Kiri Tunks with Beth Johnson’s son, September 2019

Kiri Tunks is a British trade unionist, socialist and women’s rights campaigner. She is a co-founder of A Woman’s Place UK (WPUK), an organisation set up in September 2017 to uphold the Equality Act. The Conservative government had proposed rewriting the law to eradicate single-sex spaces and safeguards for females. A large grassroots movement sprung up to oppose the changes, and now WPUK is carrying on the fight for women’s equality.

Jenny Whyte and Beth Johnson, two leading figures in Speak Up for Women NZ, met Kiri and they got to share their experiences.

Jenny met Kiri in New Zealand earlier this year after connecting online with WPUK supporters. “We had realised we had a mutual friend in NZ who Kiri was coming to visit. Kiri also has NZ connections through her father – hence her Maori name”.

Kiri is a secondary school teacher and had just completed her tenure as President, first of the National Union of Teachers and then Joint President of the newly amalgamated National Education Union in Britain. During her term of office, she has been subject to public campaigns to have her removed from her national positions as well as facing complaints made against her. These actions have been unsuccessful because the Union supports the right of members (and staff) to hold different political positions to the Union (and to campaign for those positions) as long as individuals don’t claim to represent national union policy or use their position to advance their individual viewpoints. “

Despite living on opposite sides of the world “we realised how much our groups had in common” says Jenny. “The sorts of women involved were much the same:  leftists, environmentalists, teachers, medical and health professionals, mothers, and scientists”. Both organisations have been subjected to similar slurs by opponents claiming the women involved are  bigots, Nazis, and TERFs. 

In both countries there are  increasing numbers of women facing attacks on their livelihoods as a result of speaking up in opposition to sex self ID. “We also talked about how amazed we were that so many young people are attacking second wave feminists – unaware of all they achieved. Young men in particular are happy to attack and denigrate feminist women.” With the ongoing attacks on women’s rights they spoke about the need for good organising skills in both groups – which is why it is good to have trade unionists involved.

It was agreed to forge closer ties between the groups and support each other, to keep in closer touch, and to share resources.

Beth met Kiri in September this year while visiting the UK. She and Kiri noted how similar the organisations are, including their structure with a core decision making team, a working group of skilled volunteers and a wider group of supporters.

Both groups have started out funding campaigns from their own pockets, all positions are voluntary, and the work is sustained with donations from supporters and money raised from event tickets.

Women’s Place and Speak Up see ourselves as part of a broad, international women’s liberation movement which is growing in strength and confidence. As Kiri put it, “We are a global network of resistance fighters”. Both organisations realise the fight will take years and we are in it for the long haul.

  1. Solidarity, sisters, innit!

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  2. Vallon Parkinson October 19, 2019 at 1:34 am

    God Bless you for standing up for Women to be Women without fear or intimidation form the Wannabes!

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  3. Eradicating single-sex spaces and safeguards for females originated from leftist ideology, not conservatives. “Gender is a social construct” didn’t work out so well for women now did it?
    Why are young men happy to attack and denigrate feminists? Because feminists are happy to attack and denigrate men. “Mansplaining”, “rape culture”, “pale, male and stale”, “toxic masculinity” are regularly thrown in their faces. No wonder they disengage, no wonder the suicide rate of men is far higher than the suicide rate of women.
    Who’s calling you TERF, Nazi or bigot? Debate killing name calling is a weapon more vigorously used by leftists, activists and the far left.
    Who is the vice chancellor of Massey University (the university that recently deplatformed Speak up for Women)?
    Jan Thomas, a woman.
    She is no right winger or conservative btw, she deplatformed Don Brash because she considered him to be oh so hateful.
    I’m a fan of Camille Paglia, I’m a woman, I used to consider myself a feminist.
    These days I don’t want to be associated with feminism.
    Issues such as censorship, deplatforming and cancel culture have been opposed by libertarians (like me), conservatives, old school liberals and right wingers for a while now.
    Welcome to the party, what took you so long?
    It might be an inconvenient truth, but your current resistance and liberation fight is against your own, not those nasty conservatives.

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    1. I agree Tamsin. I identify as old school liberal and worry about women’s place in the future. I don’t feel it will be helped by those using a political left platform to justify taking up the cause and muddying the waters with leftist ideology. This debate is so simple – women’s safety is being undermined and we are being denied a platform to debate it. So many women are interested in this debate because they are shocked and perplexed by what is going on. There is no political agenda, they do not need a union. Their strength is unity over this issue and recognition that women from all backgrounds share a common view.

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  4. Well said Tasmin. Just been reading about how a feminist in Canada who says that women don’t have penises was denied a public speaking space in Alberta libraries( sound familiar ? ) but the head of Toronto public libraries is standing firm for free speech. I’ve bought a ticket for the event on the 18th of November in Auckland. Let’s hope there’s plenty of free speech there.

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