At the WRN rally which launched the Respect My Sex campaign, Caroline ffiske from Conservatives for Women was one of the speakers. A WRN member herself, she was representing a coalition of women from all the major political parties, who share the knowledge that sex is real, and that that matters. Standing alongside women from Liberal Voice for Women and Labour Women’s Declaration, she said something like this:
“We sit in council chambers and argue fiercely with each other about local matters; and try to defeat each other’s parties. But this issue, the rights of women and girls to have single sex spaces - that transcends all party lines. We have to win. We have to work together because this is a fight we cannot afford to lose. We have to set aside our differences; and work together on this. Then, when we have won, we can go back to arguing about pothole, tax rates and other important issues”.
This week I have felt more urgently than ever the need to set differences aside. The Women’s Rights Network has at its core an ethos of inclusivity. We are a broad group, we are of all political parties, religious beliefs, and none. We agree on protecting the sex-based rights of women and girls; we may disagree on many other things. We believe we can do so respectfully and without attacking or excluding others.
Yet these arguments have started to cause rifts even within our tight knit, supportive groups.
In a world where statements such as ‘humans can’t change sex’, ‘women should sometimes be able to meet without men’ or ‘children shouldn’t be given information about explicit and dangerous sexual activities at a young age’ are controversial, spokeswomen often become divisive figureheads.
Some, including women within WRN, will give interviews to right-wing media outlets – usually in the absence of any coverage in mainstream media. Others refuse any such association with the right. In my view, these are both legitimate and principled positions, and neither course means that a woman carries any responsibility for later violent acts by men.
Whether you call yourself a feminist (as I proudly do) or a femalist; whether you join Standing for Women or WRN or follow A Woman’s Place or all three; whether you subscribe to the Radical Notion, Conservative Home, the Critic or Spiked – if you want to protect women’s rights, we are on the same side.
We need to fight together.
Left or right wing, Christian, Muslim or atheist, working class or posh, Catholic or Protestant, old, young or even grey middle aged. This is our fight. Our rights as women are under threat to an extent not seen for generations. WRN was set up to defend and regain those rights. We must not be sidetracked in that goal.
We are fighting for the girls being told they need to bind and mutilate their healthy growing bodies.
We are fighting for the women being told they have to shower in prison next to men; and punished for using male pronouns for the men exploiting them.
We are fighting for the women who want to get support from other survivors of rape or male violence without being expected to do so in front of a man who wants to be validated by being treated as a woman.
We are fighting for women to be able to escape violence into a refuge, knowing they will be safe within those walls from men.
We are fighting for safety in hospital wards, school toilets and changing rooms; for fairness in sports and competitions designated for one sex.
The fight is against the men who want to invade our spaces, and the men and women who support their incursion. Women don’t “always win” – more often we lose out. On this, we HAVE to win, and we HAVE to fight together.
When we have won the fight, we can continue to disagree on other matters. We can vehemently, fundamentally disagree on important matters.