Plaid Cymru shows its true colours

Women’s rights charity banned from Plaid Cymru Conference. Merched Cymru stands in solidarity.

 NEC must be confident that actions taken in the light of Prosiect Pawb‘s findings and recommendations will be effective in enabling permanent, non-reversible measures to detoxify a culture of harassment, bullying and misogyny and to make Plaid truly and visibly welcoming to women.

In December 2022, Plaid Cymru’s National Executive Committee asked Nerys Evans to chair a working group with the remit to understand the culture within the party and issue recommendations on how to lead change. The above quote was one of the recommendations in the Key Findings Report.

It should have meant that this year’s Spring conference was a place where women attendees could finally feel and be safe, valued and welcomed. Someone clearly forgot to read the brief.

On Friday morning (22 March)  UK based, global women’s rights charity FiLiA announced that it had been banned from attending the Plaid Cymru conference to be held in Caernarfon that weekend.

The charity had booked a stand at the conference hoping to talk to delegates and politicians about the wonderful grassroots work it does with women and girls, not only in the UK, but around the globe. Many of the projects and activities cover issues that others don’t want to discuss or support. They’re not glamorous or easy topics. FiLiA is there when others aren’t. To Plaid Cymru’s shame, less than 48 hours before the start of the conference they informed FiLiA that it was banned from having a stand after all.

FiLiA has done more for the women of Wales in the short time it has worked here, than many of the more established groups. It runs the largest annual women’s rights conference in Europe, and when it was held in Cardiff in 2022, around 1,700 people attended from all over the world.

Photo credit: Pauline Makoveitchoux

To Wales’s shame, FiLiA was snubbed by the local council, political parties as well as our largest women’s organisations. Instead of welcoming the event, they all actively stood against it, refusing or ignoring invitations to attend and, even more bafflingly, refusing to provide any Wales-specific resources and information to help women subjected to male violence and abuse. That was a despicable and some would say unforgivable act.

As per tradition, FiLiA CEO Lisa-Marie Taylor  moved to Cardiff for the year prior to the conference to live amongst the women and communities of the host city. To get to know the women’s groups already there and to understand the environment in which the women lived. FiLiA’s dedication to women and girls is profound. This is what supporting women looks like.

Merched Cymru worked closely with FiLiA during the year prior to the conference. We were honoured to be tasked with organising the vigil event, a prime example of the way FiLiA entrusts the community it comes into to know its own needs and strengths. Our Executive Committee attended the conference, some of us as speakers but all of us as supporters.

This is the calibre of charity that is banned by Plaid Cymru. The question to ask must be ‘What are they afraid of?’ But also the more obvious question of ‘Why was FiLiA banned?’

According to FiLiA’s statement, Plaid Cymru said:

While there are many issues and campaigns on which I expect we would agree, it has come to my attention that some of FiLiA’s positions are potentially contrary to the party’s values – for instance on trans rights. We welcome robust debate but must balance this with the need for our delegates from all backgrounds to feel as though the party conference is a safe space for them to express their identity comfortably.

 I regret therefore that we will be unable to welcome you to Caernarfon this week. I’m sorry for the late notice.

No thought for money already spent on hotels, travel and resources. No thought for family and work responsibilities re-arranged.

FiLiA confirmed that there was no attempt by Plaid Cymru to seek clarity around the values of FiLiA or have any discussion beforehand.

FiLiA CEO Lisa-Marie Taylor said:

It is unclear how a women’s charity such as ours could possibly contravene the ‘values’ of the Party. This ban doesn’t seem to sit well with the Party leadership’s repeated public commitments to root out misogyny. We will be pressing for proper answers to the question’s we’ve raised. And we are consulting our lawyers, as we believe that this ban may be unlawful. It is certainly unfair and unjust.

Plaid Cymru has made a huge misstep here. The resulting fervour, anger and astonishment on social media prompted by this action shows that this has not just affected the women in Plaid Cymru, but women across Wales and further afield.

It is a sign and symptom of the hard line being taken by political parties in Wales against women that dare to deviate from the strict party line of their version of ‘inclusion’. We know nothing of the person/s who raised the complaint or who ordered the ban at such a late stage, but I’m hoping that it’s a decision they may now be regretting.

Plaid Cymru (in English the Party of Wales) portrays itself as the viable option for Wales’s next ruling party. A party for the people. On its website it proudly proclaims

 Together, we can win a new Wales. Plaid Cymru is working towards creating an equal nation and a nation of equals. Are you with us?

Well, the women of FiLiA tried to be with them. As equals. Nothing more. Nothing less.

It’s interesting that Plaid Cymru still believes that women’s thoughts are dangerous. Far more dangerous than the actual physical violence of men, even after Prosiect Pawb’s findings – the report that brought to light the entrenched misogyny and harassment within the Party.

On its website under the policy section on Women, it states that ‘We commit to achieving a gender equal Wales based on equality of outcome, not just equality of opportunity. We would create a Cabinet-level post of Minister for Equalities and Women’s Empowerment dedicated to implementing the recommendations of the Gender Equality Review in full.’

How it intends to do that when women’s voices aren’t allowed to be heard in the Party is a puzzle I’d like to see solved.

Plaid Cymru’s restoration of the whip to the MP Jonathan Edwards who was cautioned by police in 2020 after assaulting his wife sparked anger and disbelief in the party as well as outside of it. Edwards, the MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, was allowed to rejoin Plaid Cymru, a move that caused division among its members. The decision to readmit him to the Westminster group was taken despite a “significant majority” of the party’s ruling body recommending against it.

The party chair, Beca Brown, said a disciplinary panel restored Edwards’s membership after he expressed “sincere remorse” and the whip was restored after the party received “further procedural advice”. Plaid would be undertaking a review to ensure it became “truly free from a culture of misogyny”, she added.

Then in June 2021 Rhys ab Owen the MS for South Wales Central was found to have inappropriately touched women on a night out.

The Prosiect Pawb report, published in May 2023, concluded that there was ”a culture of harassment, bullying and misogyny” within the party. This led to Adam Price stepping down as leader. Speaking to BBC Wales, Price’s replacement Rhun ap Iorwerth described the report’s findings as “very serious” adding that “…there is a level of behaviour and conduct that is expected of us as parliamentarians.”

Rhun ap Iorwerth could have taken the Party forward to be a safe haven for women and a truly inspirational party where its vision of equality is a reality. Instead, he is simply more of the same.

When FiLiA booked a stall at the conference it could and should have been an opportunity for Plaid Cymru to truly take a stand against the misogyny and bullying it so vigorously declared it was stamping out. Instead, it confirmed that nothing has improved or shifted for women since the publication of the damning report.

When women’s rights equals transphobia

The equation of women’s rights = anti trans rhetoric has been forefront in the cancelling and silencing of women. A trope designed to bully anyone who dares centre women and girls in any conversation. Even conversations about women and girls. Even about issues affecting ONLY women and girls.

The obsession with the trans lobby is that they believe women’s groups  discuss trans people at every turn, that everything we do is motivated solely by transphobia. This is an entrenched myth used to fuel the silencing of women. As women’s charities and organisations, we focus on and discuss women. That’s it. We have lots of work to do in this fight for equality and believe me, using our energy and resources to fight against the rights of trans identified people is not one of our priorities.

FiLiA has said that it has contacted its solicitor for advice on the next steps. I hope that not only is Plaid Cymru hauled over the coals for this behaviour, but that it will finally change the way that it treats women. Plaid Cymru’s female members are certainly not happy with what’s happened, with many taking to social media over the weekend. When negative things happen to us in the women’s movement, we use that to turn things around. This is a women’s movement that does not and will not lie down anymore.

Plaid Cymru clearly missed how FiLiA responded to being banned from Platform in Glasgow. #WomenWontWheesht     #NiFyddMenywodYnDdistaw

 Ali Morris sits on Merched Cymru’s Executive Committee and is FiLiA MVAWG Lead for Wales