Looking back on the Women’s Liberation Movement

Judith Green looks back at the founding Women’s Liberation Movement conference on the 48th anniversary

In a sexist society, sexism imbues every facet of life. The Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s involved a huge truth-telling by women about the realities of their lives, to each other and to the world, in an effort to change themselves and the world. Out of that great cataloguing of the injustices against us, women in the UK developed seven demands at a series of conferences taking place from 1970 to 1978.

The first of those gatherings opened exactly forty-eight years ago today, when women in Oxford expanded an original idea for a conference on Women’s History into an event focused on the urgent contemporary concerns of women.

300 women were expected, but 600 arrived, and together addressed issues out of which the first four demands of the Women’s Liberation Movement National Conferences were developed.

These were

  1. Equal pay
  2. Equal educational and job opportunities
  3. Free contraception and abortion on demand
  4. Free 24-hour nurseries

While embraced by the whole Women’s Liberation Movement, and agreed at the Skegness conference in 1971, the emphasis of the first four demands reflect the priorities of the Women’s National Coordinating Committee elected at that first conference and dominated by left groups.

Taken together they envisage women liberated from the burdens of motherhood and by the removal of barriers to full economic participation.

Such liberated women could be the equal of men as workers in struggle, men who — as a group — were not addressed by these demands.

Instead, the demands were addressed to legislators, employers, health services and the public sector.

They followed the struggle for the passing of the Abortion Act (1967) and women workers strike for equal pay at the Ford plant in Dagenham (1968) and were part of the effort to achieve Equality legislation in the form of the Equal Pay Act (1970) and Sex Discrimination Act (1975).

The Women’s National Coordinating Committee was disbanded following the Skegness conference.

Two further demands were added at the Edinburgh Conference in 1974.

  1. Legal and financial independence for all women
  2. The right to a self-defined sexuality. An end to discrimination against lesbians

While these demands do not name men directly, they are more ‘present’ than in the first four.

Legal and financial independence from men, and a right to a self rather than an ‘other’ (male) defined sexuality are at least implied.

The seventh and final demand was added at the Birmingham Conference in 1978.

  1. Freedom for all women from intimidation by the threat or use of violence or sexual coercion regardless of marital status; and an end to the laws, assumptions and institutions which perpetuate male dominance and aggression to women.

Whereas the first four demands had been specific, and with the emphasis on economic equality and reproductive rights, the seventh demand encompassed — in the ‘laws, assumption and institutions which perpetuate male dominance’ — the entirety of the social system of male supremacy or patriarchy.

Men’s dominance over women, and the role of violence in maintaining it, were named directly for the first time, but not without some controversy.

Socialist feminists and non-aligned supporters won the day in striking down the proposed preamble stating that ‘Men’s violence against women is an expression of male supremacy and political control of women.’

The Women’s Liberation Movement Conferences have sometimes been described as occasions of painful schism and rancour between two wings of committed feminists: socialists and radicals.

Each side made harsh criticisms of the other.

The shadow of these disagreements has been long, with blame often apportioned and a litany of bad behaviour catalogued.

I have no intention of doing that in this short article.

As a socialist feminist in the twenty-first century looking back, I am as frustrated with the inadequacy of my tradition to theorise and tackle male violence as my radical sisters were in the 1970s.

Not a single one of the Women’s Liberation Movement Demands has been properly fulfilled — be that economic or reproductive rights, sexual liberation for women or ending endemic male violence against women and girls.

Notable absences from the demands are to a address the unpaid labour of women in the home, sexist stereotypes and socialisation, or the field of representation — both political and in media imagery. There is now recognition amongst feminists of the socialist tradition that inequality between women and men is both a cause and consequence of male violence and that naming male violence is vital to ending it.

#NotAllMen is understood as the derailment from talking about women’s experience that it always was.

While there is a feminism that believes being inclusive is more important than protecting women’s rights, the need for a Women’s Liberation Movement fit for purpose has never been more urgent.

The need to rebuild a women-centred movement is recognised by both socialist and radical feminists, who have much in common.

It’s been a long journey since the heady days of the second wave Women’s Liberation Movement Conferences.

What no one involved in them could have anticipated was the need to spell out that sex exists and has social significance on account of sexism.

We might propose a new demand: perhaps numbered zero, our bottom-line “Recognise sex and sexism”.

Image from the Red Women’s Workshop

Women are a vital part of the socialist movement – they must be consulted over changes to the Gender Recognition Act

Women are becoming steadily more angry and despairing at Labour’s refusal to engage with them over changes to the GRA. The time to talk is now, writes Ruth Serwotka

At Labour Party conference in September 2017 there was a great spirit of hope.

The Labour Party had committed itself to the most radical social and economic reform programme in living memory. If elected to power the new government could be as transformative as the post-war government.

The shadow chancellor’s speech in particular struck a radical note, making direct reference to the ’45 Labour government that built the welfare state.

John McDonnell spoke in visionary terms of the current rentier economy being replaced with strategic investment, nationalisation of infrastructure and regional development through regional investment banks.

Rail and transport and infrastructure projects are all to be delivered by a workforce that has full protections through access to legal rights and secure work.

For young people, McDonnell was clear that student debt through loans would be replaced and Labour would build more affordable housing for future generations. These commitments alone have secured an impressive radicalisation among young voters.

However, for me, one line stood out more than any other, and it was this: “And we will ensure every piece of legislation will be measured for its impact on women before it is implemented.”

That was very specific and reassuring. It was an acknowledgement that feminism and women’s rights remain foursquare at the heart of our movement and that they cannot be easily diminished.

Wherever the trade unions and the Labour Party have been on the ascendant, so too have women’s rights.

Just days before his speech the skirmishes that have now become the hallmark of the “transgender debate” were becoming evident and had made national news.

A woman was assaulted last year by a trans rights activist in Hyde Park when having to secretly meet to discuss the Tory proposals for gender self-identity.

The secrecy of the meeting was because of threats being routinely made online towards feminists and directly towards those attending.

McDonnell’s speech nodded to an understanding of the silencing of women. Tory policy itself was adopted without taking a single piece of oral evidence from women’s organisations.

Footage of the assault had been widely shared on social media with some prominent left commentators intimating that the female victim had provoked the beating (it is notable that to this day some left journalists have failed to condemn this assault).

The speech at party conference seemed to be saying that women’s voices will be heard, and we cheered from the rafters.

But in the pursuant onslaught drowning out women’s voices, McDonnell’s reassurance has not come through on the fundamental question of women ourselves, women’s spaces, women’s and girls’ rights to privacy and safety and our right to define who we are.

Instead there is a dangerous standoff between the Labour Party and the feminists who desperately want a Labour government for the benefit of women.

Women’s organisations that are from within our tradition, such as A Woman’s Place UK (WPUK), have been frozen from access to the leadership of the party.

As a result, our own party is as guilty as the Tories in its failure to reach out to women or take us seriously. This is bitterly disappointing and we hope it can be rectified soon.

Both mainstream political parties were badly advised on the difficult territory they were entering and were unaware of the furious backlash they were likely to provoke by amiably adopting gender self-identity without considering the consequent impact on women.

The current state of play is potentially disastrous for the Labour Party. Threads on Mumsnet, which can be considered from the real world as far as politicians are concerned, run into hundreds and hundreds of comments, overwhelmingly ridiculing and expressing frustration with the party, many of them discussing resignations or a change in voting intentions.

A recent poll suggests a six-point drop in support among women. While it might be unrepresentative, it certainly suggests the party should not be cavalier about women’s concerns.

Secret online organisation is the new vogue among women and worthy of its own article, but suffice to say party figures are discussed with disdain and anger in these secret spaces.

Prominent female trade unionists are beginning to understand the fundamental questions at stake and are furious to realise they have been blocked from consultation or meaningful discussions.

Where socialist feminists are involved in trying to reassure women that the party will come good, they are angrily dismissed because, quite rightly, women want to hear reassurance coming from the party leadership itself.

Simultaneously, vitriolic, misogynist language, such as the use of the acronym “Terf” and the insult “bigot” are being liberally sprinkled into the language of some party supporters and used against women with a long history of organisation within the movement, or to silence dissent among new party activists.

Rather than clamping down on the culprits — even with a narrative of “oh, these are just some silly boys, pranks and hijinks gone wrong” — there has been instead an elevation of some of the worst perpetrators to the national stage. Women everywhere see this as appalling and I see it as an act of stupid self-sabotage.

Jeremy Corbyn, in promoting liberal good intentions fails on good politics. He recently said of his support for trans rights: “I see the person in front of me.” We all do. Our intention is not to remove the rights of trans people to have happy and secure lives but it is to ensure that women’s rights also remain secure and that sex-based protections are not diluted in law.

These are complex matters that deserve meaningful dialogue. Instead the Labour Party has added fuel to the fire with its “decision,” announced by Dawn Butler without consultation with women, to promote self-identified women onto all-women shortlists and the Jo Cox Programme for potential new MPs.

As the zeitgeist moment continues to unfold, as some of us knew it would, the party leadership seem frozen, out of touch and ready to surrender its feminist wing, which will be like chopping off its own limbs.

To have a Labour government bowdlerised of feminism sits outside any historical framework. Feminism has always deeply influenced our movement and that is how some of us intend to keep it.
Only a cursory glance at history shows women’s rights have to be fought for as they are not gifted.

McDonnell was right to include women in his speech and see us as an integral part of the radical vision of the next Labour government.

One way or another we intend on taking him and the Labour Party up on their commitments to us because without the inclusion of women there is no radical vision.

Ruth Serwotka is a founder member of WPUK and convener of the Socialist Feminist Network. WPUK is holding its fifth meeting on the Gender Recognition Act in central London on Tuesday February 27. The speakers are FBU regional officer Lucy Masoud, community organiser Pilgrim Tucker and WPUK speaker Steph Pike. It will be chaired by Megan Dobney, formerly regional secretary of Sertuc. Tickets are available via Eventbrite.

This article was originally published by the Morning Star.

Finding a progressive way forward for women and trans people

On 17th January 2018 Kristina Harrison addressed the second Woman’s Place meeting in Manchester, following is a transcript of her speech, which is also available on YouTube.

It’s a cliche but I really am honoured to be invited to speak at this meeting and to speak alongside socialists, feminists of the calibre of Ruth Serwotka and Bea Campbell.

As a transwoman I have identified not ‘as’ a girl or a woman but with girls and women for most of my life…. I’m also a socialist who understands with absolute clarity, that there can be no progressive agenda that uses abuse and harassment to silence women, there can be no socialism of any kind, that tells women, we’re re-defining you, be quiet and submit and there can absolutely, never be any human liberation without women’s liberation. As someone who understands that, I value women’s rights as highly as I value my own trans rights.

That is why I’ve not only marched through these very streets here in Manchester against section 28, not only stood tall as a proud and unapologetic transwoman, demanding rights, but I have also demonstrated and picketed in defence of women’s abortion rights and their right to control their own bodies. It’s also why I am implacably opposed to both the proposals for self-recognition of gender identity and the current ideology of I’m sad to say, the majority of transgender activists.

There’s simply too much to try and cover all the problematic aspects of the self-identity proposals and current trans ideology in this speech and hopefully much more can come out in the discussion so I’m just going to touch on a few issues but before I do I want to put these things into a wider context that I think is crucial to a fuller understanding of what’s going on in what I think are very complex issues of gender as well as I think, critical distinctions between everyday social sensitivities and status or even to a large extent legal protections on the one hand and on the other more fundamental political, biological and philosophical distinctions which must also be reflected in law.

So, context. As one of those troublesome Marxists I’d argue that oppression is rooted not in individual prejudice but in systematic discrimination arising from the needs of various male dominated class societies, most recently, capitalism. One of those systemic aspects of discrimination are gender roles, their deliberate propagation and policing across generations. Such ideas are propagated through newspapers, film, TV and advertising industries and very much policed by right wing politicians, by corporate media, religious groups, by families influenced by the ongoing justification of these norms and still today here in Britain they are occasionally policed with violence by usually male bigots.

The idea that the extraordinary richness and diversity of human personality and interests can be adequately accommodated by two roles based upon a child’s genitals at birth is an absurd one. If it wasn’t such a deeply damaging and fundamentally inhumane notion it would be simply laughable, so why are we still subjected to these deeply restrictive rules that limit and suffocate the scope of girls aspirations, that tell girls they are weak, frivolous, vain and valued principally for their looks and boys that they must not cry, that tenderness, sensitivity and heaven forbid, playing with girls or with girls things is for cissy’s… and who wants to be one of those?

The reason we are still subjected to these arcane and artificial roles is they serve an important purpose for our ruling elite. These ideas have evolved over centuries fundamentally to keep women in their place in a subordinate role that now seeks to control their ability to bear and raise children in ways that maintain, nurture and replenish a healthy and productive workforce at very low cost or no cost to big business or the state and to control and exploit women’s sexualised bodies to sell commodities, to titillate men and to further divide and divert working people from recognising our common interests and common humanity. The system benefits hugely from all that. That’s partly why many establishment politicians, the likes of the Daily Mail, the Sun and other right-wing forces constantly push these norms.

Another is the gender role for males which has also evolved in ways which attempt to control and shape men, in particular working-class men, preparing them for their exploitation at work or for war. Though occupying a more socially valued and higher status category the gender role for men is still fundamentally restrictive and exploitative, setting unrealisable standards of toughness and emotional constipation for instance.

When trans identitists talk about ‘cis’ people as individuals who are somehow congruent with their gender, not in conflict with it all, I have to stifle a little laugh. I think it’s fundamentally misleading. Even a man who sees no conflict with his gender role but ends up committing suicide as all too many young men do, because his ‘role’ and the rules he thinks he has to live by as a man render him incapable of addressing and dealing with his emotional needs or feelings is in fact in a very real and all too human sense, in conflict with his unhealthy, unnatural and mentally corrosive gender role even if he doesn’t know it.

Only a minority of adults fully conform to the gender stereotypes for their sex. Most people find that their real lives and real personalities are more complex than stereotypes and whilst most conform in broadly socially acceptable senses they do not do so fully.

Many people, especially women become aware of the oppressive nature of their gender norms and actively rebel against them. Feminists and socialists such as myself are for the complete removal of these artificially created rules and roles. However, whilst women in particular are oppressed by them, as well as in many other ways, some children discover that major or central aspects or our natural personalities and childhood interests are so completely incompatible with the gender role and norms inflicted on us that we find our core sense of self completely rejected and delegitimised as children.

The very same traits and interests that bring us shame and rejection seem to bring love and pride toward children of the opposite sex….and boy do we notice! In my opinion this is one of the major reasons children can begin to feel trapped by their bodies because it is our bodies that determine whether our personality is treated with love and approval or shame and illegitimacy.

Is it really surprising then if kids begin identifying with and especially in the age of social media and an increasingly connected and ideological trans bubble ‘as’ members of the opposite sex, yet really, we are trapped by our norms, not by our bodies. On reaching puberty there is also evidence that children can also be further driven or perhaps even begin to be driven towards trans identities in some cases by sudden homophobic rejection of emerging gay or lesbian sexualities and also by revulsion towards and/or attraction towards sexualised imagery and involuntary associations or bodily changes.

So, we are oppressed because as defenceless children we are invalidated and abused by the policing of norms which serve powerful elements of society and often by our own families and immediate social circle. This rejection is hugely damaging to children. If and when we find the courage to continue to act in ways which are true to our natural self-expression both as children or later as adults we are often abused as deviant transgressors of gender norms and even though our situation has improved significantly in the last few decades we are still subject to social rejection, ridicule, discrimination and even violence.

It shouldn’t be a surprise then that many gender-rejected children can form entrenched opposite-sex identification and see their only chance of having a life of free self-expression without all that rejection and social illegitimacy is to undergo gender reassignment and ‘pass’, that is to be taken for a member of the opposite sex. That in my opinion is why as long as society attempts to keep shoving children into suffocating straitjackets that for some are just too painful to bear, gender reassignment will remain a life-affirming, even life-saving option for some people.

I do though think that we need to give our children every possibility to be fully informed and supported so that they can be as sure as they can be in young adulthood that they are not mistaken in their trans identity and the drastic surgeries and life-long medication that follows are not unnecessary and simply adding to deeper underlying issues. Clinicians should be free to help patients fully explore their underlying feelings, motivations and experiences to uncover the actual issues and whether a person is likely to benefit from reassignment treatment or not. We need more studies of the long-term outcomes for post-op transsexuals so that practice is evidence led, not ideology led. All this of course would be uncontroversial in any other arena of healthcare but is blasphemy to the self-identity campaigners who argue that trans identities are fixed and innate, that such an approach amounts to conversion therapy. This is nonsense. There’s no credible evidence of innate opposite-sex, gender identity and we know it’s not fixed because the majority of children who identify as trans eventually desist from their once firmly held identity.

We also have a growing minority of de-transitioners who realise after largely irreversible treatments that they were mistaken in their identity after all and have come to reject it. Some are people who eventually realised that their issues were in unresolved abuse, many de-transitioners are women who now realise that they were butch lesbians all along, they had been without role models and facing a triple whammy of homophobia, deeply embarrassingly hetero-sexualisation of their bodies and a deeply repulsive ‘pink’ gender role that was hugely restrictive and demeaning to masculine women. Yet, such is the extent of the liberal collapse before this trans ideology that according to Times journalist Janice Turner a recently approved NHS ‘memorandum of understanding’ states that questioning a patient’s declared gender or examining other underlying mental issues is equivalent to gay conversion therapy. Are young lesbians presenting as trans to be regarded as acceptable collateral damage then? That is not an ethical healthcare policy.

Gender Identity specialists themselves we are told, are afraid to speak out and afraid to do their job of actually exploring a patient’s underlying problems. In effect they can do little more than rubber stamp what may be a clear and good decision by one patient or a confused misreading of their thoughts and feelings by another. Self-identity will only ensure more vulnerable young people embark on treatments that will do them more harm than good. Trying to deconstruct, sex, gender and sexuality along with often many other issues is hugely complex. If understanding your own feelings and behaviour were so easy and obvious the fields of psychology and psychiatry would be pointless and redundant.

What this affirmation-only policy means then is that once young people self define as trans they will by default be on a conveyor belt towards irreversible treatment that for some will only compound their problems. This is a form of gross neglect and a burgeoning potential scandal. That this is being done in the name of trans rights to our children and young people when we already know these identities are often mistaken, makes me apoplectic with rage for the injustice and ideological blindness of it and the fact that in the very worst possible way this plays right into the hands of right-wing bigots and the gutter press who would love to return us to the days when calling trans people perverts and a danger to your kids is back in the mainstream.

Listening to so many of the trans activists you would think the oppressors of transwomen are feminists, such is the hate directed at women who refuse to accept that identifying as a woman magically makes you one. How could it? Yet feminists explicitly oppose the gender roles that transpeople are oppressed for transgressing and feminists are explicitly against discrimination or violence towards us.

No, we’re oppressed, fundamentally by a male dominated system and the violence we suffer from is typically from men. Whilst individual women may support or try to enforce gender roles or be prejudiced and hold transphobic or homophobic views, sometimes in powerful roles as adults over children, as journalists or as employers, on the whole women as a sex are neither in control of this society, nor can they be fundamentally responsible for its oppression of transgender people.

I find it both illuminating and deeply disappointing that instead of directing their anger at bigoted Tories, the hard right and the likes of the Daily Mail the targets for the most venom are women who refuse to know their place or bow to demands that infringe on sex-based rights. T-shirts like “kill a terf”, “Die terf scum” glorify violence and hatred against women. They have no place in any progressive movement. Whilst this may be the sentiment of a highly vocal and abusive minority it is incumbent upon trans activists who claim to be progressive, especially those who claim to be women or even to be ‘feminists’ to denounce such misogyny and expel such people from their campaigning groups.

It points to a wider issue of sexism though and one that is intractable within the logic of the current ideology. Insisting that identifying as a woman makes you a woman, is intrinsically sexist in the true sense of the word. Why? because inevitably if you say being a woman is fundamentally about psychology not biology then at best you minimise biological sex, you minimise women’s biological reality, their every-day experiences and also their long history of struggle for reproductive rights, sexual health and sex based rights. If you are blind to sex you will be blind to sexism.

As we see with the neglected rights of young butch lesbians, the usurped rights of women in the labour party to specifically address their own political under-representation as a sex by having seats and posts reserved for them being undermined without debate or consent and as were already seeing in terms of the de-legitimising and harassment of women who show a shred of independence from this movement, the female sex is being sidelined, re-defined and being told to make room without even a pretence of consultation…. And for what? for an Orwellian charade that’s not honest, not progressive, not rooted in reason.

People can’t be reasonably asked to accept something that’s not real, especially when it minimises their lives, but they can be asked to accept the equal validity and worth of transwomen and transmen, that we deserve protection, safety, dignity and equality and that we can find respect, solidarity, love and a sense of belonging by respecting both women and accepting ourselves for who we are, trans people and essentially, gender role refugees.

Our interests lie in a reality based approach which seeks to advance both groups rights and services, whilst respecting women’s autonomy as well as our own, needing as we do our own health statistics, specialist services and political representation.

Whilst the current law is not without its flaws it enjoys a fairly wide degree of credibility including I’d argue from women and it gives transsexuals who undergo gender reassignment, commonly understood to mean surgery and hormone treatment, protection in a legal category akin to a kind of legal manhood for transmen and a kind of legal womanhood for transwomen in most circumstances. In practice this gives us a wide degree of inclusion yet at least in theory if not in practice it maintains a distinction with biological sex and allows for sex based protections. This needs to be strengthened and simplified so that it is easy and practical to use where sex based protections are required by women.

Let me be clear, the final decisions on access to women’s spaces should lie with women but I am for arguing in defence of current laws which enables us to live broadly the way we want to live and with an everyday dignity previously denied to us. However…. I am not for the status quo. I am for a drastically improved and fully resourced system of assessment and treatment which is far quicker and more supportive than the current one. Waiting for up to 5 years from referral to be diagnosed, start treatment and gain legal protection is cruelly long and totally unacceptable.

We need prompt treatment and fully funded services, a range of above all safe unisex and single sex toilet and changing room provision and legal protection for everyone’s right to free gender expression, whether at work, at home or elsewhere. Above all we need to fight gender norms and the systemic forces that benefit from them, but as a tiny minority we cannot win without allying with the women’s movement and the broader Labour movement and that will only happen through mutual respect. One way to destroy that respect is to ignore biology and demand that subjective gender identity should trump objective biological reality. No, we will never tolerate that sexism but we will continue to work for the voluntary unity of all oppressed people against our common oppressors. I urge transgender people to join us in that fight and to speak out against the sexism and misogyny in the self identity movement.

One woman’s Journey

Dear Womans Place UK

I’m Patricia, female specimen of the human species and identificated as woman in the human world. I mean, I’m just a human female but I “live woman” more than I am one. My inner self doesn’t even have a name let alone a sex. I may not have the intellectual baggage a lot of my socialist feminist sisters have but I have enough to understand humans live on different levels depending on different axis of oppression affect their lives and how able or enabled they are to struggle against them. I cannot know this and simply say I’m woman. I live woman is more accurate at this level and on this level it’s not that different than living under a black identification.

I’m also a member of the Labour Party, following its change of stance re austerity.

I only woke up to the, then unimaginable, prospect of the seeing a minority’s rights being pit against women’s rights this December. Since then I’ve been avidly reading everything I can get my hands on and I’m increasingly worried.

To add to the glaring examples of violence against women speaking out (one of which managed to shut down a much beloved annual book fair), I’ve now read too many stories of how our younger lesbian sisters are finding themselves increasingly sidelined and silenced even in their own communities, of younger women (such as a friend’s daughter) trying to escape the misogyny of this world by transitioning. It’s hard not be worried.

I feel too green to to broach all of these subjects with confidence but I have enough confidence to speak out as I can.

I have a son. Before he was two we had to flee his father. The way society works my son and I were the ones to have been uprooted. My son and I were the ones to have had to leave everything behind. And my son and I are the ones living with the consequences of abuse of which a form of persistent depression I suffer from is one. I cannot imagine what it might have been like for us if we hadn’t been able to seek refuge with Women’s Aid then. Bruised and traumatised I also don’t know what it may have been like to have found a man in that house. It’s how traumatised I was.

For the 8 months I was there, it was beneficial for me not to have to deal with any men. This abuse-related phobia of men lasted a bit longer but I’m fairly okay now.

I recently had a row with a friend. She cried in disbelief as I extolled on the great spanner in the gender works that allowing men and women to self-ID as the opposite sex could represent. Oh how naive I have been for so long. I’m afraid to say, it was only then that I got it. Get it I did though.

What I have since then found about the claims made by trans ideologues is that they could set us back decades if not centuries. Female brains. Aaaargh!

It’s not just self-ID. It’s mental health for girls struggling as they discover their personalities in a misogynous world.

It’s healthcare professionals being pressured by policy into indulging young persons’ self-mutilation instead of helping them navigate the troubled waters of sexism.

I can’t speak on gender dysphoria per se but it strikes me as problematic that a one-size-fits-all solution to people who try to sail against sexist currents problem is being pushed even as each person pushes against them in different ways.

I’m delighted to have now started a standing order to help you send our message anywhere and everywhere. It’s not much but it will increase if the Labour Party fails to get its act together and listen to women in seriousness, in good faith and with all women in mind.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you are doing. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can get people in my area to help organise a meeting.

In solidarity,


Open Letter to John Lansman on women’s political representation

Dear John Lansman

I have attached a copy of a response you sent to a feminist friend of mine after she requested reassurances from you, as a candidate for L.P. NEC elections, on the burning issue of womens political representation within our movement.

Your response appears rushed and quite confused and I hope this is because of your busy schedule rather than the priority you attach to the issue. I thought now, following the closure of ballot, it would be a good time to tackle your response and the concerns many Labour Party women have with your position and as such the reflection it is of a position of the wider movement.

You say you think it is a problem the L.P. has “not adequately reflected in its structures non binary identities”. What does this even mean? Women in the L.P. requested a reassurance from you of our place at the heart of our movement. You can only be confused by providing that reassurance if you think non-binary people will take the place of women.

You then suggest, and I do hope that this is a drafting error, that because of under representation of women in the party trans women can be treated as women. If you mean trans women can adequately represent the experiences and political and social battles of women for reproductive rights, for instance, or equal pay or for services to protect women from violence and harm or for adequate childcare services or adequate womens health care services I would respectfully suggest to you that you are wrong and you should urgently re-think. Only womens mass participation in the L.P. can ensure the party adequately represents women and only by encouraging women into membership and leadership of the party will we ensure we have a socialist party fit for purpose.

You go onto support the notion of self identity as the basis for categorizing “gender”. I have to hope that you support the idea from a position of ignorance as you have, in a single move, obliterated the sex categorisation protections upon which UK equality law is constructed. Have you consulted on this basis? Do you really think women in the party think this cavalier approach to our rights is acceptable? Women only shortlists exist on the basis of single *sex* exemptions, womens officer roles exist on the basis of sex. The reason for this are sound and remain urgent; it is to ensure the elevation of more women into the political life of the party. I do hope you continue to consider this a worthy political goal?

I am taken aback by your reference to “professional, white, middle class women” as if they are some sort of over represented, domineering group in politics. This is not true. By making such a reference you are in reality suggesting sexism does not exist, implying the battle for womens representation is over, that some women have privilege over men. It’s a very revealing passage in your response and I think motivates your approach to the whole question; you do not seem to think women further require protections or suffer sex discrimination. If that is your position you are wrong.

We agree that more trans people could be involved in the Labour Party. But I think that might involve men standing aside rather than womens political structures and organisation being obliterated. Why did you not even make a nod to the problem of the over representation of men in our political culture?

I do hope that the Party and the movement you represent understands this is an issue over which socialist women feel strongly and over which we will stand our ground. The reality is that one hundred years after the suffragettes the question of womens equal political participation and representation is not settled.

Ruth Serwotka
Convenor Socialist Feminist Network

A litany of myths, misrepresentations and misinformation

The following response to an article by Roz Kaveney in Red Pepper from Womans Place UK was originally published on Facebook after Red Pepper declined to publish it.

Woman’s Place UK: A Right of Reply

Woman’s Place UK rejects outright the litany of myths, misrepresentations and misinformation contained in Roz Kaveney’s article. To refute them one by one would make for tedious reading. Suffice to say that Woman’s Place UK is not transphobic; has not engaged in or supported any abuse; has not been responsible for posting offensive images or flyers; and is not actually running a campaign against the GRA. Neither has Venice Allan ever been a part of Woman’s Place UK (a fact she has stated publicly).

Woman’s Place UK is made up of people from a range of backgrounds who are rooted in trade unions, women’s organisations, academia, the NHS and other walks of life and who are determined to defend women’s hard won rights.

We are against all forms of discrimination. Transgender people should have the same rights as anyone else to be free from discrimination, to access the services that they need and to be treated with dignity and respect.

The demands of Woman’s Place UK, as outlined in our launch statement are quite specific and quite clear. We want:

  1. Respectful and evidence based discussion about the impact of the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act to be allowed to take place and for women’s voices to be heard;
  2. The principle of women only spaces to be upheld — and where necessary extended.
  3. A review of how the exemptions in the Equality Act which allow for single sex services or requirements that only a woman can apply for a job (such as in a domestic violence refuge) are being applied in practice;
  4. Government to consult with women’s organisations on how self-declaration would impact on women only services and spaces;
  5. Government to consult on how self-declaration will impact upon data gathering — such as crime, employment, pay, and health statistics — and monitoring of sex-based discrimination such as the gender pay gap.

We have held one meeting to date (in Cambridge) and have another planned in Manchester. A speaker from Woman’s Place UK spoke at a fringe organised by others at Labour Party Conference in Brighton. *

We reject Kaveney’s account of the incident at Hyde Park. In fact, it was this incident (clearly shown in this footage) that resulted in the creation of Woman’s Place UK.

Some of our members were there and they witnessed the unprovoked attack on a woman who was trying to attend a meeting which had to be relocated because of intimidation and threats. We were horrified that women were being prevented from discussing sex and gender and resolved to make sure these discussions would take place.

Women are routinely silenced, defamed, threatened, trolled, harassed and even physically assaulted for daring to engage in a discussion about the possible consequences of a legislative change. They are ‘doxxed’ and their employers are contacted via Twitter and urged to fire them. The accusation of “transphobia” should not be used to shut down women’s voices.

We are campaigning to ensure that women’s voices are heard on a question which affects them.

We do this because the Women & Equalities Select Inquiry failed to call in any women’s groups or feminists to give evidence in person.

We do this because so many other structures are failing in their responsibility to make sure women are heard.

We do this because it is the only way we will come to a progressive position which upholds the rights of everyone and allows us to move forward.

Woman’s Place UK

* We have been asked by Venice Allan to clarify further that Woman’s Place UK were not involved in the organisation of ‘What is Gender?’ held in London on 13 September and ‘Debate Not Hate’ held in Brighton on 27 September. We are happy to do so. Both these events were organised by a small team of women, including Venice Allan, none of whom are or have ever been involved with Woman’s Place UK. We also have no association with ‘We Need to Talk about the GRA’ held in York on 8 November, or any forthcoming meetings, organised by Venice Allan.

Protection of Women and Children’s Rights

An open letter to the leader of the Labour Party.

Dear Jeremy Corbyn

I am an ordinary working woman. I come from a trade union, Labour voting family – parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. I have always voted Labour and I have been involved in anti-racist, gay liberation, pro NHS, feminist and trade union campaigns since I was a teenager. I have been a member of Labour and Momentum for some time. I write now, with a great deal of sadness. I have already written to my local MP but received back only a standard reply which did not address my concerns. Yet my experience tells me that what I write here represents the views of many ordinary women and men in this country.

As a woman and as the mother of a young woman, the protection and rights of women and children must be one of my priorities. Protection. not just against domestic abuse, rape, sexual exploitation, inadequate care services, degrading and demeaning representations and work underpayment but now against the demands, distortions, lies and claims of what appears to be a science-denying sect sweeping aside the safety of women and children and, which is apparently supported by yourself and the Labour Party. I refer of course to the very well- funded and, well organized, movement that claims that science, in the form of biology, is an illusion, and that only reported personal feelings determine whether one is a man or a woman.

As a feminist I do not care what gender role or fantasy people choose to act out as long as it does not harm others. I have no issue about the behaviour of transmen (adult women who claim to be men), cat people, dog people, baby adults or any other group because they neither threaten others, nor take away the hard fought for rights of other vulnerable groups. But I am concerned about fully intact physical males jeopardizing the safety of women by claiming the legal right to self- identify as a woman and to enter any female only space – changing rooms, domestic violence asylums, rape crisis centres, and women’s prisons and, to physically endanger and, in some cases, to actually seriously injure, women in women’s sports teams. Men who claim the right to take funding and positions meant by law to go to women. As part of a reality based community, I am concerned that the Orwellian erosion of meaning in our language will lead to a decline in our ability to debate and reason. Increasingly acts of male sexual violence rape and murder are being reported as female crimes, distorting facts, statistics and our understanding and analysis of crime. I am concerned that at the very time when the world needs science to defend the earth against global warming and the destruction of our natural habitat, science is being left undefended and undermined.

I hear claims that transgender people experience oppression and persecution, to which I am totally opposed. You pat yourselves on the back for being inclusive whilst women who try to broaden the debate away from the hostility of social media into the real world are subjected to abuse, intimidation and silencing. But you are too late to silence the debate. Feminist women and their male supporters will continue to look at the evidence and to question, whether we can vote for a Labour Party that is intent on destroying the rights of women, and the safety and health of our children by proclaiming that a transgender woman is a woman simply because they say so. A party which appears to be advocating gender rather than biological sex as the determinant in accessing female only services and spaces. A party whose spokeswoman, in the form of Emily Thornberry, on national TV weakly shrugs, smiles and says that she “doesn’t care” about men using women’s facilities. A party which consults only transgender activists -not women, -not de-transitioned people – not transsexual groups – about sex, gender and the consequences of transitioning confused and non-conforming young people. And which encourages people who are, biologically and legally, men to represent women on, and in, women’s posts and panels.

I fear that the Tory party will eventually pick up crucial votes from women swing voters on this issue and I do not want to see another Tory government attacking ordinary people’s living standards, destroying our NHS and destroying our environment. And yet who can women – who can I and my family – vote for, now that the Labour Party is throwing away our rights and threatening the safety of our children. How can Labour women vote at all? Is the Labour Party for the many? Because right now, it seems, it is for the few.

Yours sincerely,

Jan Oliver

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

[7] http://www.womeninprison.org.uk/research/key-facts.php

[8] https://www.imb.org.uk/report/2016-17-imb-littlehey-annual-report/

[9] The Number of Gender Variant People in the UK – Update 2011 archived at https://uktrans.info/attachments/article/197/Prevalence2011.pdf see also https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/prison-population-figures-2016

[10] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0016885

[11] http://data.parliament.uk/WrittenEvidence/CommitteeEvidence.svc/EvidenceDocument/Women%20and%20Equalities/Transgender%20Equality/written/19532.html

[12] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4856268/Transgender-rapist-moved-women-jail-segregated.html https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2792998/pre-op-transgender-killer-moved-back-mens-wing-sex-female-inmates/

[13] https://www.ons.gov.uk/methodology/classificationsandstandards/measuringequality/genderidentity/qualitativeresearchongenderidentityphase1summaryreport

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