International Women’s Day, Million Women Rise, and trans inclusion

This weeekend is the closest to International Women’s Day (which actually falls on Monday) and so there’s a fantastic range of events planned focused on and around women. If you want to find out about the hundreds of events going on across the country, there are listings on the IWD blog and at the official IWD website.

One of the most high profile, and likely to be the biggest by far, is Million Women Rise, which calls women together to march through the centre of London to demand an end to male violence against women and children.


The march has been publicized widely with flyers, and on feminist mailing lists and blogs, but conspicuously absent from the publicity has been any reference to the welcome that might be expected by trans women on this “women only” march.

As a collective, TFW bloggers have been trying to get in touch with the MWR coalition to ask them to clarify their position with respect to trans inclusion, and we particularly asked them to make it clear on the website and flyers for the event. This isn’t actually an onerous task. There is a whole page on the website elaborating on their women-only stance. Slip the words “self-defined” in there, and you’re pretty much good to go.

This isn’t a new issue either, and you probably won’t be surprised to see coverage of it on this blog. In fact, those of you who have been regular TFW readers and commenters over the last year or so, and seen similar discussions centred on Feminism in London 2009 and Reclaim the Night 2009, are more likely to be surprised by the fact that there is no explicit reference to trans inclusion anywhere in the literature about Million Women Rise 2010.

After quite a lot of prodding, we did eventually get an email from the MWR coalition in response to our queries:

“As you will no doubt appreciate Million Women Rise is currently extremely busy organising our third march and rally, and as a relatively small group of volunteers all our efforts are focussed on the day ahead.

The march is open to, and welcomes all women who self define as women and wish to see an end to male violence against women.”

However despite our repeated requests, there has been no response about whether they intend to change the website to make this clear, and the posts about this on the facebook page have got evasive responses. For some reason, the organisers don’t seem to want to address this issue face on, and I’m not quite sure why.

I know that they must be frantically busy and have a million-and-one things to do, but they’re putting promotional emails and posts everywhere. Barely a day goes by that I don’t see something that they’ve circulated. And not a single one of the public communications that I’ve seen contains that line above. I went to the 2008 march and loved it. It’s a fantastic event, and the organisers do a great job. I think this lets them down, like I think it lets down RTN London.

A couple of people I know have emailed MWR independently, asking them to clarify, and got the same response as I did. This is undoubtedly better than nothing, but it isn’t good enough. Nowhere have they made any effort to publicise it (although they did say we could quote the private email as “the official position” for the purposes of this post). Saying it on their Facebook wall is about as public as they get, and even then it took more than one direct question before it got a direct answer.

To cis women, I think this sometimes can look a bit like ‘nit picking’. “Of course trans women can come”, we sometimes think. “After all, it says ‘all women’. Why wouldn’t that include trans women?”. I’ve thought that myself in the past. But, for me, that response comes from a place of privilege. We think it’s not an issue only because *it’s not an issue we have to worry about* (which is almost the defnintion of privilege). We’ve never have to think about what it might be like to be at an march or a conference or a feminist group meeting and suddenly be made to feel unwelcome or unsafe because of transphobia. We’ve never had to put up with conversations about horrific rapes and murders of our sisters being derailed into debates as to the validity of our existence. We’ve never had to feel the slap-in-the-face of events signed “women-born-women only”. We don’t bang our heads against the wall time and time again trying to bring this point home to people.

I’m not singling MWR out, although the fact that their march is this weekend was obviously the catalyst for this post. It’s worth noting that the website for Feminism in London 2010 makes no mention of trans-inclusion despite still saying that some workshops may be women only . And the the flyers for Reclaim the Night London 2010 are already designed and in circulation, and *still* say “women-only” without further clarification. This is despite our discussions with the organisers of both events last year (linked above), and their protests that they couldn’t change anything so close to the event. That can hardly be the excuse this time, although when we raise it closer to the time I’m sure they’ll say the same again. It just goes to show how seriously they take it, I guess, and I find it incredibly disappointing. WHAT is so hard about adding the words “self-defined” to their websites, posters and flyers? There can be no claim to ignorance or misunderstanding about the importance of doing so, we’ve had this discussion over and over now. There seem to be only two plausible conclusions from all of this: either the cis women organising these high profile feminist events would really rather trans women didn’t come to “women only” events but are aware that they’ll face a backlash if they say so; or they *simply don’t care enough* about the issue to make sure trans women know without doubt that they are welcome.

This isn’t the case for all feminst events by any means. Bristol Reclaim the Night, as just one recent example, has made trans-inclusion explicit in their publicity. But more of them need to do better, and the worst offenders seem to be the highest profile. It’s not my place to speak for trans women, but I think it’s incumbent upon all cis feminists to step up the pressure on the organisers of major events to try to change this situation. We need trans women in our movement. They have unique perspectives to bring to the table and their disproportionate suffering of male violence means they should be front and centre in our efforts to overthrow it.

Please note that I write this as an individual, not as a representative of The F-Word bloggers’ collective. Actually this is always the case unless we explicitly state otherwise. This shouldn’t be taken as an indication that the rest of the bloggers either agree or disagree with the way in which I’ve voiced my opinions, just that it takes us a long time to collaboratively write a post, and we haven’t had time to do that (we were waiting to see if MWR would update their website, but so far they haven’t). Comments are open but please note they will be strictly moderated in line with our comments policy, including our statement on transphobia and cissexism

Image of MWR 2009 March by Catherine Redfern, shared under a creative commons license (although I’m sure she wouldn’t mind us using it anyway!)