Help Us Protect Single-Sex Services and Spaces!
Help Us Protect Single-Sex Services and Spaces!
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Latest: June 6, 2022
Hearing on 12 August 2022
We have a court date for our first hearing. We were due to have a hearing on Tuesday 17 May 2022 but this had to be vacated with agreement that each party bear its own costs because some of the lawye…Read more
WHO WE ARE
We are a group of students and former students and we represent the feminist student society Women Talk Back! Our group has been officially affiliated with the Bristol Students' Union (BSU) and we have been sanctioned for being women-only, despite being in compliance with the Equality Act. Please help us protect single-sex services and spaces from the Bristol SU's discriminatory practices and policies.
Women Talk Back! was created as a forum where women can discuss issues relating to their experiences of being female under patriarchy. Our consciousness-raising meetings scrutinise women’s experiences to generate a wider structural analysis of the status of women. You can read testimonials from women who attend our consciousness-raising meetings, describing what the society means to them and the impact it has had in their lives on this page.
Our attendees have repeatedly stressed how important it is that we protect their rights to privacy, safety and dignity when discussing our experiences as women and sensitive matters relating to being female in patriarchy. Therefore, when affiliating with the Bristol SU in 2018, we consulted discrimination lawyers to help us explain why we explicitly wished to implement the single-sex exceptions under the Equality Act 2010. These exceptions allow for groups to be single-sex (in this case women-only) when being single-sex is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
We welcome the fact that there are hundreds of student societies on campus open to everyone, but in ours we proudly centre women’s lives and experiences. Our public meetings with leading feminist writers, academics and campaigners are open to everyone. However, our restricted consciousness-raising meetings are women-only so they can speak freely and without fear. Thus being a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, in accordance with the law.
We strongly object to the idea that women should have to disclose personal trauma or histories of male violence in order to "justify" our need for women-only spaces. We consider that there is a positive value to single-sex spaces, including solidarity and support among ourselves, and those benefits should be reason enough to have our boundaries respected.
The women pursuing this case are acting as representatives for the whole feminist society. We have 70+ female members. Whilst we are proud to stand our ground, we are all young women at the start of our careers or in precarious circumstances. Therefore, some of us would like to remain anonymous for the time being.
This is a picture from one of our first consciousness-raising meeting after becoming officialised by the Bristol SU in 2018.
Since our inception we have experienced resistance, rejection and attempts to infringe on our right to single-sex spaces from the Bristol SU.
Over the past three years, the BSU would ask us to provide explanations as to why we wanted to be single-sex. Women Talk Back! explained that our priority is protecting our members’ right to safety, dignity and privacy, and that our members stated the group would not work for them if it was mixed-sex. The Bristol SU would reply saying they do not consider that to be a good enough reason and would shift the goalpost again and again and again to keep us justifying why we wanted to exercise our rights under the law.
The Bristol SU modified their bylaws to include a definition of ‘women’ that reads: “All who self define as women, including (if they wish) those with complex gender identities that include 'woman', and those who experience oppression as women.” There is no definition of the word ‘men’ in the Bristol SU bylaws. Furthermore, after our women-only society became affiliated in 2018, the BSU changed their bylaws in 2019 to request all societies must accept people based on “gender identity”. There is no definition of the term “gender identity” in UK law and this concept is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. The law defines “sex” (a protected characteristic) as meaning “man or woman”. “Man” is defined in the law as “a male of any age” and “woman” as “a female of any age”. This means the Bristol SU sanctioned us for using the law to protect something that is not recognised by the law.
On the evening of 1 March 2020, Women Talk Back! held a consciousness-raising meeting titled ‘Boundaries and Feminism’. A couple of student trans activists, including a self-identifying transwoman, turned up to the session. The transwoman (male) student admitted being aware that Women Talk Back! operates under the single-sex exceptions of the Equality Act 2010, but said they thought that by showing up in person and being nice to us, they could violate our boundaries.
We recognised these student trans activists from their previous targeting, of some of our larger public events, and their targeting of feminist events hosted by other student societies. This targeting was reported in the local press, and included that the male trans activist student demanding access to our women-only space had to be removed by security after hijacking a feminist meeting on the Bristol University campus.
These students complained about Women Talk Back! being women-only and following the 1 March 2020 incident, the BSU retrospectively claimed that we were never single-sex to begin with. They opened an investigation and Women Talk Back! provided four witness statements from women who were present that night. We detailed the intimidating and forceful nature of this incident and how we felt we were being threatened and emotionally blackmailed into weakening our boundaries for fear of retaliation from student trans activists. The result of this investigation was that the BSU validated the trans activists’ account and sanctioned us. The Student Union demanded:
Mandatory “diversity and inclusion” training for our members regarding accepting males into our single-sex female space;
Our President, Raquel Rosario Sánchez, must step down from her role and cannot run as a committee member on any other society’s committee for two years;
Our group is not allowed to be female-only and we must make it clear on our social media pages and our page on the SU website that our group is ‘open to everyone’.
Women should not have to plead and beg for permission in order to use the rights we already have. Women shouldn't have to justify over and over again why we want to be among ourselves to discuss our own lives. We should be able to use the single-sex provisions without being targeted by trans activist students and without being sanctioned by institutions meant to support us.
We are grateful to have received pro bono guidance from lawyers helping us advocate for our rights. Based on this guidance, we believe that the BSU, being an association as defined under the Equality Act, has breached its duties towards us. We also believe the BSU has committed sex related harassment by engaging in unwanted behaviour which has had the purpose or effect of violating our dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
We believe that Women Talk Back! as a whole, and specific female members, have been the victims of direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation, because of our protected characteristic of sex, and because of protected acts done in relation to that characteristic.
While this was the preliminary and pro bono advice that we received, we have now instructed Elizabeth McGlone from Didlaw to represent us. She specialises in equality and discrimination matters.
Our legal case has been featured in the national press, including The Times and The Telegraph. In April 2021, our President was invited to give evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee, where she discussed the importance of single-sex services like Women Talk Back! The transcript can be found on this link. Later on, in October 2021, our President was interviewed on the BBC Woman's Hour by journalist Emma Barnett where she discussed our dispute with the Bristol SU. You can listen to the interview on the BBC website here and read a transcript of the interview here.
WHY WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT!
We launched our legal case in September 2021 and filed our Particulars of Claim in October 2021. We paid for this work with funds raised by the public on our previous Crowdjustice page. Since then, our solicitor has moved law firms and Crowdjustice rules state that when this happens, you need to create a new page for your case. You can still access the previous page, which has now been closed. Everything we have raised has been used in the first stages of this litigation. Now we are preparing ourselves to exchange disclosure, prepare witness statements and get ready for our trial against the Bristol SU.
Cases like this can cost over £75,000 and we need to raise enough money to ensure we can pay for the Bristol SU costs in case we are not successful. There is no such thing as a guaranteed success and we are aware that we might lose.
Our case is the first brought by women who were directly prevented from and/or sanctioned for explicitly using the single-sex exemptions under the Equality Act 2010. Therefore, this is a test case. The rights everyone has to single-sex spaces mean nothing if public bodies and institutions, such as the Bristol SU, can override and dictate which rights women should or should not have. We simply want the BSU recognise that their sanctions against us were unlawful and discriminatory against women.
Women Talk Back! has spent the past three years cooperating amicably and in good faith with the Bristol SU. We are disappointed that they have sanctioned us and we are saddened to have to litigate so that both women's boundaries and rights are upheld.
However, we want to thank the lawyers who have helped us with their guidance on how to invoke the single-sex exemptions in the Equality Act and we are grateful to all of you for the support and solidarity we have received since the sanctions against us became public.
Now, we ask for your support so that we can move forward ensuring women's rights to single-sex spaces and services are protected. As students and former students, we can't do this without you. Please share this Crowdjustice page among your networks, donate if you are able and help us stand up for women's rights.
Women Talk Back!
June 6, 2022
Hearing on 12 August 2022
We have a court date for our first hearing. We were due to have a hearing on Tuesday 17 May 2022 but this had to be vacated with agreement that each party bear its own costs because some of the lawyers were not receiving the notifications from the Court with enough time to prepare. This was creating some technical difficulties and we agreed that it would be best to move forward once we all got to the same page.
Given the above, this hearing has now been re-listed for 12 August 2022 to facilitate a date when the lawyers for both sides can be available. We will keep you updated as the date approaches.
Women Talk Back!
Women Talk Back!
April 12, 2022
The Bristol SU is trying to Strike Out much of our case!
It's been a few months since you last heard from us but there has been a lot of movement behind the scenes. After we filed our Particulars of Claim and the Bristol SU filed their Defense, they went one step further and have made an application to strike out a number of our claims. We feel taken aback by this aggressive approach and we need your help to fight back. Please donate if you can, or share this page among your circle.
The Bristol SU have also made requests for clarification of some points and we are currently awaiting our first pre-trial hearing, which should be coming up very soon. We are in the process of preparing the steps that need to be taken before the case is ready for trial e.g. disclosure of documents, exchange of witness statements, etc.
We have a lot of work to do and we have to ask again for your help in raising enough funds. We are trying our best to keep costs at a minimum, but also we hope you trust that the money you have donated has been well spent, and that we would only request your support when it is absolutely necessary.
Our case comes at a crucial time, when conversations about single-sex services and spaces are right at the forefront of everyone's mind. Ours is the first legal case about women being sanctioned for explicitly using the single-sex exceptions in the Equality Act 2010. For clarity, the claims in our legal action against the Bristol SU are:
a. Direct Sex Discrimination
b. Indirect Sex Discrimination
c. Direct Philosophical Belief Discrimination
e. Harassment Relating to Sex and/or a Protected Belief
f. Breach of Contract
We are excited to have our solicitor Elizabeth McGlone back from maternity leave this week. She is now a Legal Director at Didlaw, and Crowdjustice rules state that we had to create a new page since our lawyer changed law firms. Our previous page is now closed. Liz is truly phenomenal and we trust her completely. We want to thank our lawyers at Harrison Clark Rickerbys, who covered for Liz while she was away and who were very supportive of us. And as always we are sending you our gratitude for the messages, the shares, and the donations. Stay tuned for more updates.
Women Talk Back!
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