#WalesLosingWomen

#LabourLosingWomen is a hashtag has been floating around the internet for years, used by Socialist and left-wing feminists who are dissatisfied with Labour’s wholesale embrace of gender ideology. This embrace has involved the harassment of women in the party who are prepared to stand up for women’s spaces, women’s sports and women’s rights, such as Rosie Duffield and Tonia Antoniazzi. Labour Women’s Declaration (LWD) was founded in 2019 by stalwart feminist women, and has continued to press Labour to address the issue of gender. Although Merched Cymru has no political alignment, many of our members are, or have been, Labour voters and members, in line with the Welsh electorate as a whole.

LWD and other similar groups express the frustration of women, many of whom who had dedicated their lives to politics, who were at best, ignored, and at worst, harassed for expressing support for wishing to maintain vital protections that women need for their safety and dignity. And suddenly, quietly, everything changed. We had grown accustomed to Labour’s frontbenchers spouting inanities such as claims that a trans-identifying male could ‘grow a cervix’, that babies were born ‘without sex’, that giraffes were ‘gay’. And then, discreetly, Anneliese Dobbs wrote a column in the Guardian rowing back from the idea that self-ascribed gender identity overrides the reality of biological sex, and Wes Streeting issued a cautious and thoughtful statement on the debate.

We would like to believe that the evidence-based nature of feminist and gender-critical positions has led to this change but we are not naive enough to believe that Labour listened to women – despite the formidable political acumen of activists who have organised quietly behind the scenes. Labour still rejects LWD’s application to run a stall at the party conference and has repeatedly failed to respond to the demonisation of Rosie Duffield. More likely, it was polling, which has revealed that the mainstream gender critical position – broadly, sympathy towards those dealing with gender dysphoria, but concern about the safety of women and children – is also the position of the average British voter, not just of feminists.

We have no reason to believe that voters in Wales are any less capable of taking nuanced position on trans-identification, the rights of women and the protection of children. We do, however, have plenty of evidence that many in Welsh Labour are incapable of grasping this nuance. Few appear to have given the matter any serious thought. Mark Drakeford’s sexist attacks on Laura Anne Jones and the humiliating treatment of Helen Mary Jones by Plaid Cymru show Welsh politicians expressing contempt for women raising concerns about their safety and the safety of children. Individually, many of our members have reached out to their Plaid and Labour representatives, only to be ignored or dismissed.

Any politician in Wales who has concerns about the overreach of lobbying groups, the ideological nature of sex and relationship education being taught across the country, the prospect of children and young adults undergoing surgery which can permanently damage their health and the erosion of hard-won rights for women and protections for vulnerable people, now has a chance to break ranks. Keir Starmer’s Labour has shown that this is possible, and that it is a vote winner. Labour has shifted its position despite almost certain victory in the next General Election. We assume this change of direction is because Starmer knows that alienating female voters and activists will cost Labour in the long run, and because he wants to avoid the humiliation that Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP has faced after passing deeply unpopular and flawed legislation.

Wales has fewer devolved powers than Scotland but the recent LGBTQA+ Action Plan and statements by Ministers suggest that, led by Stonewall, it too intends to prioritise the demands of a small number of people over the existing rights of women and girls. If it does so, Welsh Labour is likely to find itself in the same position as the SNP – with the potential to undermine both its own reputation and the reputation of the devolved governments.

We hope they will take this opportunity to reconsider their position, look at the evidence, and support the rights of women and girls to safety, dignity and opportunity. It’s long overdue.