Joint statement by Merched Cymru and Women’s Rights Network Wales in response to statement by Welsh Women’s Aid

We are dismayed by the statement issued by Welsh Women’s Aid on 5 th October in response to unspecified comments by UK Government Ministers. Welsh Women’s Aid was established in 1978 with a specific focus on supporting local Women’s Aid Groups delivering single-sex services to
women experiencing domestic abuse and give those women a voice within the policy and law-making process.

It was set up by women, for women. It acknowledged that those services had to be exclusive of men, male adults, to allow vulnerable women and their children to break free from male violence and abuse and heal their trauma. Women’s Aid offered women a place of safety and sisterly support. This has worked for decades and has a strong evidence base. The unique value of single-sex services is recognised by domestic abuse survivors themselves, practitioners and by experts including the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls, Reem Alsalem.

Welsh Women’s Aid’s statement raises a number of concerns. Most shocking is that they appear to be happy to risk the re-traumatisation or self-exclusion of women who are particularly in need of genuinely single-sex, women-only services at a time of crisis, in order to validate men who have acquired a feminine identity. Despite claims to be ‘inclusionary’ and an ‘intersectional feminist organisation’ they are neither. Their work is no longer underpinned by a feminist analysis, but by identity politics.

Intersectional feminism is about how the impact of being born female intersects with other characteristics or axes of oppression – such as race, disability, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic background, class or culture – to increase, compound or even mitigate our oppression.

Being born biologically female is the primary axis and our sex, not our ‘gender’ or how we identify, is the most salient factor. It acknowledges the diversity of women’s individual experience, but also the role oppression and discrimination on the basis of sex plays. This is borne out by the experience of women and girls throughout the world, from before birth to old age, and is reflected in the
Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

To have “a world in which all individuals live free from all forms of violence, abuse, and oppression” is a laudable aim; but that isn’t Welsh Women Aid’s remit. The organisation’s name should be self-explanatory and women’s needs must be its focus. Working “to eliminate violence against women and girls, domestic abuse, and sexual violence” becomes impossible if gender is prioritised over material reality.

We believe Welsh Women’s Aid should focus on women (including those who may identify as non-binary or as transmen since you cannot identify out of sex-based oppression) and strengthening single-sex provision, instead of making emphatic statements about a group of people outside its constitutional aims and objectives. This group deserves appropriate services, of course, and often
has specialist needs distinct from women’s that are best addressed by other providers.

Female survivors of male violence in Wales deserve better than this. The Equality Act 2010 exceptions exist for good reason and it is crucial that they are utilised properly and with clarity in VAWDASV (Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence) services. Welsh Women’s Aid is letting down the very women who need them most.

The above statement was prepared by Merched Cymru and WRN Wales members who are VAWDASV specialists, and former Women’s Aid workers or trustees.