Making sure A Woman’s Place is on the Platform

By Judith Green

When I heard that Linda Bellos had been ‘uninvited’ by a student society of a Cambridge college at which she had been due to speak, I knew I couldn’t let that stand. I asked her if she would speak at a Woman’s Place UK event, extending the invitation to speak in Cambridge that she had been denied. I was honoured she agreed. We announced our intention to hold a meeting, and set about deciding a date and a securing a venue.

A Woman’s Place is on the Platform

In the weeks leading up to the event, we heard of more women being shunned, intimidated, smeared and silenced for their views about gender. Helen Steel was threatened at the Anarchist Bookfair — we asked her to speak on our platform. Anne Ruzylo was subjected to an orchestrated campaign against her, prompting the entire executive committee of her Constituency Labour Party to resign in solidarity — we asked her to speak on her platform. Just days before the meeting, Heather Brunskell-Evans was placed under investigation by the Women’s Equality Party — she agreed to join our platform.

However, as soon as we made the tickets available, the attempt to shut down the meeting started in earnest. As the venue hadn’t been advertised it could not be put under pressure. Instead there was an organised campaign to book up all the tickets in order to quickly ‘sell out’ the event, and hence prevent those who genuinely wanted to hear our speakers from attending.

Had we stuck to our original capacity, we would have been ‘sold out’ in less than a day, and our speakers would have addressed an almost empty hall. Our attempt to have women’s voices heard would have been stillborn.

Once we realised this was an organised campaign, we acted as best we could to protect the viability of the meeting. Each time we had a flurry of seemingly fake bookings, we increased the number of available tickets to account for them. We made our very best efforts to attempt to distinguish between bookings made by those trying to disrupt the meeting and those by people who genuinely wanted to attend. It was easy to discount bookings that were abusive, silly or hostile.

Fake bookings made in the name of well-known feminists (sometimes misspelled) but with unlikely email addresses were also easy to discount.

If that’s not creepy enough fake bookings were also made in the name of women without a public profile, using false email addresses. The evening before the meeting our event site received a message from a Facebook user hoping that ISIS would blow us up. It wasn’t a direct threat — we assumed this man wasn’t connected with ISIS — but it did confirm that some feel violence against women wishing to speak on gender is justified.

We were understandably anxious about releasing tickets and venue details into well-networked in activist communities that announce their intention to shut down meetings and boast their ability to do so. Our anxiety was justified. When we our venue details were released, our venue was called within minutes and in an effort to have them withdraw their hospitality. It is reasonable to assume that had we released venue details more widely and earlier, the venue would have received many more and persistent demands not to host us. We didn’t wish to bring this trouble to their door. We are grateful that they did not succumb to the pressure they did receive.

In an effort to discredit the entire event, much has been made of a assertion by a single audience member that the transgender lobby is an alt-right movement. I have been to countless left meetings in my decades in politics. In almost all of them at least one man of the left has stood up and made a demagogic contribution, complete with hyperbolic over-reaching. Indeed, there are men on the left who have made whole careers out of such speechifying. We tend to gloss over their deficiencies (‘oh, he’s always like that’) and are able to focus on the big picture. But as Helen Steel pointed out in her powerful speech – we hold women to higher standards than we hold men, and demand perfect speech from women in order to allow them to speak at all. Her talk and those of Linda Bellos and Anne Ruzylo will be published in due course so that viewers can hear directly with what they have to say.

Anyone who feels that this meeting was less open than it could have been know to whom they must address their complaints: the lobby which has decided women have no legitimate right to speak on matters which affect our lives and use a catalogue of underhand tactics to shut our meetings down.

The Case for Single Sex Exemptions

Kiri Tunks is a teacher and an active teacher trade unionist and feminist.

The Gender Recognition Act GRA was passed in 2004 and, for the first time, allowed people who were uncomfortable with their sex to legally change their gender.

When the GRA was passed in 2004, women’s sector services lobbied for, and won, legal exemptions to enable them to provide single sex services on a case-by-case basis where there was a “proportionate response to a legitimate aim”. One example given in the EHRC guidance relating to the law was that of group counselling sessions for rape survivors because it was recognised that some female survivors would not attend such sessions if someone was present that they experienced as male. There are other scenarios like women’s refuges, women-only swimming sessions etc.

There is also an exemption for Genuine Occupational Requirements where a case can be made to employ someone according to their sex if the job requires it. An example of this is mammography where statistics show that a significant percentage of women would not attend this voluntary screening service if the mammographer was male — higher numbers might attend but will be uncomfortable with it and may not return. Other examples are jobs like bra fitting or running a women’s refuge. A specific case has to be made for these exemptions.

The Women’s & Equality Select Inquiry (WESC) proposals want to move to a process of gender self-identification and to remove these exemptions.

I agree there are problems with the GRA process (not least the requirement to prove you live like a man or a woman because that seems to play into stereotypes of gender that many of us are fighting against) but it is unclear what the impact of a change to self-identity will be and whether the numbers will increase.

However, it seems perfectly reasonable for women to want to retain the rights to legal exemption where necessary and proportionate. This is what women’s organisations like A Woman’s Place UK are demanding.

Seeking to maintain these quite limited exemptions is presented as women attacking Trans rights when it is about women preserving rights they have won to ameliorate the oppression they face in society.

Society doesn’t seem to be doing much to make things better — endemic levels of sexual harassment and violence, nearly 3 women a week killed by intimate partners, workplace discrimination and the gender pay gap, pregnancy discrimination, the impact of austerity of public services which women rely on heavily etc, etc.

To add insult to injury, these concerns were not properly considered by the Women & Equalities Select Committee — women’s groups who made submissions to the Inquiry were not called to give evidence in person and their concerns were not addressed by the findings of the Inquiry. Perhaps if they had been we would be in a better place now.

I cannot think of another oppressed group with protected characteristics under the law who would be expected to give up rights they have won without consultation or consideration. Yet, when women insist their concerns will be heard they are denounced and abused. None of this reassures us that society cares about women’s needs. As usual, we are expected to accommodate and make the best of things.

I realise there are women who say they don’t need these exemptions but that has always been the case. Maybe they don’t; maybe they haven’t needed to yet. That’s fine, they don’t need to make use of them. But there are many, many women who do. At the moment, they have that right under the law. They want to retain that right. It’s as simple as that.

Kiri Tunks

Equality Act 2010 Exemptions Should Be Retained, Strengthened And Extended

Following is a written version of the talk given by Judith Green on 31st October 2017 at a Transgender Law Concerns Meeting held in the House of Commons, which was chaired by David T C Davies MP. Talks given by the other speakers have been published on other sites, Miranda Yardley, Stephanie Davies-Arai, Transgender Trend and James Caspian, UKCP.

In thanking David Davies, I have a small confession to make. I’m a card-carrying member of the Labour Party and David’s party won’t be winning my vote, but he has won my gratitude for giving me this platform.

The current law sets out that being discriminating is not discriminatory where it is a proportional means of achieving a legitimate aim. This is a good law. It permits distinctions to be made that are vital for women. For example, women-only shortlists as a way of increasing representation in parliament are perfectly legal under the Equality Act. The same law permits a distinction to be made between those of us who are women by virtue of our sex and those who have a legally recognised gender under the provisions of the Gender Recognition Act.[1]

I’m here to talk about why this principle is absolutely vital to women, but also about some of the problems in the application of the law and how it could be strengthened. One of the reasons I feel so strongly is my own experience of using women-only services.

Due to my experiences of male violence, I was a justifiably angry and traumatised teenager. I left home and moved halfway across the country at sixteen. An organisation for female survivors of childhood sexual abuse was vital to my recovery. We were more or less a self-help organisation — fundraising to pay for therapists to facilitate small groups. The barriers to accessing that support were huge. For months I put off attending.

But once I found my courage, I never looked back. Amongst other female survivors I learned that I wasn’t alone, that it wasn’t my fault, that I was entitled to feel angry, that my boundaries were important, my truth and understanding of reality were important – not the lies imposed on me by the man who assaulted and raped me. That my instincts to protect myself, which I had suppressed in a situation where I had no hope of escape, were good ones to be trusted. I needed women-only space to learn these lessons.

In that organisation we had discussions about our relationship with groups for male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. We decided we wanted solidarity but not shared space. This was not only because including men would have hindered the valuable work I’ve just described, but also because, as women, we had been brought up to take care of others. We didn’t want to also take on that role for male survivors. For many of us, with boyfriends or husbands, this was the one space where we put our own needs first.

In those groups, what mattered to us was we were all of the same sex, not that we shared a letter on a driving licence or a reissued birth certificate. I imagine myself at that age, plucking up the courage after months to finally go to a meeting and finding myself sharing the space with someone physically male. All the vital lessons – about truth telling, boundaries, trusting my instincts and speaking up would have been undone in that moment. I would have been uncomfortable and silenced, familiar experiences from years of abuse. I would have been re-traumatised. I would not have gone back.

This is why such groups are given as an example in the guidance notes on the Equality Act, to explain that single-sex spaces can be exempt from including those who have a legally recognised gender through gender reassignment.[2]

However, the current law is not working to protect women-only spaces. I give as an example the service I used. It no longer offers spaces exclusively for women, instead advertising its services as being for self-defined females: that is for anyone who defines as female irrespective of their sex, and thus includes those who are physically male. Although the Equality Act permits an exemption, the organisation that allowed me to rebuild my life has chosen not to invoke it. Why?

The law is top-down. It relies on organisations to act on behalf of their clients but gives those service-users no rights to demand exemptions are invoked. It gives no rights to the most vulnerable service-users who are likely to feel the need for sex-segregated spaces most keenly. There is no obligation to consider whether invoking the exemptions is necessary in order to achieve legitimate aims. The cultural climate of funding considerations and activism intimidate organisations that might otherwise use the exemptions. They simply can’t afford to defend a legal case or be bogged down in a messy campaign against them. Official government guidance – co-written with campaigners taking a one-sided view – says exemptions only apply in ‘exceptional’ circumstances.[3]

But my circumstance is actually not that exceptional. Male violence against women is very common. According to the Office of National Statistics:

  • 26% of women have experienced domestic abuse since the age of sixteen.[4]
  • 5% of women have been raped since the age of sixteen.[5]
  • 20% of women have been a victim of a sexual offence since the age of sixteen.[5]
  • 11% of women have been a victim of sexual abuse in childhood, that is up to and including the age of fifteen.[6]

Even allowing for some overlap between these groups this is a massive constituency, amounting to millions of women in the UK. For those women who have escaped this type of violence, navigating male sexual aggression, intrusiveness and harassment is a much more universal female experience. This has been very clear in recent weeks with social media campaigns of women speaking out, such as #MeToo.

I’ve talked about one type of woman-only space. And you may be sympathetic to the need for protections for women in those circumstances. However, women are not only survivors of or fearful of male violence when we are in therapeutic groups. We carry these experiences with us when we use the swimming pool, use fitting rooms in a department store, when we are inpatients in hospital (where the policy to eliminate Mixed Sex Accommodation should apply). We are survivors of male sexual violence when we receive health services such as cervical screening and maternity care. I now work on the other side, in women’s health. It is widely recognised that women have a right to request a practitioner of the same sex, without having to give explanations or apology. It is a very sensitive area in which gender should not be allowed to override the category of sex.

We know that female prisoners are even more likely to have experienced male violence than other women.[7] Due to differences in patterns of offending, male prisoners outnumber female prisoners by 22 to 1. Even relatively small numbers of prisoners relocating from the male estate following transition would have a disproportionate impact on the women’s estate. In Littlehey, the largest dedicated prison for male sex offenders in the UK, it is reported there are eleven inmates on the Transgender Pathway, just under 1% of the inmates.[8] If across the male estate 1% of prisoners with convictions for sexual offences transitioned and were therefore relocated, they would outnumber the entire population currently imprisoned for sexual offences within the women’s estate.[9] If reflecting female-offending patterns, you would expect transgender prisoners to be a much smaller fraction of male sex offenders. That they are overrepresented suggests male patterns of offending are unaffected by gender-identity or transition, in keeping with the findings of a Swedish study published in 2011.[10] This overrepresentation has also been commented on by the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists who note the ‘ever-increasing tide of referrals of patients in prison serving long or indeterminate sentences for serious sexual offences. These vastly outnumber the number of prisoners incarcerated for more ordinary, non-sexual, offences.”[11] The Prison Service is entitled under Schedule 23 of the Equality Act to invoke exemptions to protect female prisoners in communal accommodation, but has chosen not to with some examples of abuses as a result.[12] Segregation on the basis of gender-identity cannot be an acceptable substitute for sex-segregation if we are to uphold the human rights of women prisoners and protect them from harm.

The statistics I’ve used depend on the category of sex – male and female – having meaning. Yet we have recently seen the Office of National Statistics recommend, albeit tentatively, that the question in the Census on sex be made non-mandatory, therefore undermining accurate comprehensive data collection.[13] Exemptions should be upheld in the visceral realm of health care and prisons and all the other physical single-sex spaces I’ve discussed and many others I haven’t had time to cover. If gender identity has primacy over sex, then sex as a protected characteristic ceases to exist. It is vital to extend the exemptions so that meaningful distinctions can be made in data collection and in law. Without that commitment, women simply won’t count.

Judith Green


[1] Equality Act 2010. Schedule 3 (in relation to service provision). Schedule 9 (in relation to employment). Section 195 (in relation to sport). Schedule 23 (in relation to communal accommodation).

[2] Equality Act 2010. Explanatory notes. “A group counselling session is provided for female victims of sexual assault. The organisers do not allow transsexual people to attend as they judge that the clients who attend the group session are unlikely to do so if a male-to-female transsexual person was also there. This would be lawful.”

[3] Government Equalities Office & Gendered Intelligence. Providing services for transgender customers: A guide November 2015

[4] Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) Compendium Domestic abuse, sexual assault and stalking, year ending Mar 2016

[5] [5] Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) Compendium Focus on violent crime and sexual offences, England and Wales: year ending Mar 2016

[6] Abuse during childhood: Findings from the Crime Survey for England and Wales, year ending March 2016



[9] The Number of Gender Variant People in the UK – Update 2011 archived at see also





The photo of the panel of speaker above was copied from Twitter

Helen Steel aggressively bullied at the London Anarchist Bookfair

Helen Steel is a very well known and respected activist due to her role in The McLibel Trial and as a victim of undercover police officers. Following is a statement written by Helen, about her experience at the London Anarchist Bookfair held on 28th October 2017, where she defended Olivia and another woman who were attacked for giving out leaflets. This statement was originally posted on Facebook as images, then turned into text using OCR by supporters then posted to a WordPress blog, we have also reproduced the introduction Helen posted on Facebook. Helen can be found on Twitter @helensteel12 and on Facebook.


This is my statement on events at the Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday, where I and other women were aggressively bullied by around 30 trans activists. The bullying has continued since then, with many friends and colleagues being told to disassociate themselves from me, condemn me and the other women and the Bookfair or else be de-friended themselves. Malicious rumours have been spread about me. I have also received death threats. Many other women have been bullied in this way previously to silence women’s voices. Please read the statement and share it to help resist this bullying. Women have the right to speak about matters which affect their lives. I thank everyone who has sent me messages of support during this time, your solidarity is appreciated.

Statement on events at Anarchist Bookfair 2017

I was in the process of writing a longer article around the events at the Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday, but I am also trying to stay on top of the rest of my life while dealing with the horrendous bullying of people around me which is underway by some trans activists and allies. I have been traumatised by my experiences on Saturday and by events since, resulting in a lack of sleep and inability to concentrate. I wanted to complete the longer article, but as lies are being circulated by those who attacked me, I feel I have to put out a shorter statement now.

When I refer to trans activists in this statement I mean people who are activists on trans issues, I do not mean that all of them were trans, nor that they represent the views of all trans identifying people. For those who don’t know what TERF means, it is an acronym for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist, but whatever its origins it is currently used as a term of abuse to dehumanise women and so excuse violence and bullying against them.

I thank everyone who is taking a stand against bullying and I urge more people to stand in solidarity too. Those trans activists and allies who are carrying out the bullying can be defeated by growing numbers of people resisting that bullying. This will facilitate a proper space for the concerns of women and trans identifying people to be discussed.

Short statement on the facts:

  • The Tories are planning to amend the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) to include Gender Identity as a protected characteristic in law. This does affect women and as such, women have a right to express their views on this issue.
  • I am aware of three leaflets which were distributed at the Bookfair. I did not actually write or distribute any of them, but I supported other women’s rights to distribute them. The first leaflet I heard complaints about is available here.
  • None of them call for violence against trans identifying people, obviously I would not have supported them if they had.
  • Refusing to validate other people’s belief systems is not the same as threatening to harm them.
  • Bullying people to force them to accept your views does harm people.
  • If you think that other people should not be allowed to question your ideology, it makes you an authoritarian NOT an anarchist.
  • Women are oppressed in our society on the basis of our sex, those who deny this perpetuate that sexism.
  • It is a basic concept of progressive politics that oppressed groups have the right to self organisation and autonomy in their fight against their oppression.
  • I intervened to stop the bullying of two women who had been distributing leaflets about the GRA at the Bookfair and who were surrounded and being threatened by trans activists. Women’s voices have been silenced throughout history, which is why so many people have internalised misogyny and the assumption that women’s concerns are unimportant.
  • Half an hour later, I was surrounded for over an hour by a baying mob of around 30 trans activists who shouted misogynistic abuse in my face and at others, and who would not leave me alone. This included: ugly Terf, fucking Terf scum, bitch, fascist and more. That kind of behaviour should have no place in anarchism or any other progressive politics.
  • Despite that provocation, I did not at any time threaten or assault anyone. No trans activists were threatened by anyone else in my sight or hearing.
  • While I was surrounded, I saw a man’s hand moving towards my face and when it was within inches of my face I blocked it and pushed his arm away. He then started shouting that I had assaulted him and I should be thrown out.
  • Some of those in the baying mob tried to stoke anger and division by calling me a snitch, making false claims that I had filmed them assaulting a feminist at Speakers Corner and had handed that footage to the police. Footage of the incident is available and actually shows me intervening to protect the victim of the assault, not filming it. The videos embedded in this article show what actually happened, please do watch them and see the truth for yourself.
  • Their claim of ‘snitch’ in the circumstances is obscene in any event – when you assault women you do not get to claim the moral high ground by complaining that they have reported your behaviour to the police.
  • Those in the mob asserted that the leaflets setting out women’s concerns about the GRA should not be handed out because they amount to violence against trans people. They then used this to justify actual physical violence and intimidation. They didn’t care about the distress caused to others in close proximity, including children. Nor did they care about the trauma they cause to women by surrounding us, threatening us and using violence to silence women’s voices, repeating the patterns women face throughout our lives when reporting sexual harassment or assault or other sexist behaviour.
  • Women’s experiences are always erased – we are asked what were we wearing at the time, what did we say and do. Always the message is; as a woman it’s your fault, shut up. So what’s new here?
  • It is absolutely ludicrous that anyone could think that the behaviour of the mob was justified in any way by my actions or those of other women. That is victim blaming. People need to take a reality check.
  • Progressive people need to call out sexism, male dominance and violence and stop protecting sexist behaviour. Those offering support to bullies need to stop appeasing sexist behaviour.
  • Nonsense claims equating feminism to fascism are an insult both to feminists and to those who have endured racist and state violence under fascist regimes.

Of course I believe that all trans identifying people have the right to live their lives free from harassment and abuse, as does everyone. But I note the double standards that while women are repeatedly told to explicitly affirm that right, there is never a requirement on those advocating for trans issues to acknowledge the level of violence and harassment that women face or to state their opposition to sexist abuse, or to challenge the outrageous statements made by some trans advocates which repeatedly deny women’s experiences and silence women’s voices. This is a power imbalance based on the long held expectation in society that women should be subservient.

It is notable that a statement issued a few days ago calling for groups to boycott the Bookfair in future, makes no mention of sexism or of women’s rights or for the provision of women only meeting spaces. There is no acknowledgement at all that women are subject to oppression, sexual violence and harassment on the basis of our sex. It appears that those who have signed the statement are in denial about women’s experiences in much the same way that the rest of society is. Only the recent and snowballing reports of sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood, Parliament and via #MeToo have started to awaken people to reality. It is time those who signed up acknowledged that reality too.

The Anarchist Bookfair organisers do a huge amount of work to facilitate an amazing event which allows thousands of people to learn about alternative views and experiences of oppression and to discuss ways to improve society for the benefit of all. The self entitled mob attacking women for leafleting thought they had the right to dictate who could say what in that space rather than arguing their views and listening to the counter arguments to develop critical thinking. They need to think again.

I am lucky to have so many friends and comrades who put themselves in the line of fire to protect me, I thank them for this, especially those who were assaulted and abused. I also thank everyone who has sent messages of solidarity and support which are enabling me to get through this horrendous experience. I include in my thanks those trans identifying people and supporters who may not agree with my views but who recognise the importance of women being able to speak too and are resisting the intimidation they face from people claiming to act in their name.

I want to add that a couple of people have commented that while they agree with women being able to speak on these issues, they feel that in a few places the wording used is not helpful. The problem with requiring leaflets to be perfectly worded before they can be distributed is that it excludes very many people from being able to express their opinions. Only the confident will feel able to speak. It particularly excludes those born female who are generally socialised from a young age to keep quiet about their views and so who are less confident about expressing them. Perfection is certainly not a qualification used to prevent men from speaking. And ultimately, who decides what is right? That is the purpose of having debate, so we can all clarify our thinking.

Helen Steel

Leaflets distributed at the bookfair about the Gender Recognition Act

I am attaching the leaflets so people can read for themselves rather than speculating about what they said. Before people jump to conclusions about the leaflets, I would like them to understand the violent misogynistic bullying and death threats that women are being subjected to by a really vile subset of trans activists, so that they are aware of some of the context of women’s concerns. This abuse has been going on for a long time now. People need to understand just how frightening and intimidating it is for women, and why women are fighting back and need allies to stop this abuse and create the space for discussion on these issues. Here are a few examples, there are plenty more on

Note my twitter handle is copied in on this so I can see the the threat of killing terfs.

Sex and Gender Ethics Society

The Sex and Gender Ethics Society leaflet distributed at the London Anarchist Bookfair can be downloaded from here, a longer version has been copied here.

Mayday for Women

The Mayday4Women leaflet:


The erasure leaflet: