Welsh women won’t wheesht

Rallying for Jen, justice and free speech!

On Sunday 23rd January Jennifer Swayne (Jen) was arrested and charged with aggravated public disorder. Jen was posting stickers in Newport. Stickers opposing sex-based violence, stating that three women a week are killed by men in the UK –truth. Stickers asserting women’s biology, and that humans cannot change sex – truth. Stickers calling for women’s single-sex safe spaces to be protected – currently they are not.

Jen, who is disabled and uses a mobility scooter, was held in Newport police station for over 10 hours. Her phone was seized and, during a later search of her home, more stickers and a book (a collection of academic essays) were also seized.

Jen and her many feminist friends and allies believe that the arrest, charge and her treatment at the hands of the police are way out of proportion to the alleged offence. So, we rallied, not once but twice! We needed to move quickly to let Gwent police know that we were not taking this lightly and to show that Jen had a great deal of support. Her arrest and the disproportionality of her treatment would not go unnoticed.

With concern and anger building on social media, Standing for Women called for a pop-up rally on 31st January.

Speakers echoed the messages on Jen’s stickers. Women are murdered, raped, and abused in frighteningly large numbers every week in the UK, yet convictions are rare. Women are being forced to share spaces and services – hospital wards, prisons, refuges and rape crisis centres – with men who ‘self-ID’ as women. The state, legislature and police are upholding this lie, attempting to coercing women in to silence. It’s no exaggeration to say that women’s confidence in the police is at an all-time low.

Jennifer was required to answer bail on 24th February. This was our opportunity to bring Welsh women’s groups together – sisterhood and solidarity! Women from Merched Cymru, Womens’ Rights Network Wales, LGBA Cymru, Lesbian Labour, Labour Women’s Declaration Cymru, Women’s Declaration International (Wales) and Object organised a well-attended rally and a parallel #CanIReadThis social media campaign that also provided a superb feminist booklist for those new to the cause.

In spite of the police changing the date for Jen’s bail hearing to 11th March, the rally went ahead, with banners, placards, suffragette sashes, leaflets, seditious books, speeches and singing. It wasn’t just about supporting Jen. It was about having our voices heard. Women won’t wheesht.

Merched Cymru’s Helen Jackson excelled as Mistress of Ceremonies and she and WRN’s Cathy Larkman looked the part, dressed as suffragettes of a century ago (who would have thought that over 100 years later we’d still be fighting for women to be heard?).

Our A-list of speakers included Sarah Phillimore of Fair Cop, Ali Morris of Merched Cymru, Abigail Claron of Swansea University’s Feminist Society, Sonya Douglas, Cardiff-based poet and artist, and, of course, the redoubtable Jen herself.

Cathy Larkman, Wales WRN co-ordinator, spoke eloquently and passionately about how the police need to deal with the sexism in their ranks, a lack of respect for women that results in serious injustices, and which destroys women’s trust in those who are supposed to protect them.

When Jen returns to Newport Police station on 11th March to answer bail, we will be there in support once more.

We’re not going away. And we are not going to be silenced.