Speak Up For Women Respond To Stuff

We were recently contacted to provide comment to Stuff as input to this article. Unfortunately, we were unable to meet their deadline, and so again, New Zealand mainstream media has not delivered balanced reporting on the BDMRR bill. This is deeply disappointing; below is the response we gave to their questions (with minor amendments) and we request that Stuff update the online version their story. 

1. How many people are actively involved in your organisation and who are they?

Like all grassroots campaigning organisations there is a core team of organisers responsible for and contributing to various things and they dip in and dip out depending on their own capacity. It is not possible to provide an accurate headcount, as Speak Up For Women is flat in its structure and we welcome anyone, at any time, to contribute as much or as little as they want.

Our organisation is made up almost entirely of left-leaning women and some men from all walks of life. They vary in race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, ability and religious belief.

It is telling that without any media coverage, our recent open letter to MPs has to date gathered over 250 signatures from New Zealanders (we removed all signatures from people outside of NZ)

2. Who founded your organisation and when? What did that involve?

Due to the personal attacks and threats many members of our organisation have already received, we do not give out names unless they are happy to be publicly known. At this stage we only have one Spokesperson, Georgina Blackmore.

Setting up the organisation was relatively simple. Some people got together one weekend to choose our name, message, website and campaign goals. Speak Up For Women are currently focusing on a single-issue; the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill and how the proposed introduction of sex self-identification for birth certificates will impact on the sex-based protections of women and girls.

3. Where are you based?

We do not have an office. The people involved with Speak Up for Women live all over New Zealand.

4. Where does your funding come from? I.e. website set up, Facebook ads.

We are entirely funded out of our own pockets. We have not solicited any donations from our supporters, thus far.

5. Why are you opposed to the changes to the processes of changing gender on birth certificates?

We do not oppose the option of changing the sex on one’s birth certificate, as is currently the law. We oppose the government’s proposal to allow for someone’s legal sex to be a matter of self-identification only through the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill. We believe that adopting a policy of self-ID will have significant unintended consequences on the sex-based protections for women and girls and there must be a respectful, evidence-based dialogue on what these impacts are before this legislation is enshrined in New Zealand law.

Women and girls still operate at a disadvantage in society and we have laws that protect us on the basis of our sex, such as the Human Rights Act. Put simply, when sex becomes a matter of self-identification, the rights of women and girls become meaningless, they cannot be enforced, they cannot be cited for our protection and they cannot be depended upon when working towards equality between the sexes.

6. Some people have called your groups ideas transphobic or against transgender human rights – what is your response to this?

We support the rights of transgender people to live their lives free from violence and discrimination. No one should be denied education, employment, healthcare or civil entitlements simply for being who they are. Rights do not exist in isolation and a fair society balances the rights of all. We absolutely reject any accusation of transphobia. We are not anti-trans; we are pro-women.

7. The term TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist/m) has also been applied to your group and its members. What is your response to that?

We believe that the word TERF is a slur. Although the term may have originated as a relatively neutral descriptor, it is clear that it is no longer being used that way. It is now used to degrade, humiliate, insult and threaten women, especially online, but in some instances has been linked to real-life intimidation and violence enacted against women.

A lot of our supporters have been called TERF when they didn’t even know what Radical Feminism was; simply for asking questions or voicing their concerns. The term is often accompanied by death, rape and other types of violent threat as well be being coupled with dehumanising language such as “trash” or “scum”.

We ask that others don’t call us TERFs, but they persist in doing so. If the term was, as we are so often told, simply a neutral descriptor, then our repeated pleas to cease its use would be listened to. It is illustrative of how abusive that term is, that people continue to use it, even after being told how harmful it is

8. Are you affiliated with these individuals, groups and organisations: Renee Gerlich, Charlie Montague, Georgina Blackmore, Lesbian Rights Alliance Aotearoa, the people who run the ‘Broadsheet: New Zealand Feminists Magazine’ page on Facebook?

Georgina Blackmore is our Spokesperson. Broadsheet, Renee Gerlich, and the Lesbian Rights Alliance Aotearoa have at times shown public support for our work but are not affiliated with our organisation. Charlie Montague of the Lesbian Rights Alliance Aotearoa was a guest speaker at our first public meeting, alongside our Spokesperson, Georgina Blackmore.

9. Do you receive funding and other forms of support from feminist groups in the UK? If so which group/s?

No.

10. What is your response to some scientists’ position that biology is socially constructed and not ‘material reality’ as you say on your website – particularly when you consider intersex people?

We are materialists and therefore believe that biology exists no matter whether we believe in it or not. We believe that women and girls are oppressed due to our sex and not our gender identity. The problem we face nowadays is that our belief puts us into direct conflict with people who believe that women are oppressed on the basis of their ‘gender identity’. This is the central belief of trans-activists, whose topline statement is that “a woman is anyone who identifies as a woman”. Just as everything we aim for in our political activism stems from our primary understanding of the nature of women’s oppression, so too does theirs.

Indeed, the very term Intersex admits the existence of the binary of two sexes. It is not possible to be between or across two things, if those two things don’t exist in the first place. We follow the work of many politically active people with intersex conditions and a common objection they have is that their lived realities are often exploited in order to win an argument that actually obscures their own political goals. Intersex people are not a “gotcha” question to be exploited by people who themselves don’t know what it means to have an intersex condition.

Protecting an argument by reference to “some scientists think” completely ignores the fact that the scientific community doesn’t always agree. All things being equal, the idea that biological sex is mutable but that gender roles are immutable is politically unhelpful, at best; and you could go as far as to say that it is harmful to the work that feminists do. Without sex, there is no sexism.

11. Do you believe what you are doing is harmful?

No one in our group wants to harm anyone. We simply want to uphold, and where possible, strengthen, the rights of women and girls. If that is considered harmful, then that demonstrates an alarming and dismissive attitude towards the rights of women and girls in our society and we need to urgently examine that.

  1. How wonderful that ‘speakupforwomen’ has formed. I am politically right, 60 year old housewife, wife, mother of two daughters. Looking back over the years have seen little political progress for women’s rights whilst at the same time seen an erosion of women’s status and the rights afforded to them based on their gender . Now we face the possibility of toilets used by self identified women. Workplace toilets are used by friends to comfort women harassed by workplace bullying, I was terrified by a man acting out wanking in a public toilet but had surety of knowing he should not be there and Reeva Steenkamp locked herself into the bathroom for security. It is the area women identify as the safe zone. Where do they go if it is taken away? Debbie Thackray

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