PROTECTING FEMALE-ONLY SPACES IN THE UK
Radical feminists met in London on 8 and 9 June in an openly publicised venue, despite threats, intimidatory tactics, distortions and misrepresentations of our politics.
Overblown hype from those who oppose radical feminism made it a controversial conference. The one constant in all the anti-radfem rhetoric, whether from MREs (male “rights” extremists) or transactivists and their allies, was the false accusations about the unlawful nature of our meetings. Anti-radical feminists claim, over and over, that venues cancel our events because our politics is so bound in hate that it is unlawful for us to meet. When we tell them this is not true, they accuse us of lying.
This post, for the first time in public, briefly sets out the truth in relation to radfem2013 and UK law. The purpose of it is to build on the way legal knowledge was used in the run-up to radfem2013 to ensure that our events are never again cancelled by those who oppose us through the inaccurate use of legislation. They have, for too long, unjustly used legislation as a political tool to silence and censor us.
This post will explain how such tactics did not work for radfem2013. The post will also describe the ideological context which leads to extremist male “rights” groups calling for equality laws to protect their right-wing agenda against feminists who oppose male violence.
THE LEGAL POSITION
An interim legal statement, published on this blog on 24 April 2013( http://sisterhoodispowerful.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/interim-legal-statement-by-radfem2013-organisers/) explained that radfem2013 organisers have had legal advice from the outset. I do not propose to go into the detail of the history but briefly:
* Formal legal advice was received which explained how our conference was lawful and how no venue was breaking the law by holding it on their premises
* Off To Work (the contractor operating from London Irish centre and initial host of our conference) received that advice but clearly did not understand its implications for its own business otherwise it is doubtful the original venue would have been cancelled.
* Our solicitor explained to Off to Work that to cancel our conference would be unlawful. From that moment on, Off To Work, very helpfully, assisted the organising group to find an alternative venue in numerous ways. They also published a statement which made clear that the cancellation was not due to anything the radfem2013 organisers or speakers had said or done. They clearly stated the cancellation was due to the intimidatory tactics used by anti-radfems and the lack of resources available to them to deal with this, given London Irish centre, the venue, is a small charity.
* The second venue, Camden Centre, was bigger, and in a more central location, and so it was a better outcome than the original plan.
* A council owned this second venue (Camden Centre) and are used to dealing with controversial events. A council is much more aware of its legal responsibilities and has its own legal department which other, smaller, venues do not have. The council underwent a thorough risk assessment, including an assessment as to whether radfem2013 presenters, such as Sheila Jeffreys and Lierre Keith, are appropriate speakers at an event held on council premises. The council decided they were.
* The myth that, somehow, radical feminist events contravene an individual organisation’s equality policies, by being explicit that we meet as women to discuss, and tackle, male violence, is now put to bed. Our solicitor explained this was not the case to Off To Works (a letter shared with London Irish Centre) and clearly Camden Council understood this too.
* The event went ahead without incident
Those responsible for overseeing the legal work are keen that it is used to protect female-only spaces for shared political goals, for healing under patriarchy and for women-only services. We want to share what happened in the run-up to radfem2013 with other radical feminists in the UK, women-only political groups and women-only services so that they too, can use the law as a political tool to protect female-only spaces.
If you are involved in UK radfem activism, a UK feminist organisation/social group and you want some support and advice in order to protect female-only spaces, mail email@example.com giving details, including contact details.
If you’re able to help with expenses, it may also be possible for us to run workshops about how to protect female-only spaces using existing legislation. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss further.
How have men/queers/transactivists been so successful at shutting down female-only space? It stems back to the slow, evolving, way the debate about “equalities” cancels out women’s oppression in favour of “gender-based” oppression (see blog post dated June 6 2013 http://sisterhoodispowerful.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/male-violence-not-gender-based-violence/). By calling it “gender-based” violence, there is political space to deny the structural power men have over women and claim that violence comes from all individuals, equally.
As radical feminists, we know that the true source of women’s oppression, and other oppressions, are embedded in the institutions, systems and structures of society and that this, together with cultural norms, creates “patriarchy”. We know, therefore, that any legislation will be limited, at best, and used against us, at worst.
Patriarchy is never going to acknowledge that oppression is enshrined in the very fabric of society. The myth of the state, as a neutral arbitrator, supporting the rights of equally competing interests/groups within society, props up that fabric. The state drafts legislation. Legislation is based on that myth. Male “rights” extremists groups, and others, feed off it in order to censor and silence us.
Unsurprising then that the Equality Act 2010 has been used with such relish by male extremist groups and queer/transactivists to try and stop radical feminists naming our truths.
If anti-radical feminists wrongly use the act to attempt to silence and censor us, it follows that we must evoke it to stop them from doing so. That’s what happened to enable radfem2013 to happen, openly and lawfully, and that can happen again for other women-only spaces. If we can’t even meet together, we can’t fight patriarchy and so it is important that all radical feminists confidently move forward, knowing that
our political work is lawful.
LEGAL HELP FOR RADICAL FEMINISTS
Do you need help to safely run a radical feminist/women-only event/workshop/activity/service?
contact: email@example.com (Give as much detail as possible, including contact details)
Do you want to invite the women behind the legal work for radfem2013 to facilitate a workshop about the legal position relating to women-only space? (you may need to fund-raise for expenses) Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you want to ensure that feminist networks, services, radical feminist and other feminist women-only (on and off line) groups know there are ways in which the law can be used to sustain women-only space? If so, share this blog post widely with UK-based women-only services/facebook and other UK-based feminist on/offline groups and networks
We will not be silenced, we will not be censored and we’re not going underground.