Report: “Certifying Equality? A critical reflection on Athena SWAN”

Certifying EqualityEarlier this year I organised an event on Athena SWAN and equality accreditation for the Centre for the Study of Women and Gender at the University of Warwick. It was a really great opportunity for attendees from a range of HE institutions to reflect on the benefits and limitations of equality accreditation schemes, and share thoughts on our experiences of Athena SWAN.

I’ve now completed a report on the event, which I hope will be helpful for galvanising discussions in universities that participate in the Athena SWAN charter mark.

You can download the report here.

It includes reflections and insights from the Certifying Equality event, including:

  • Background to Athena SWAN
  • Athena SWAN as a catalyst for change
  • The contradictions of equality accreditation
  • Proposals for change
  • Presentation summaries

If you find this document helpful and interesting, please do help distribute it by sharing with your colleagues!

 

 

Certifying Equality? A critical perspective on Athena SWAN (17 February)

certifying-equality-posterI’m currently part of a team working on an Athena SWAN submission for the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick.

Many of us are feminist academics. The process has got us thinking both about how equality accreditation mechanisms such as Athena SWAN can create space for new ways of thinking and tackling sexism, and also about what can go “missing” or get “lost” in such processes. For example, there isn’t much space for an interrogation of intersecting inequalities in Athena SWAN (or Race Equality Mark) submissions.

We’ve therefore decided to organise an event to think about and discuss some of these issues. It will be taking place on Friday 17th February in the Wolfson Research Exchange, University of Warwick Library.

Further details and a registration form can be found here.

I have seen the future of feminism, and it is beautiful

Yesterday’s social media furore over a dodgy letter to the Observer left me questioning my place within the women’s movement for the umpteenth time. However, within hours I was powerfully reminded that those who advocate an exclusive feminism are less influential and important than they might like to think.

Last night I joined a room of people committed to building a feminism that is compassionate, reflexive, inclusive of all women and sensitive to our different experiences.

Last night I found myself in a room of brown, black and white faces; gay, bi and straight; cis and trans; working class and middle class; disabled and abled. Last night I heard a teenage Muslim woman speak out about the importance of representing all faiths in activism after a question from a Jewish woman in the audience. Last night I heard from a white middle-class straight woman who has turned up to learn with an open mind. Last night I heard cis women talk about about trans rights, and felt that my identity and experience as a woman was simply not in question.

I had been invited to contribute to a panel discussion at the University of Bristol Students’ Union (UBU). Entitled How do we make the Women’s Movement intersectional?, the panel was was of UBU’s “Festival of Liberation“, which also includes events looking at the challenges faced by LGBT people, disabled people, and people of colour. I was honoured to share a panel with three truly awesome women: Susuana Antubam and Sammi Whitaker of the NUS Women’s Campaign, and Fahma Mohamed of Integrate Bristol.

Panellists at UBU's intersectional feminist event
Last night was promising and encouraging and heartwarming, and was not unusual in being so. I have seen similar scenes repeated across the country over the last few years at talks, workshops, protests and riot grrrl gigs.

This is the new feminism. A feminism that is discarding the model of monolithic female oppression and in its place building a movement around diversity and inclusion. A feminism that seeks to base both theory and action upon what different groups of women have to say about their lives and experiences, rather than imposing a top-down model of liberation drawn from academic theory. A feminism that sees cis and straight women take responsibility for supporting the work of their trans and queer sisters, white women take responsibility for supporting the work of their sisters of colour, abled women take responsibiity for supporting the work of their disabled sisters and so on.

Last night we talked about the importance of intersectionality as feminist praxis: of putting ideas into action. We talked about the importance of education: of sharing the knowledge and tools necessary for women’s liberation with people of all genders. We talked about the importance of representation: of working to ensure that women of all backgrounds feel welcome and able to attend feminist events through the use of accessible venues, ensuring diversity within organising teams and (where relevant) speakers/acts, and thinking about the language we use. We talked about the benefits of building groups around intersectional identities (such as black womanhood); groups that can then work alongside other bodies of people with a broader remit, feeding in ideas and holding them to account.

We talked about calling people out and challenging oppressive behaviour both within wider society and within the feminist movement. We also talked about being kind and prepared to forgive, and allowing people space to learn and grow. We talked about how everyone will make mistakes, because intersectional feminism is a constant experience of doing and being, rather than a closed process where you jump through a series of hoops and then become a Good Feminist who is capable of always passing judgement upon others.

We talked about our experiences of activism. Fahma talked about giving a piece of her mind to a nervous Michael Gove, resulting in a letter to every school in the country about FGM. Sammi talked about productive conversations with working class male friends, and building liberation into the very fabric of Anglia Ruskin’s fledgling Students’ Union. Susuana talked about her work on addressing lad culture as a gendered, racialised and classist phenomenon. I talked about my contributions to trans and non-binary inclusion within the NUS Women’s Campaign, and how we seek a diverse range of performers for Revolt, Coventry’s feminist punk night. We heard stories and ideas and questions from the audience, and I reflected on how we were not “experts” with a monopoly on solutions, but just one part of a wider movement.

These are just some of the things that we talked about.

So why have I been led to question my place within the women’s movement?

Because I see Julie Bindel referring to other feminists as “stupid little bellends” whilst misgendering trans women, arguing that bisexuals do not experience oppression, and stating that Muslim women who wear religious dress are necessarily oppressed. Because I see Rupert Read suggesting that trans women should not be allowed to use public toilets. Because I see Beatrix Campbell repeating and defending these ideas.

When I read things like this, I am repelled by a feminism that is harsh, bitter and exclusionary.

When feminists gaslight me by claiming repeatedly that the individuals who wrote these articles are not transphobic I am saddened and confused.

When I hear about feminists disrupting conversations at events such as AFem in order to promote an agenda that excludes trans people and sex workers, I am disappointed and worried.

When I see exclusionary events like Radfem 2013 and Femifest 2014 promoted within feminist spaces and supported by organisations like Women’s Aid and Reclaim The Night London I am alarmed and concerned.

When I see feminist women and men – including both public figures as well as personal friends and acquaintances – sign a misleading letter that condemns attempts to debate and contest the above, I wonder how voices of those who work for an inclusive and diverse feminism can possibly stand against a “letter mob” representing the discursive might of the liberal Establishment.

The stakes are high. Too many of my friends have considered suicide. Too many of my friends have died. When I talk to my trans friends and fellow activists, I hear about fragile mental health, doctors and shopkeepers refusing to provide services, threats of violence and attacks in the street. All of these things are fuelled by the dehumanisation of trans people, the idea that we require intervention to save us from the misguided path of transition, the implication that we do not deserve to exist within public spaces. These discourses are perpetuated by feminists and defended by liberals in the name of “free speech”.

I don’t believe in historical inevitability and don’t buy into progression narratives. I had a debate about trans-exclusive feminisms with Jack Halberstam recently. Jack echoed my PhD supervisor in arguing that trans-exclusive feminisms are outdated and irrelevant, long-dismissed within the academic world. But the academic world is often divorced from the reality of the feminist movement on the ground. In this reality, exclusive feminisms continue to fester.

In spite of all of this, last night reminded me of the power and appeal of the new, intersectional feminism. It is this feminism that is popular amongst young people who are more interested in working together than apart, and veteran activists with the humility to share their ideas and wisdom with newcomers on an equal footing.

This feminism requires work and nurture, but – as I argued last night – this does not need to be an entirely arduous task. Working together across our differences and ensuring that more people feel welcome and included makes us stronger. Learning new things from others can be interesting and exciting. Having the strength to learn from our mistakes solidifies friendships and alliances. Discovering a more diverse range of feminist histories, activisms and performances can be fun and empowering.

The new feminism is beautiful. Let’s keep building.

(Guest Post) #TransStonewall: Uncovering White Trans Laziness

This post was written by Jade Fernandez, who has given me permission to cross-post.


It’s true, I’m a defector. I’m turned in my Racial Badge for a slightly-less-radical badge that reads ‘Unapologetic Stonewall Sympathiser’, and I’ve torn up my Radical Trans ID that I specifically use to get into Radical Trans Events.

I took part in the #TransStonewall meeting, and I liked it. Sue me.

What was refreshing was, to put it lightly, the lack of trans wankery. What, I hear you ask, is trans wankery? It’s the inter-community shitstorm that bubbles up every time we try and organise something even a little bit outside of our comfort zones. Let’s face it, trans people trying to organise something of this magnitude with Stonewall would be like dumping cats into a bag and giving it a kick. With CEO Ruth Hunt’s guidance, oratory skills, and calm professional aura, the meeting was free from drama, ended on time, and we reached some clear, profound points for moving forward at the end. Had a bunch of trans people organised it solely, we would have been talking about the past 25 years of grievances for 25 hours and I would have burst into tears.

There were issues with diversity – of course, there will always be diversity issues within any group of people with one common experience. Intersectionality is a buzzword white trans people like to throw around to impress their equally white mates. Intersectionality, white trans people think, means complaining that no or limited amounts of trans people of colour are present at a meeting, while doing eff-all to improve the situation yourself.

I mean, thank God we’re going to get a separate meeting, because Lord knows that room was a 50-person mayonnaise-fest. It was like walking into a Hellmann’s conference.

But the thing is, the reason why it was particularly creamy as fuck is neither solely the responsibility of trans people, ‘The Trans Community’, or Stonewall. We can’t point fingers at Stonewall while ignoring the fact that white trans people dominate every conversation taking place around trans stuff.

White trans people – lend me your ears: you have a duty of care to make sure trans people of colour are included at all times, and you need to signal boost stuff specifically notifying trans people of colour. Tell your friends. Blitz it out to your social media connections and to your ‘real life’ connections. Make it a numero uno priority. If I see you complaining about trans meetings or events being white, and you didn’t lift a finger to even attempt and make trans people of colour feel welcome, then you can shut your mouth and remove your hands from your keyboard. If I see you pointing fingers at events organisers without first pointing the finger at yourself and asking “Hey, could I be any use apart from using my impressively long repertoire of SJ buzzwords to annoy people?”, then politely go far away from me.

I’ve been transitioning since I was 15. I’m now nearly 22. I’m young and there’s been so much white trans people drama in this small island that I already feel like a battle-scarred veteran of some ongoing bullshit.

You see, white trans people are in prime position to invite trans people of colour to events that are going to be organised and facilitated by people who need some extra help. I don’t think anyone at Stonewall knows about our hidden or closed Facebook groups. Who might know about the perfect people to invite who’d be well up for it, and who are also people of colour. But you – you, my dear white friend – know of these secret communities. Or at least know a friend of a bloody friend, come on.

The result of White Trans Laziness? And now, I’m not letting off Stonewall and the organisers, but this article is holding white trans people to account. But the result of this was that there were four out of fifty trans people who were people of colour. Two of them were afterthoughts. One of them experienced a pretty upsetting racial microaggression on the day. That’s your stat breakdown.

While the consensus from the people of colour who did attend was that it was positive, it was draining and exhausting to be in a space with a load of white trans activists. Though we didn’t talk a great deal about individual experiences and opinions, you just get dragged down a little bit in that kind of space. It was good that a lot of the discussions highlighted that any of Stonewall’s work has to include trans people of a lot of varying diversities and experiences – something that Ruth agreed on wholeheartedly. But you know, I felt like a token. Actually – I was a token. I was there to bring up the diversity quotient. And you know who made me feel tokenised most of all? That’s right: white trans people who did eff-all in the first place complaining that there weren’t more people of colour there, throwing out comments about ‘diversity’ in a smug way like it’s fashionable to point it out.

We’re not fucking elves. Magical people of colour don’t pop up when you say ‘Wow, we (of course, not meaning ME, because I’m a Good White Person) need to do better!’ If you want to magic us up for your conference or event: 1) Provide a spread. Food does wonders. 2) WORK ON IT. PROACTIVELY.

And actually, that’s what Stonewall is doing. Which is heartening. I hope it’s a good one. And free from inter-trans-people-of-colour-community drama, which is ten billion times more upsetting than the paltry Twitter shit white people could ever come up with (‘But that’s none of my business Kermit.jpg’).

I was going to write about how trans people of colour can work with Stonewall in the first instance, but this turned into a rant about white people – which, you know, is kind of relevant. Because if white trans people don’t start pulling their finger out, if we can’t fix the White Trans Laziness in our own little bubble of a world, then there’s really no point of any sort of unity with Stonewall.

The ‘West’ has much to learn from India’s anti-rape campaign

I’ve seen a lot of blatant racism around anglocentric portions of the Internet in the wake of India’s horrific rape scandal (if you haven’t read about it already, there’s plenty of information on this Wikipedia page – trigger warning for graphic description of sexual violence).

There are those who attempt to thinly disguise their racism by expressing a generalised horror at things that happen in other parts of the world. There are those who are more honest in their bigotry, suggesting that countries such as India are necessarily savage and backward. I even came across one sickening comment from an individual who suggested that the human race would be better off if most of Asia, Africa and the Middle East were simply wiped off the world map.

This kind of blinkered claptrap suggests a divide between “us” and “them”, the civilized “developed” world and the barbaric “developing world” – a divide in which the so-called West sets the agenda for women’s rights.

Of course, the reality is far more complex. This is not India’s problem – it is an international problem.

Yes, rates of sexual violence are horrifically high in India, but things aren’t exactly rosy in the rest of the world either. For instance, in a study of 33 countries it was found that the United kingdom has the lowest rape conviction conviction rate: only 6.5% of reported rapists are convicted, with an estimated 95% of rapes going unreported. By contrast, in India around 25% of rape cases that go before a court result in a conviction.

(It’s worth noting, of course, that these statistics don’t exactly match up – e.g. the UK figure of 6.5% rape conviction is so small in part because it takes into account that many cases do not go to court. The Times of India reports that police file chargesheets in 94% of reported rapes, but of course this does not mean that all of these cases go to court. Moreover, there are no doubt many more rapes that are never reported, just like the UK. Nevertheless, the implication is that – once a case eventually gets to court – a rapist is somewhat more likely to be convicted in India than in the UK.)

In the aftermath of the latest high-profile rape victim’s tragic death, Indian newspapers are highlighting the intersectionality of rape: the way in which individuals from marginalised groups are more likely to experience rape and less likely to experience justice, the fact that perpetrators are most likely to be family members rather than mysterious men on the street, the idea that consumer culture and political indifference play a role in enabling rape. Campaigners and journalists alike are suggesting that rape can be best addressed through cultural change. It’s utterly tragic that this discussion is taking place in the wake of a horrific attack, but it’s difficult to imagine a similar level of introspection in the UK mainstream media. Instead, victim-blaming remains the norm here.

545407_10151384778886125_1960936608_n

Of course, the wealth of thoughtful articles in the Indian media can’t simply be attributed to the individual initiative of journalists. The issue of rape came to mass attention and retained mass attention over the last few days because of ongoing protests for change. Thousands upon thousands of demonstrators have remained resolute in their demand for an India free of rape, a non-sexist police force that consistently supports women, and a political class who actually give a shit.

In the West we have so much to learn from the power and tenacity of this movement. The mass  protests have continued as politicians promise change and police respond brutally. The sheer unyielding resolve of those involved is incredibly inspiring.

In spite of this, I’ve seen some discomfort amongst Western commentators in response to a demand for the death penalty for rapists from many protesters. To this I have two responses: firstly, it’s not our job to tell campaigners in India how to fight their battle. And secondly, the Indian anti-rape campaign speaks with a plurality of voices, not one voice – see, for instance, this argument against the death penalty from a number of women’s groups.

I’d like to finish this piece by quoting a powerful article from The Hindu. Urvashi Butalia argues that rape culture is all-pervasive, and that in order to destroy rape culture we need to make changes on every level of society.

It is important to raise our collective voice against rape. But rape is not something that occurs by itself. It is part of the continuing and embedded violence in society that targets women on a daily basis. Let’s raise our voices against such violence and let’s ask ourselves how we, in our daily actions, in our thoughts, contribute to this, rather than assume that the solution lies with someone else. Let’s ask ourselves how we, our society, we as people, create and sustain the mindset that leads to rape, how we make our men so violent, how we insult our women so regularly, let’s ask ourselves how privilege creates violence.

It is important we raise our collective voice for women, but let’s raise it for all women, let’s raise it so that no woman, no matter that she be poor, rich, urban, rural, Dalit, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever, ever, in the future, has to face sexual violence, and no man assumes that because of the system and people’s mindsets, he can simply get away with it. And let’s raise it also for men, for transgenders, for the poor — all those who become targets of violence. Let’s not forget that the young rape survivor in Delhi was accompanied by a friend who too was subjected to violence and nearly killed. Let’s talk about him too.

Butalia’s approach reflects that of intersectional Western feminism: in particular, some of the ideas popularised through the Slutwalk and Reclaim The Night movements. This does not mean that Western ideals are the “best”. Instead, it suggests that rape is an international problem to which we must seek international solutions. We in the West would therefore do well to listen more to our sisters in India and beyond.

Shameless self-promotion!

I found myself in a studio recently with my Not Right bandmates, recording a number of the songs we’ve written together in the last year. The resulting EP is pretty rough and ready, but we feel it sums up pretty well we are as a band right now.

If you like angry female-fronted punk and/or music with trans themes, you might enjoy it!