On Saturday 21st October, the Women’s Equality Network (WEN) in Wales and Elect Her hosted an event at the seat of the Welsh Government – the Senedd. This event came with much fanfare and publicity and was called “We Belong Here”. The hosts invited women to join them “as we bring women together to connect, mobilise and champion their role in Welsh democracy”.
Wales WRN, along with sister groups, (Merched Cymru, LGB Alliance Cymru & Outspoken Women among others) have been attempting to connect with elected Senedd members on issues of serious concern to women for a long time, but have been roundly ignored and dismissed.
We eagerly signed up to “We Belong Here” because, well, we do belong there. And there would be the opportunity to meet ministers and assembly members face to face and put our concerns and questions to them. Plans were hatched and questions were prepared. Oh, the excitement of actually getting some answers!
The first session was held in the Senedd Chamber, with only a lucky few admitted, the rest being in the Viewing Gallery. The panel included Hannah Blythyn (the minister who has introduced the reality denying, women-erasing, same-sex attraction destroying, LGBTQ+ Plan), Joyce Watson MS (the leader of the so-called Women’s Caucus) and Sioned Williams MS.
The questions had to be submitted beforehand electronically. Will it come as a surprise that none of the questions we submitted were asked or the topics touched on? Not a single question on sex-based rights. Only safe, pre-written sounding questions were asked. There was no engagement with the audience and for those of us in the Chamber our microphones had been switched off.
The panel discussion was both disappointing and infuriating.
A question about how to eradicate misogyny and sexism in the Senedd provided us with advice to simply ignore male abuse and harassment and instead develop thicker skin! There was no mention of the barriers women face because we are women. We were constantly reminded that we could achieve whatever we wanted if we worked hard enough (women, stop being such slackers!) and just “press the mute button” on male abuse. This approach is deeply ironic given that Welsh Government have pressed the mute button on any women they don’t want to hear.
Unpressing the mute button, I decided to approach Hannah Blythyn.
I know that the Welsh Government has an aim to increase the number of Senedd seats and achieve at least 50% of women candidates for these seats. However, I also know that they intend to start introducing Gender Self-ID via this legislation and hope that this will be unchallenged legally.
I asked Hannah Blythyn the critical question of how the Gender Quotas Bill would define the word “woman”. After a look that would turn a lesser woman to stone, her response was that this had not yet been decided upon. So I asked, did she envisage “transwomen” (men who self-identify as women) being on women-only shortlists? She stated that the Welsh Government’s position is that “transwomen are women”. When I said that they’re men, her response was “no they’re not men, they are women and that is a broader discussion”, and walked away. She seemed rattled and uncomfortable by being confronted.
After lunch we had a selection of workshops to look forward to. Surely the day would get better.
We attended a workshop on activism facilitated by the CEO of Oxfam Cymru Sarah Rees. It seems that women who have experienced male violence have been writing their hopes and dreams on dusters and sending them to their ministers in the Senedd. Apparently, this will make a difference to women’s lives when they are read out in front of Ministers next week!
When the facilitator invited us to share our stories of activism, Ali (with more activism under her belt than the Oxfam CEO has had hot dinners) was out of her chair immediately and on to that stage. Her mention of the magic word FiLiA brought gasps of admiration from three women of colour sitting by me, but a very stony face look from the facilitator and Ali was ushered off the stage.
We were asked to name an issue that was very important to us. Outspoken woman and proud lesbian, Dee Mc, took this opportunity to voice lesbians’ right to be same-sex attracted and the policing of our language being important to her. We clapped and whooped – otherwise tumbleweed in the room. I said tackling the pornification of society and in particular our youth was a major issue for me. Again, a few women clapped, and that bit of tumbleweed rolled the other way across the stage. Non-approved women’s issues must not be encouraged.
Undeterred and defiant, we made our way to the second “workshop”. This was billed as about women in and after middle-age getting their voices heard – that word HEARD again. Bit difficult when we are constantly muted. It was presented by two sisters Nicky and Stephanie Taylor who told us that the workshop was for ALL women including “those who identify as women”. Oh dear. They used the session to pitch their life coaching business at us and promote their book about making money from the property market.
Finally, the LGB and TQ+ workshop was attended by two of our group. This was run by Stonewall Cymru’s CEO Davinia-Louise Green. The grand total of four attendees were warned that security would be called to eject them if they used “hate speech”, specifically anything biphobic, transphobic, queerphobic, homophobic, racist or misogynistic. If anyone was triggered by a word or something that was said they must leave the room and find a quiet space. It all felt a bit like “be quiet you uppity lesbians”.
The session was badly presented and long-winded and gave not a word of support or encouragement to our lesbian sisters who are feeling more and more excluded from the LGBTQ+ smorgasbord. Both attendees from our group, Dee and Tessa spoke loudly and bravely about what mattered to them as a lesbian woman (Dee) and a straight woman (Tessa).
“I said that being a woman with all the difficulties and obstructions we faced for our sex that it was that, that was worthy of extra provision. I then expanded that I resented any of these provisions or opportunities being taken [away]. At this point I received my warning from Green that mine was “hate speech”, this was a “safe space” and I was making the other attendees “feel unsafe”. I asked whom in the room was feeling unsafe, no-one responded then Green put her hand to her heart and said I was making her feel unsafe. … She was certainly very anxious afterwards that the video we had taken should be deleted.”
And from Dee’s piece on the same workshop;
“Because this is about getting into politics and for me it’s about being a lesbian in politics, I think that the language is really important and definition of words is really important and at the moment I am not sure about the definition of the word lesbian being used here. As far as I am concerned a lesbian is a same sex attracted person. Now you are here as a rep of Stonewall Cymru. The previous CEO of Stonewall accused us of being ‘sexual racists’ for not accepting trans women in our dating pool. Now this is really important and I don’t want you to shut me down on it. Davina starts complaining and talking over me. I continue that it’s really important to have language that we all agree on and understand. The same applies to the definition of woman. I think before anyone can get into politics or anyone can represent me or I can represent myself, I need to know the truth of the language I am using. If you take that away from us, we can’t get to where we are going because we are not using words with the same meaning.
This has been the ‘political trick’ of the day - what is a woman - no debate, it includes transwomen silly, everyone knows that so we don’t even have to say it any more.”
They both walked out of the workshop.
A highlight of the day was finding free sanitary products in the men’s toilets. Yes, you heard that right! Some unknown man had obviously been curious and opened a tampon for a closer look.
We all knew before we attended the event that the Welsh Government does not care about women; straight, lesbian, or bi. It was shocking to see this beast in his lair and to observe its arrogance and absolute belief that we don’t matter.
The event, and the way it was stage managed, contrived, and very tightly controlled reminds me of Mao’s education camps. I am not exaggerating when I say I am more worried now than ever about democracy in Wales. This is ironic when we consider how the day was billed: “to join us at the Senedd as we bring women together to connect, mobilise and champion their role in Welsh democracy”.
What a load of crock.