Kiri Tunks is a teacher, socialist, internationalist, co-founder of Woman’s Place UK and a founder signatory of Labour Women’s Declaration. In January 2021, Kiri was invited to speak at a Labour Party ward meeting to mark International Women’s Day. She was asked to speak about challenging sexism in education and wider society. This week she was told that her invitation to speak had been rescinded because of her connection to Woman’s Place UK.
On 17th February, she wrote an open letter (published below) which she sent to the ward chair, asking for it to be circulated to all members of the ward. She also sent it to the local MP, representatives on the regional executive and senior figures within the parliamentary Labour Party including the shadow minister for women & equalities and the general secretary of the party. She indicated to all her intention to make the letter public but has requested that we do not identify the ward.
Labour Women’s Declaration, on behalf of thousands of Labour-voting women and men, stands in solidarity with Kiri. Where she went first, many of us follow. Kiri is an inspiration to women around the world to stand up for women’s rights: her writing and activism stand as an example of what’s possible and her courage is second to none.
Please share this post and her letter – especially with your Labour-supporting friends and comrades. Ask them to stand up for Kiri, for science, for truth, for women’s liberation, for free speech and for socialism.
See Kiri in action at our #ExpelMe rally one year ago here
“Dear members of the Labour Party ward which invited me and then disinvited me to speak at your meeting on challenging sexism to celebrate International Women’s Day,
Let me introduce myself: My name is Kiri Tunks. I am a member of the Labour Party. I have been a teacher and trade union activist for over 27 years.
During this time, I have been a relentless campaigner for working people with a particular commitment to fighting for equality for all. With other women (and men), I have worked hard to challenge discrimination and injustice by representing members individually; by working to win policies to improve the collective well-being of education staff across all phases and roles; by bringing issues of international solidarity to the attention of everyone in the labour movement; by challenging unequal structures and oppressive cultures within workplaces, the union movement and beyond.
I have held a number of positions within my union, as well as being a delegate and representative for various bodies and events both locally, nationally and internationally.
In 2016, I was elected as a national officer of the National Union of Teachers, becoming president of the NUT in 2018 and later joint president of the newly formed National Education Union.
Throughout my career, I have committed myself to empowering and engaging people who might otherwise be silenced or silent and to making sure that I do what I can to remove obstacles that obstruct the full involvement of everyone. It is because of this record that I am regularly invited to speak to other groups and organisations right across the labour movement.
I believe it is why I was invited to speak at your ward meeting on challenging the sexism faced by women and girls in society and within education.
I have now been informed that I am no longer welcome and that the invitation to speak has been withdrawn.
The reason I have been given is that the chair claimed my speaking would ‘upset’ people and that the ward has a ‘duty of care’ towards its members. This is despite my having spoken recently at several other Labour Party meetings with no evidence of any malice or upset.
The branch also has a duty, not only to stand up for freedom of speech, but the freedom to hear and participate in debate.
A further objection to my presence was that I was a founder of Woman’s Place UK and that this is a ‘hate group’. This is simply not true. Woman’s Place UK is not a hate group; nor is it designated as such by Labour.
Woman’s Place UK is a campaign group that was set-up to ensure women’s voices were heard on the public consultation into proposed reforms of the GRA, and to protect women’s rights as they are enshrined in the Equality Act 2010.
Single sex-exemptions, as laid out in the Equality Act 2010, allow women (and men) to reserve access to services, places and spaces where to do so is a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.
This is the policy of Woman’s Place UK.
This is also the policy of the Labour Party as set out in the 2019 manifesto.
I do not know how many of your members have expressed a feeling of ‘upset’ at my speaking on challenging sexism or how many of them look to you to provide a duty of care or protection from women speaking about oppression, misogyny and discrimination.
What I do know is that many women (and men) who have previously been active in Labour are turning away from the party, so horrified are they by this authoritarian approach to debate and to women defending our rights. Instead, they are forming other organisations where people truly interested in bringing working people together can discuss, debate and move forward.
A report from a member of the Labour Party NEC indicates female membership of the Labour Party is now only 44%. For an organisation that considers itself to be a party of equality, this is frankly shocking.
To assert women’s sex-based rights is not transphobic.
What I would like is an honest and respectful dialogue within the party and the wider labour movement about where the rights of women and trans people converge, where they diverge and where they may conflict. Only by addressing these questions will we be able to formulate resolutions which meet everyone’s needs.
But this was not the theme of the meeting, nor is it what I was asked to speak about.
I am therefore writing this open letter so that you are aware of what is being done in your name.
I will be sending a copy of this letter to other senior figures in the Labour Party including the shadow minister for women & equalities. I will be publishing this open letter (with the ward name redacted) this Friday at 5pm.
Kiri Tunks “