7. Conclusions and Recommendations

7. Conclusions and Recommendations

Chapter Contents

The following chapter details the conclusions and recommendations relating to the research. I begin by revisiting the aims and objectives, I then review the research questions and explore conclusions, firstly by reviewing the silencing of feminist discourse and the MVAW sector, then by examining the impact of institutional policy capture and the consequences for the MVAW sector. I also refer back to the solutions offered from participants on a third space option. Next, I turn to my reflections on the research, and finally, I offer recommendations.

Aims and Objectives

The aim was to understand whether the silencing of feminist discourse regarding transgender ideologists’ proposed gender reform in legislation and policy capture, could impact, or has impacted, female-only services for victims of male violence.

The objectives of this research were:

  • To provide a critical analysis of the silencing of feminist discourse on the proposed changes to the GRA 2004 focusing on MVAW sector services and spaces.
  • To explore/investigate the policy capture of transgender ideology, with a focus on the potential impacts on, and consequences for, female-only services for victims of male violence.

Conclusions

The findings resulted in conclusions to the research questions, which were:

  • Who has felt silenced during discussions around gender reform and policy change?
  • What is the potential impact on single sex services for females who have experienced male violence?
  • What are the views of those in support of gender reform about transwomen accessing single sex services for victims of male violence?
  • Is there a solution or middle ground for service provision in the MVAW sector?

Silencing and the MVAW sector

The analysis of the data collection revealed interesting results and a consistent theme of silencing, illuminating the impact this had on the MVAW sector. The consensus from all participants was that politicians had not supported them to speak up; and the impact of this lack of support for feminist debate, within the confines of ‘the left’, has seen history repeat itself (Echols, 1989, p. 3; Hanisch, 2006 p.1; Mackay, 2015, p. 28, 34, 36). The weakness, and in some cases wilful neglect, of elected officials to enable democratic debate on an issue that supports 1% of the population (Fairbairn, Gheera, Pyper & Loft, 2020, p. 8; Williams, 2020, p.17) but impacts on the rights of over half of the population was seen as a dereliction of their publicly-funded duty. Through their unwillingness to support women’s voices, politicians and institutions enabled a dark and dangerous underbelly of misogyny to be revealed within the ideology of transgenderism, as women who speak up in defence of their rights are smeared, attacked, threatened and sent to the TERF cucking stool (Bindel, 2019b; Chakelian, 2017; Doward, 2018).

Given the public discourse with regards to the impact of self-ID policies and legislation on female victims was largely in the domain of transgender lobby groups (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018), the results surprised me. What drove me when I started this research was the lack of discourse within my own professional sector; I was confused that the MVAW movement remained silent on an issue that directly impacts the women we are paid to serve. What I wanted to discover was what lay beneath the silence, through the data collection period it became apparent that the muteness of umbrella bodies was not reflected in the very lively debate occurring both from women on the ground within the sector, and in the debates online. Perhaps more importantly, I wanted to understand what views pro self-ID participants held about female victims’ desire and need for their own spaces, the holistic response to this question was powerful and will be discussed in more detail later in the chapter, but the most notable surprise was the direct contrast between my data and the Stonewall research (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018). Despite Stonewalls assertion to the contrary, my research led to the significant finding that gender reform and inclusivity of transwomen in female victim’s spaces, is not only incredibly nuanced, but is very much a cause for concern for the MVAW sector.

The sweep of transgender ideology policy capture meant that participants involved in the provision of services for female victims understood that they risked their funding if they spoke up in objection to transwomen in female-only spaces. Yet 99% of participants who worked on the frontline in domestic abuse organisations felt they had been silenced in the past, or are still being silenced, due to fears relating to the commissioning landscape and losing funding for already cash-stripped services. This points to a successful campaign by transgender lobbyists to shut down debate, and inevitably impacts on services’ funding being threatened, as evidenced by the example of Vancouver Rape Relief in the introduction chapter (Allison, 2020; Vancouver City Council, 2020, 6:11:52 – 6:17:45).

Umbrella bodies and lobbyists from both sides of the debate were not viewed favourably by participants or through the online ethnography. The findings of this original research contradict the research from the transgender lobby group, Stonewall, (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018) particularly as I interviewed a third of their participants. Stonewall’s claims that the opening of female-only spaces to transwomen is a ‘non-issue’ (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018, p. 17) was not only unfounded, but suggests further silencing of the MVAW sector. This results in a dangerous message for funders and political parties to enforce trans-inclusive policies in female victims’ spaces. Apart from the parliamentary select committee in 2019 (Women and Equalities Committee, 2019), the voice of the MVAW sector was handed over to transgender ideologists and claimsmakers. During the data collection period, Women’s Aid England and Wales, Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland did not undertake their own research, as far as is publicly accessible, but they did take part in the aforementioned Stonewall report (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018).

My findings show the silence of MVAW umbrella bodies resulted in frustration from some of their own members, the wider movement, and female victims and survivors. An empathetic observation may point to the fact that they too are frightened of losing funding, or that there is a split in the opinions of their members, which they are finding hard to resolve. MVAW umbrella bodies have so much to be proud of; their tenacious campaigning on the vast array of issues women face daily in their fight to remain safe and free from male violence is inspiring and incredibly impactful, but on this issue they remain tight-lipped and the results of my research evidence that many are angry and disappointed with them. Just because a topic is contentious is no reason to avoid it, in fact addressing it may help the discourse by throwing open the complex and varied opinions relating to the debate. In trying to appease ‘both sides’ of the argument and by not defining women’s sex-based oppression as a female issue, they have moved away from their grassroots founding principles (Dobash & Dobash 1983, pp. 3, 228; Hague & Sardinha, 2010, p. 511; Marwood, 2015). This is perhaps an example of the movement becoming a victim of its own success; now that the majority of MVAW services have succeeded in gaining funding from local and central government, they have lost their ability to challenge the state on an issue that defines their existence, and given the aforementioned lack of support from politicians, the debate may be perceived as a ‘no go’ area for the MVAW sector. In addition to this, the evidence of the literature regarding the sexist aspect of digital society and the vociferous misogynistic nature of attacks against women online (Jane, 2012; p. 6), may evidence an unwillingness to enter the debate due to fear (Henry & Powell, 2016 p. 200; Lewis et al., 2016, p. 1469; Megarry, 2015, p.46-47).

Unfortunately, the refusal to support women on the frontline defending women-only spaces has played out before. I contacted Vancouver Rape Relief at the end of my data collection period, and they confirmed that they have stood entirely alone in their country with no other Rape Crisis Centres, Transition houses or sector leaders coming to their defence publicly. It stands to reason that this could happen to UK services too and, because the voice of the sector has not come from MVAW umbrella bodies, it may be that trust has been lost as a result of their unwillingness to support reasoned public discourse. As the results evidenced, the fact that MVAW umbrella bodies have not publicly supported the right for women in the sector to speak up when they face the threat of public shaming and funding cuts is baffling in the context of their heritage (Charlton, 1972; Dobash & Dobash, 1983, pp. 3, 227; Hague & Sardinha, 2010, p. 511).

Institutional Policy Capture and the consequences for the MVAW sector

The move by policy makers to use the preferred terminology of queer theorists around ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ (Whittle, 2000, p.4), and thus change the definition of the word ‘woman’ from one based on biology to one based on gender identity has enforced the ideology of transgenderism (Biggs, 2020, p. 1; Jones & Mackenzie, 2020, p. 8). Through the research results, self-ID was shown to be already in operation but, similarly to the British Societal Attitudes Survey (Smith, 2020), this did not equate to a blanket acceptance of transwomen in female-only MVAW spaces. I interviewed 31 participants in total and 27 of them (87%) felt it important to provide and retain female-only MVAW spaces. Fourteen of those women had either worked in, or still work within, the MVAW sector, either on the frontline supporting female victims of male violence or as contributors to the wider movement; 6 of those participants were from the pro self-ID cohort. The claim that the MVAW organisations who are trans-inclusive have no issues with self-ID was not supported by participants, or by the online ethnographic data. In offering solutions, 93% of participants felt that transgender victims should be afforded their own specialist safe spaces to support their needs when they have experienced domestic abuse or sexual violence. The small number of pro self-ID participants who did not support a third space did so in the context of maintaining the claim that ‘transwomen are women’ and therefore a transwoman’s status should be validated; moreover, any female victim or staff member who disagreed with this claim within an MVAW safe space should be educated and ‘exposed’ (P2A), to this viewpoint (Stronger Together, 2015 p.15). Of course, not all female victims desire female-only spaces, but that should not mean the many women who do want them, are denied that opportunity on the basis that validation of a transwoman’s identity is prioritised over traumatised women’s needs.

Since the government announcement of the dropping of gender reform in England and Wales in 2020, Women’s Aid England are undertaking a consultation with their members, in which they state:

We are aware of the pain which has been caused to those who have expressed their views publicly on issues of identity and safety in the context of these proposed reforms. We condemn the abuse, threats and violent language that regularly accompanies discussions about these issues: respectful discussion and the consideration of alternative views are an essential part of any social democracy. Both misogyny and transphobia exist and are unacceptable in society. (“Women’s Aid response to the government consultation on the Gender Recognition Act – Women’s Aid”, 2020)

This acknowledgement is long overdue, but it is yet to be seen whether their input will be too late in terms of their reputation among feminist campaigners against gender reform, or from female victims themselves. When JK Rowling published her eloquent essay, as referenced in chapter two, umbrella MVAW organisations did not support her whilst she experienced daily misogynistic attacks (Massie, 2020), neither did they support her voice as a victim calling for the retention of female only spaces (Rowling, 2020), which is unusual as they regularly jump on the opportunity to celebrate celebrity endorsements. Not so with J.K Rowling, she appears to be the ‘wrong type’ of celebrity to support; the box marked TERF is reserved for witches, and as was evidenced in my results and throughout history, witches, as a result of their wicked tongues, always deserve the abuse they ultimately experience (Williamson, 2015; Sharp, 1997). What can be concluded from this is that the second tier MVAW sector capitulated and handed over the power and voice of our movement to transgender ideologists, taking a passive role on the periphery of, arguably, the most important debate for the movement in decades. As is evident, policy changes have already occurred both in Scotland, England, and Wales, so the fight to protect female-only spaces is far from over (MBM Policy Analysis, 2020).

The ground swell of public discourse changed over the course of the data collection period, and this is largely down to feminist grassroots campaign groups and many brave feminist foot soldiers. From late 2018 to the end of 2020, much shifted in terms of the debate as in England and Wales, gender reform was dropped and the government announced their position rejecting the proposals to change the Gender Recognition Act (2004), asserting that the “balance struck in this legislation is correct”(Truss, 2020). The government are currently holding an inquiry into their next steps on gender reform, aiming to assess wider issues relating to transgender equality and the current legislation, including analysing whether the provisions contained within the Equality Act (2010) are clear and usable for service providers (Women and Equalities Select Committee, 2020). There is no guarantee that this reprieve in England and Wales will last, as successive governments could reignite reforms and aside from this, trans-inclusive policy capture has taken hold and unpicking it, to ensure the safety of women and girls, will take fortitude from institutions (Williams, 2020, p. 84). In Scotland, the landscape is still unclear and the Scottish Government have announced they are still committed to gender reform and have recently passed the Gender Representation on Public Boards Bill, which has changed the definition of woman to include any trans person ‘living as a woman’ (MBM Policy Analysis, 2020). Encouragingly, just prior to thesis submission, Women’s Aid Federation for England and Wales submitted written evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee for the ongoing inquiry into gender reform (Women’s Aid Federation, 2021). Their submission is in line with my own findings and supports the retention of female-only MVAW spaces; alongside demanding a need for commissioners to resist placing pressure on MVAW services to be “gender-neutral”, they call for further clarity on the Equality Act 2010 and appear to have firmly reasserted their roots of “for and by” women support for female victims (Women’s Aid Federation, 2021), in light of this they may now reasonably be expected to answer how they define a woman. In contrast, Rape Crisis Scotland contradicts the position of Women’s Aid Federation, in their submission, they assert gender reform “would have no impact on the delivery of Rape Crisis services across Scotland” (Rape Crisis Scotland, 2021). Female victims of male violence are transient in seeking support, and they frequently cross borders to save their own lives; if devolved governments and MVAW services have differing policies with regards to gender reform, this results in women being subjected to a postcode lottery on their rights and desires to access a female-only space. 

In conclusion, the findings of my research evidence two separate debates, with very differing contexts. The first debate has occurred between transgender ideologues and politicians, with MVAW umbrella bodies supporting these conversations by remaining passive and disengaged, and it is through these debates that decisions have been made about policies and legislation that will directly impact female victims. Alongside this, transgender rights activists have waged a vociferous and successful campaign of silencing against any person who disagrees with their stance, again national MVAW umbrella bodies supported this by remaining passive. The second conversation is the real one, and the one I was lucky enough to have through an original contribution to the debate. The claimsmaking activities of some trans lobbyists and the passivity from national MVAW umbrella bodies does not represent a true reflection of the concerns about the impact of blanket gender reform on single sex MVAW spaces, and just as importantly, it does not appear to support the needs of transgender victims either (Field & Rowlands, 2020, p. 9; Magić & Kelley, 2019. pp. 26, 39, 50-52, 54; SafeLives, 2018, p. 13).

In a democratic society our elected officials are there to represent the views of the people they serve, it is therefore imperative that the corridors of Westminster and Holyrood welcome the voices of female victims alongside the feminist foot soldiers who work for them in the frontline MVAW sector. There can no longer be any assumption that the national bodies on either side of the debate represent all the issues relating to self-ID policies in MVAW spaces, particularly in light of the opposing positions of the MVAW umbrella bodies submissions to the Westminster gender reform inquiry in 2021 (Rape Crisis Scotland, 2021; Women’s Aid Federation, 2021). The conversation will be challenging and complex, but that should be expected when proposed legislation and policies affect over half the population. Throughout the research, I analysed two diametrically opposed positions, and on either side of these discussions people get hurt, offence is caused, and the sensitivity of the topic must be respected. But there are solutions through a third space option, and this could meet the needs of all victims. In speaking to people on both sides of the debate I conclude, outside of any ideological stances held, we have far more in common than that which divides us.

Reflections of the Research

The evidence I gained through talking to some of the same participants that took part in the Stonewall research (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018) offers a different conclusion to their findings. Although these differences were stark, it should be noted that I did contact all the organisations who took part in the Stonewall research and only a third of their participants agreed to speak to me. It can therefore be concluded that if all of them responded then the disparity between their results and mine may not have been so polarised. But the stark difference between these findings does provide a catalyst for further research to occur. I have been led by my work as a practitioner in the MVAW sector, with a radical feminist theory base. I am also a woman who has spent over half my life working in the MVAW sector and I accept that the results of this study could have been entirely different if led by a person who identifies as transgender, or by a liberal or fourth wave feminist whose profession, background and view of the world was in direct contrast to mine. Different questions would have been posited and different participants would have come forward and the results regarding the impact of transgender ideology and gender reform on the MVAW sector would provide other perspectives.

Recommendations

My research has identified five core recommendations.

  • Government Inquiry – the UK and Scottish Governments to undertake an inquiry assessing how lobby groups for transgender rights stifled debate and changed the landscape of policy in relation to single sex spaces for victims of male violence, ahead of gender reform and in direct contrast to the legislative protections set out in the EA2010.
  • Female Victims – Further research to be undertaken into the issues relating to the impact of mixed sex spaces on female victims by amplifying both victims’ voices, and the voices of women who work on the frontline with them and for them.
  • Transgender victims – Transgender victims to be supported and funded to create their own specialist services. Further, there should be independent research to gain the views of transgender victims into the services they require, and valuable independent data must be acquired to understand the landscape of need for transgender victims.
  • Equality Act 2010 – Single Sex Exemptions (SSE) in the EA2010 to be an ‘opt out’ option for services providing female-only spaces for victims of male violence. Should MVAW services choose to opt out of the SSE, they must be clear that they become ‘mixed sex provision’ and publicly, legally sound, accessibility statements should be given to all victims on what constitutes ‘trans-inclusion’.
  • Funding and Commissioning – Funders and commissioners should be mandated to be transparent on contracting of MVAW service models that enforce trans-inclusion in female-only spaces, based on factual, evidence-based population data, with equality impact assessments being undertaken in relation to the impact on women and girls and in line with their duty to the EA2010. Where there is only one provider in the local area, services should be commissioned to provide single sex spaces as a compulsory model. 

On a personal level, I hope any woman who reads this will know that there are professionals in the services reserved for them ready to fight for their spaces until their last breath. I also sincerely hope that transgender victims are enabled and empowered to explore the much-needed specialist services they are calling for. My final thoughts go to my colleagues working in the MVAW sector: I hope this research supports other women to feel able to speak up alongside me, including in respectful disagreement. An open conversation needs to happen, hushed words and whispered phone calls are far from our usual style sisters! Let’s stamp on the fires intended to burn us and have a chat, shall we?

My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone. (Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792, p. 13)

Figure 21 Silencing – Marco Melgrati Online Ethnography, Screenshot July 2020