Shabanah Fazal

“I am an ordinary Green Party member, retired secondary teacher, mother and grandmother. I voted for decades for Labour but became disillusioned with them over the Iraq war. I joined the Green Party for their core environmental purpose; pro-European stance and also because at that time, unlike Labour, a couple of prominent Greens were willing to stand publicly for sex-based rights and respectful debate.”

Transcript of webinar speech

Shabanah Fazal GWD speech 22-01-24

 

Speech for the Green Women’s Declaration: Green Women Speak Out.
22-01-24

I’m an ordinary Green Party member, from a working-class Muslim family and large multi-ethnic community. I voted Labour for decades, but became disillusioned over the Iraq war and deepening inequality. I’ve never been politically active, and can’t be now for medical reasons. So in many ways I’m typical of under-represented voters our largely white, middle-class party ought to be trying to attract.

With family in Germany and Pakistan, both hit by devastating floods, I’m seriously concerned about climate change. So recently, I joined the party for its core environmental purpose, pro-European stance, and because unlike Labour, prominent Greens like Shahrar Ali and Emma Bateman were willing to stand publicly for sexbased rights and free, respectful debate. When I attended my first online party conference, I realised quickly that many party members felt exactly the same way as I did. But far from representing our voices, leadership were actively trying to suppress debate. My honest impression was that the party was being run by ideologues who, frankly, live on another planet. They have zero idea of how most ordinary struggling working- class and minority voters live – or think.

So why a Green Women’s Declaration? In recent years many Green feminists began to notice the Green Party, along with other public institutions, were increasingly conflating the words sex and gender. Worse, eroding the sex-based rights of women, girls and lesbians in favour of a subjective,  scientifically unverifiable, inner ‘gender identity’. This is in spite of the fact that in the Equality Act 2010 sex is a protected characteristic, but ‘gender’ or ‘gender identity’ are not; the term used is the much narrower one of ‘gender reassignment’, a legal fiction of sex-change. I signed the Declaration because I feel it’s an egregious omission that sex isn’t already included in the Green Party’s core values. How else can female members advocate for our rights the same way every other socially disadvantaged group can?

I don’t just agree with the Declaration that biological sex is the basis of women’s oppression, I’ve lived it. My own life as a young girl growing up in a strict Muslim family was severely restricted for that very reason. Like many second generation Muslim women, I had to struggle every step of the way to gain even the most basic human rights: from the tiniest desire to whistle, sing, go out for a walk alone, not cover our heads, to wanting to study beyond O level. But the answer to every question about why my sisters and I weren’t allowed the same freedoms as our brothers, was always: “Because you’re girls – your job is to get married and have kids”. No-one had to double-check my chromosomes or ask what my ‘gender identity’ was before telling me that: the fact of my sex had been objectively observed at birth.

As the Declaration clearly states, fighting our oppression begins with language. For millenia, we’ve been cursed for our sex as witches, shrews, hags, whores and Lolitas, though there was at least a common understanding that we were women and girls. But now even the language to name our bodies is being erased, stolen from us by gender zealots. Institutions like the NHS and the medical profession that supposedly understand biological difference are replacing the words woman – even

female – with absurd, degrading and dehumanising phrases like ‘individuals with a cervix’, ‘black birthing bodies’, ‘bodies with vaginas’ – or even, God help us, ‘frontholes’…

What on earth are women in my family or Asian community with limited English supposed to make of NHS leaflets using such incomprehensible language? Nobody asked us. And we didn’t consent to these grotesque redefinitions. If women of colour like me complain about those stealing our ethnic minority rights, we’re unequivocally supported by progressives as ‘victims’, but if we try to protect our female rights, suddenly we’re ‘bigots’. We are the same indivisible persons. Why should we only care about one part of our identity just because they say so?

I also strongly agree with the Declaration that women have a right to female-only spaces. We’re legally entitled to these under exemptions in the Equality Act. Never forget, this is a progressive policy – in stark contrast to the strict sex-segregation still imposed on some girls growing up, as I did, in conservative Muslim families, even in the west. Unlike them, women with nominally equal rights in law can freely mix with men in most places, but choose not to in restricted contexts where sex matters.

That’s why I only ever refer to the latter as single-sex or sex-separated, not ‘segregated’ spaces, something I fought against my whole life – that’s what Saudi, Iranian and Afghan women call gender apartheid. The spaces we must protect are ones like female-only refuges, rape crisis centres, prisons, sports, dormitories, toilets and changing rooms etc.

My shock introduction to ‘gender-neutral’ toilets was as a teacher a few years ago. We were for a while forced to use them in a new block, where they’d been installed with zero explanation or discussion. They were smelly, with urine-spattered seats and communal washbasin areas that no female staff or girls wanted to hang around in whilst boys leered at them. Sharing these with male students and staff that any one of us might have to sit next to or teach in the very next lesson was horribly embarrassing. None of my year 7 class liked them, especially the girls. They told me their older sisters hated them even more because it was too embarrassing dealing with their periods, and because boys were sexually harassing them in there. I also became concerned, when more and more girls were asking to leave lessons to go to the toilet so they could avoid the boys. A couple even told me they’d rather cross their legs and not go until they could get to girls’-only ones that were a long walk away – or wait till they got home. I know they were telling the truth because I did it myself many times.

Although legally, schools must now provide single-sex toilets from age 8 upwards, that still isn’t happening in many places. There are even news reports of boys kicking down cubicle doors and doing violence to girls, terrifying them out of what used to be the one place they could safely escape to.

All the women in my family and community that I speak to feel exactly the same way I do, and are horrified by the idea that anyone who’s biologically male would even want to use our toilets. Of course, we don’t assume all men are violent or predators – we simply don’t want to share any intimate or private spaces where we’re vulnerable with male bodies. That’s why the vast majority of men respect that difference and stay out. Women’s and girls’ bodily privacy and dignity alone should be more than enough reason for us to retain these spaces. True, some might feel even more vulnerable, for example women who’ve suffered sexual assault by men, or Muslim women that want privacy to take off their hijabs. But no woman from either group in my family or friendship circle thinks for one minute that female-only spaces are a special privilege, to which other women should have to prove their entitlement. In fact, it’s a fallacy to assume that most Asian women expect this basic human right because of religion.

No – it’s because of sex. That’s what our modesty culture is based on. We are women – not a different species. Religion is only a reinforcing mechanism: the real taboo here is against male and female bodies mixing in intimate situations. For formal research confirming this, please read the detailed interviews with focus groups of Muslim and Sikh women conducted by Dr Shonagh Dillon, feminist CEO of the charity Aurora New Dawn. It’s so insulting to tell us that we’ve no right to even voice our concerns about the loss of female-only spaces. That was the nasty experience of a young female hijabi, a relative of mine. When she asked at a recent staff training session on trans workplace rights about a potential clash for Muslim women objecting to biological males in their spaces, she was rudely told that it made no difference – they would still be ‘bigots’. The same happened to me when I raised that exact question at the online Green Conference I attended. I got the blunt reply that Muslim women would just have to be ‘re-educated’. I remember being aghast at the irony: if this had been any other issue, the same righteous ‘progressives’ would consider anyone saying that as patronising at best, and racist at worst.

Despite – or precisely because of – the taboo against discussion of sex amongst traditional Muslim parents, there’s serious concern about how overly sexually explicit Relationships & Sex Education is for their children in school. Some in my family have heard on the news about the government’s new schools guidance on sex and gender, and completely agree with parents’ right to be fully informed. I’ve had to write several times to my local Labour council about their own Inclusion & Diversity Strategy. It blatantly misrepresents the Equality Act by referring to ‘gender’ rather than sex, including in their Safeguarding Strategy.

I also warned them using Stonewall’s advice on ‘anti-LGBT-bullying’ in schools is compounding the problem, because though that route, the Council are rolling out gender identity ideology in LEA schools. This has serious impacts on all children, especially girls. In fact, despite many requests from me and other local women, the Council have stubbornly failed to make public any impact assessments for their overall Strategy. I have relatives, including a teaching assistant at the sharp end in

schools. They all tell me most students think it’s nonsense when they’re suddenly told to pretend that a classmate that was – and still is biologically – a ‘he’ is now suddenly a ‘she’, or vice-versa. They tell me they just keep their heads down and nod along quietly for fear of getting ‘shamed up’, or punished if they dare to say so.

Obviously, this is happening nationwide. So we must be allowed to talk about the astronomical rise of 5000% in the number of troubled girls – especially autistic ones and lesbians – wanting to escape from their perfectly healthy bodies, some through medication that causes irreversible damage. As a teacher, I know many colleagues who are unhappy about having to comply with every aspect of their students’ social transition. They tell me their number one stress is being forced to keep it a secret from parents. If they dare to question any of this, they will be disciplined or even

sacked, like the whistleblowing teacher Kevin Lister. I find it shocking that schools are knowingly making staff violate safeguarding principles. Worse, some schools that lazily outsource their policies to ideologically-driven RSE providers plan to continue down this dangerous path, in defiance of new government guidance.

If you genuinely care about women’s and girls’ rights, free democratic debate and the scientific reality this party was founded on, please join us in signing the Declaration.

Thanks for listening.