Women’s rights: cross party concern and Conservative electioneering

On Monday 11 July Merched Cymru and LGB Alliance Cymru were honoured to attend a cross-party event in the House of Lords, celebrating the vital importance of free speech. We were delighted to talk to MPs, including our own Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) and Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd), Rosie Duffield, and Joanna Cherry, and meet in person many of the women we admire.

We couldn’t help contrasting the welcome and open discussion we enjoyed to the stonewalling we experience from the Senedd. Take note, please, Mark Drakeford, Hannah Blythyn, Jeremy Miles and other Senedd Members. The rest of the country is waking up to the importance of open debate and Wales risks being left behind in a quagmire of its own making.

It was very hot indeed, but all the doors on to the terrace were open, the slight breeze off the Thames offered a little relief and it encouraged the great speakers to stick to the point and return to the cold drinks.

‘Not white, or middle-aged or male.’

Kemi Badenoch knows she is a woman

And what a line-up! First up was Kemi Badenoch, surprise hot-tip in the leadership race. She got unanimous applause when she said ‘I know what a woman is.’ It is a credit to the hard work of women in the Conservative party that sex-based rights have become an issue in the race. Most leadership contenders have faced questions about their stance. While some have muddied the water or ducked the question, Badenoch has been crystal clear, recognising the importance of biological sex not only as a vote-winner but a central part of her argument for a return to truth in British politics.

Free-speech matters to every political party

Sharron Davies and Maya Forstater discussing their next steps.

This was not a Conservative event. Part of the joy was to see Labour Lord Hunt, Liberal Democrat Lord Tim Clement Jones, cross-bench peer Baroness Ruth Deech and the Scottish powerhouse that is Joanna Cherry of the SNP also speak out. They all shared a simple message: freedom of speech matters in a democracy. The pernicious and violent attempts to silence women, lesbians and gay men when we argue for our sex-based rights, both damages those rights and poisons our civil institutions, our journalism and our political representation.

Allison Bailey and Kate Jackson of LGB Alliance

Welsh Labour need to see this is not a party issue: it’s a democratic and human rights issue. By silencing, ignoring or insulting anyone raising questions about the impact of gender-extremism, Welsh Labour undermines its own status and harms Wales’ growing civic confidence.

For anyone who is wondering, the silencing of debate on this issue has gone far beyond any constraint on inciting violence, at least as far as shutting down women is concerned. Women speaking up in public are showered with abuse or threatened with violence. When we write to Ministers we are ignored or rebuked. When we take to social media we are slurred and defamed. Just for asking for a place at the table, for asking questions about our sex-based rights, safeguarding and evidence.

To return to the event – the final part was fantastic too. Both the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Index on Censorship have been really important in supporting Maya Forstater through her tribunal to her recent victory. As a former Chair of both organisations, Trevor Philips was an obvious choice to run a short Q & A with Maya and Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies.
Their responses were to the point. Maya hoped that her recent court victory would give people the courage to speak out with the knowledge that their belief in biological reality was ‘worthy of respect in a democratic society’. Sharron spoke of her intention to ensure that female athletes were properly represented at all levels of decision-making. We were shocked when she pointed out that it took seven years for the swimming governing body FINA to speak to a single female athlete about the issues surrounding access to women’s competition – a damning failure of integrity in an area where physical bodies are the heart of the matter.

Meetings IRL

Helen Joyce and Daley Thompson: both stars!

We agree with Trevor Phillips who said how inspiring it was to be in a room with such good people: Stephanie Davies-Arai who has done so much to link the gender ideology infecting our schools with the massive growth of young people facing the conveyor belt of hormones and surgery which follow unquestioning affirmation, Helen Joyce, as cool and knowledgeable as her book; Kate Harris, Bev Jackson and Malcolm Clark of LGB Alliance, Nic Williams and Fiona McAnena of Fair Play for Women, representatives from For Women Scotland and Safe Schools Alliance, and feminists from Labour, Lib Dems and Conservatives, and barrister Allison Bailey – to name just a few. Daley Thompson, Tanni Grey-Thompson and Mara Yamauchi have all spoken out for women’s rights and came from an earlier hearing on sport to lend their support. And of course the powerhouse who is Lisa-Marie Taylor of FiLiA, temporarily on loan to Cardiff. (And if you have read this far, go now and get your tickets now for the conference in October.)

Diolch i bawb

Women assembling at the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst next to the House of Lords.

Many of us were able to go on for drinks taking the chance to further build relationships across this movement and talk to people doing such important work. There were impromptu speeches, including our own diolch yn fawr to everyone and a plea for their support in challenging the Welsh Government.

Someone pointed out how important it is to recognise everyone’s contribution. While some work behind the scene, others have been forced to take a high profile, as Maya was. Some, like Helen have provided important books and articles. Whatever the work we do, it all makes a difference.

Thank you to the organising groups for inviting us. It was a fantastic day and a great chance to enjoy our freedoms of association and speech and talk about sex-based rights.