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SEX is a protected characteristic under the law.
In the past year, several campaigns have sprung up to defend the single-sex exemptions which exist in the Equality Act.
These exemptions allow for the separate provision of single-sex services, spaces, places and employment in recognition of the fact that women may need to be only with other women; women may only seek certain services if delivered by women (for example, mammograms, rape crisis counselling); or that acts of positive discrimination help address a persistent inequality (reserved places, all-women shortlists).
Yet saying so is being portrayed as hate speech and fascism. Women arguing for sex-based rights are routinely denounced as Terfs (trans exclusionary radical feminists) and compared to nazis and fascists.
And fascism must be crushed.
The latest example of this was a tweet this week from radical left campaign, Jewdas, which proclaimed: “Good afternoon. Terfs are fascists and should be treated no differently from nazis.”
This produced responses which encouraged the use of the Nuremberg trials and cyanide pills.
Such a conflation is both offensive and dangerous in the extreme.
This rhetoric minimises the history and impact of fascism, which has violently suppressed and persecuted millions of people and caused the murders of millions more.
It diminishes the murder of six million Jews by the nazis and the horrors of the Holocaust. It belittles the current threat of modern fascism, growing fast across Europe and with real signs of growth here.
To compare the demands of women campaigning for their rights to the cancer of fascism demonises any woman speaking up and silences her. This can only lead to a diminution of women’s liberation and the erasure of women’s rights.
Violent images of what you can do to Terfs are easily found on social media. Women identified as Terfs have been subject to violence, intimidation, threats, demonisation and vilification. Some have been cast out of organising/political groups or ostracised at meetings and events.
Many women feel let down. The left and the labour movement should have led the way on this. It is our movement that has historically prided itself on respecting rights and debating different perspectives.
This is how we have built mass movements which have won real, progressive change. The mantra “Is it widely felt? Is it deeply felt?” has served us well but we seem to have lost sight of it on this issue.
The movement has behaved arrogantly. It has presumed to speak for all its members without properly consulting them or taking their views into account.
This has led to some women becoming disenchanted with their trade unions and the Labour Party. Make no mistake, concern about changes to the Gender Recognition Act and a move to self-identity is widespread among women (and some men) and the feelings run deep.
Given that women make up more than half of the movement, we ignore this at our peril.
Many of the women speaking up for women’s rights have long records of fighting for equality and against racism and fascism. To dismiss our concerns out of hand smacks of a sexism we didn’t expect to find in a 21st-century labour movement.
There have been a few honourable exceptions to this — the letter signed by some in the movement condemning “the use of violence or tactics of intimidation” which was published in the Morning Star last year.
For this the signatories were denounced. It’s little wonder most retreated to other causes.
The Morning Star took a principled position early on to cover the issues from a range of perspectives and has been heavily criticised for doing so.
Given the way the debate has gone, its decision is more and more admirable every day.
Apart from that it has been left to the right-wing and libertarian press to cover the debate. There has been very little engagement with the different perspectives from newspapers like the Guardian or the Independent.
Other left-wing sites have taken a more aggressive approach publishing one-sided, sometimes libellous, positions and refusing to accept any right of reply.
This is not a good look for a progressive movement.
If we are to truly represent and work for our diverse membership then we have to grapple with the thorny issues.
We have to confront the fact that there may be times when the rights of different groups will collide and we have to be prepared to sit down and have honest conversations about how we resolve these tensions and these competing demands.
Imposing a solution that fails to address the concerns of any group is a recipe for disaster. For the labour movement it would be an absolute betrayal of our principles and seriously hinder our drive to build a fighting force.
Without women, this movement is a shadow.
Let’s go back to our roots. Let’s facilitate robust respectful debate. Unless we do that the divisions that have been sown will grow and break our movement into pieces.
Kiri Tunks is a teacher and trade union activist.
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