

Impacts of gender ideology

The loss of women’s spaces

The loss of women-only spaces is happening at pace. This is due to a variety of factors. Sometimes funders are withdrawing or limiting funding because they either do not recognise the value of women-only spaces or will not prioritise them. More worryingly, funders are withdrawing funding if women refuse to open up their spaces to men who identify as women.

One of only two Women’s Centres in the country was in Swansea. It served a huge geographical area and ran a multitude of classes and projects in a safe women-only space. It served as the base for a regional lesbian group and a women’s refugee project. It was well-used and hugely appreciated.

Funding withdrawn

Then the local council, who had paid the rent for over forty years, withdrew funding. They said that they would instead fund a new building in the city for those experiencing violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. Since this new building was only open to women who had experienced violence or abuse, it could not be used as a general women-only space. It was unavailable for events and campaigns, or, critically, for the well-established lesbian group. More significantly, however, the new building was to be open to all, male and female. It was no longer a women-only safe space.

This was a devastating blow but Welsh Government, who had funded the purchase of the building, were not willing to reconsider.

During its first year, over 600 women accessed the service but only three men and no transwomen. During the following five years, an average of eight men used the service each year, and no transwomen at all. And for that demographic, which could have been supported by other means, we lost a thriving women’s community and supportive safe space.

Escalating influence of trans activism

In 2018, the aggressive nature of trans activism was fully revealed. Women’s Place UK was due to hold a meeting in Cardiff. Activists harassed the venue to demand that the meeting was cancelled. The meeting went ahead in an alternative venue, although many of our members were too intimidated to attend. It was clear that the violence and abuse that underpinned the ideology was imposing conditions on how women should think and behave.

Around this time the UK government proposed a new Gender Recognition Act (GRA). This became the tipping point. Under the Act, any biological male could simply self-identify as a woman, and be recognised as such – as a woman, not as a transwoman – with a woman’s right to access female spaces, services and opportunities.

Saving our sex

Numerous grassroots women’s groups and thousands of individual women campaigned successfully against the reform of the GRA. They literally saved our sex. Neverthelss, a range of policies, resources, training programmes and toolkits were developed by trans lobby groups. The focus was on ‘trans inclusivity’; in reality meaning the exclusion of women and girls. These included Welsh Government’s Trans’ Action Plan which advocated for self-ID and mens’ access to female changing rooms, refuges, sports and shortlists.

No women’s groups were consulted and no Equality Impact Assessment – a legal requirement – was undertaken. There was no consideration of the impact on women and girls.

Women’s activism – past, present and into the future

Women’s history of activism in Wales

Wales has a long history of political and community activism. Women have often led the way – especially in direct action campaigns:

  • In 1981 a group of women and children (some of whom we are proud to count among our members) set off from Cardiff to walk the 120 miles to the Greenham Common airbase to fight for peace, in the shadow of the nuclear arms race. They went on to create a peace camp at the airbase which remained there for nineteen years.
  • During the 1984-5 miners’ strike, women protested alongside their husbands, fathers and sons. Women were key to setting up the soup kitchens and fundraising events that maintained the families and communities through the strike. Gay and lesbian groups became allies.
  • In 2010 Government data revealed that in England and Wales 300,000 women had been sexually assaulted and 60,000 women had been raped. At that time, Wales had a network of rape crisis centres, helplines and Women Centres. They were local support groups, set up by women – volunteers and activists – who knew their communities well.

A decade later, many of those services have disappeared, or have been forced to diversify to include men, or men that identify as women.

Women facing new challenges

Wales has been captured by what is now being called ‘Stonewall Law.’ Stonewall is embedded in Welsh Government and has become the consulting body on equality and diversity in Wales, to the apparent exclusion of all others.

Increasingly aware of this ideological capture, and frustrated by the lack of support from politicians or government-funded women’s organisations in Wales, grassroots women’s groups began to emerge. Feminists, lesbians, violence-against-women experts, teachers, parents, healthworkers, researchers and Mumsnetters came together to challenge the trans agenda. In November 2020 Merched Cymru was set up as a formal action group, swiftly followed by LGB Alliance Cymru.

Aims of Merched Cymru and LGB Alliance

Both groups aim to protect and strengthen the sex-based rights of women and girls in Wales, to safeguard children, and to ensure that our voices are heard at all levels of government. LGB Alliance Cymru also focus on the specific rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, highlighting the homophobia that underpins trans ideology.

We have come a long way in a few short months. We have a website with a range of resources, a Facebook page which reached nearly four thousand people during our election week campaign, and almost 1,500 twitter followers.

We have taken part in consultations and run campaigns. We hold politicians and organisations to account, informing them on issues such as conversion therapy, the need for sports to be segregated by sex, the impact of mixed-sex toilets in schools, the implications for transparency and objectivity of membership of the Stonewall diversity champions’ scheme.

Ali Morris says:

Who would have thought that 100 years after the suffragettes, we would continue to have to assert our right to political and social freedom? While sexism persists, single-sex spaces must be supported for those that need them.

Who would argue that it wouldn’t be reasonable for refuges and rape crisis centres to choose to be single sex?

Who would argue that the intimate care needs of older women and those with disabilities, shouldn’t be undertaken by a same sex carer if that is what they wish?

Who would argue that groups set up around race, religion and belief, shouldn’t have the right to be single sex for modesty and dignity?

And who would argue that lesbians who are by definition attracted to others of the same sex shouldn’t be afforded same-sex space.

I have spent my whole adult life fighting for the rights of women and girls. Who would have thought we’d get to the point where we would have to fight for the very word that defines us. Woman.

But fight we will, because we must.

This post has been prepared from Ali Morris and Sarah Tanburn’s presentations which were delievered at the Women’s Human Right Campaign’s Webinar.