Thank you to everyone involved with the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize for this really incredible honour. I want to thank everyone involved in the Prize – founders, patrons and supporting organisations, for making it so important over the years, and the judges for selecting us in this, its twentieth, year. It’s really so moving to have your recognition.
Nothing is possible without sisterhood. Thank you Kiri Tunks, Ruth Serwotka and the team – our speakers, treasurer, writers, editors, graphic designers, meeting organisers – all so talented and giving of their time whether publicly or modestly, and a special shout-out to Sarah Johnson representing us tonight at a public meeting in Bath.
Thanks also to thousands of women in the grassroots movement, attending meetings, filling in the GRA consultation, writing to and meeting their MPs, and defending us so valiantly against constant slurs and lies.
Woman’s Place UK exist because women have faced male violence when they have spoken up: from the beating of Maria Maclachlan at speakers corner to Rosa Freedman being told she should be raped. This abuse aimed at women must be a wake up call for all campaigners against male violence.
We exist because male violence against women and sex discrimination still exist. We stand for women’s sex-based rights and protections in law, and for women to have a voice in legislation that affects us. The right of women to assert our own boundaries, to say ‘no’, is the non-negotiable basis of women’s liberation.
We have spent the last year working really hard to push back and change the landscape, so that other women and women’s services can hold their heads high and say without shame ‘yes, we use and value female-only space and services, and are proud of it.’ It breaks my heart that the local organisation (founded by and for female survivors of childhood sexual abuse that I used in my teens and early twenties) no longer offers female-only services, and worse, that they have no referral pathway for women who need those services.
It really is a case of ‘Use them or lose them’, when it comes to single-sex exemptions.
Twenty years! Who could have believed, twenty years ago, that we would now be fighting on such a fundamental principle – the right of women to have boundaries, to say ‘no’, to our own spaces and services, to be counted, to speak? Well, some women did already have an idea.
In 1995, the year Emma Humphreys was released after ten years in prison, Vancouver Rape Relief were issued a legal writ for remaining a female-only collective .
In 2004, the courageous Julie Bindel wrote about Vancouver Rape Relief’s legal victory and has suffered the most appalling attempts to isolate and vilify her ever since.
Women saw and were frightened and were silent.
Where has silence led?
A case just reported, from Canada: a father convicted of sexually abusing his daughter can be housed in a women’s prison because he claims to identify as a woman. This is where prioritising men’s feeling over women’s reality has led.
I am delighted to accept this prize from Jenni Murray who has also spoken up for women’s reality and faced vitriol for doing so.
Let this forthcoming year be the year all of us speak up for women and girls, against female erasure, against lesbian erasure, for female reality.