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Mridul Wadhwa speaking at SayiT Sheffield. Transcript.

"ERCC [Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre] has been a trans inclusive space for a really long time.. so it had to really wash and clean its history of the perception of rape crisis centres"

I attended this event on behalf of The Freedom Programme. Here is an account of what I heard as accurate as I can possibly be. The odd word or phrase may be inaccurate but I have indicated where I didn't quite know what was said. None of this is taken out of context. There is a lot of waffle. There are also some truly horrific and incendiary points. I was eventually ejected from the meeting after asking the following question.

"Obviously Schedule 3. Part 7 of the Equality Act 2010 makes provision for single sex service provision. How would you ensure that women have this right when you are advocating from trans women to be routinely included in those services? Do you agee that women have the right to trauma-informed services on a female only basis according to the protected category of sex?"

Transcript of Mridul Wadhwa – as part of SayItSheffield talk.

“I hope everyone can hear me ok. Thank you for having me and really pleased to be here, ah, although I wish I was in Bristol [laughs] not Bristol, sorry, um anywhere that takes me on a train, I think, but here I am.

I have been thinking about what I should talk about or how I should start it. Talking about um inclusion and intersectionality particularly in sexual violence services and I think it’s …it’s useful to start by putting a context to the..that my work has happened in Scotland..which is quite different from England in many ways and that um.. we have a different civil and criminal justice we are a much smaller country and therefore some of our national organisations and local organisations are able to work much more collaboratively than maybe a country as big as England, so there some definite advantages of being in a small country and having access to the parliament and local authorities in a way that …um…that often those that don’t work in Scotland don’t have.

So, saying that, I started violence against women services at Shakti Women’s Aid about.. in 2005. When I was employed there my role there was to work to increase the capacity of mainstream services to respond better and to understand the realities of what domestic abuse looks like for black minority ethnic women and that the term BME, BAME is used differently in different parts, but that was the term that we were using then to describe mostly women of colour and mostly immigrant women who were using our services.

Um…intersectionality wasn’t a word that we were using or didn’t use until recently in our everyday lexicon in violence against women services in Scotland and certainly not at Shakti. Um but going out into the community trying to educate and break down barriers so that minority ethnic women had better services said (?) that it taught me that it is quite easy for an organisation do that work externally, so, it was quite easy for us in a way because we had an insight into the..the complex lives of those minority ethnic women and then the intersections of disability and gender identity and sexuality on their lives and how they experienced domestic abuse to go out into our sort of professional communities and even the wider community to have them understand these differences and what we thought they should do.. but..often what we realised is that in maybe doing that external work we hadn’t really done enough of the internal work um.. within our organisations to actually ensure that our workplace was as safe and inclusive as we expect our partners to be. when I have in my new leadership positions first at Rape Crisis Scotland where I was the training and volunteer coordinator for the National helpline then subsequently other xxxxx(something I can’t decipher)xxxx I found that all the three organisations had done a lot of work um.. to declare and say that we were inclusive of trans people in particular and more broadly of the LGBT community as well as minority ethnic communities um… but we hadn’t spent quite that much time to ourselves about what..what this..what this declaration actually means what had happened, or what has happened within many organisations and which I am glad to say is changing that..ah intersectionality or …or being inclusive was focused around events and the production of materials, so we would have a training around lets say trans inclusion or …er..or how can we better support minority ethnic women for example and.. that would be it. And that’s typical of most minority ethnic women for example and.. that would be it. And that’s typical of most organisations our sector and others elsewhere who are seeking to be seen as inclusive spaces but inclusion cannot be an end [I think as audio garbles a little at this point]… it has to be a journey so what they found.. or what I have found recently along with colleagues is that we need to go on this journey that never ends around inclusion.

So in my current workplace at Rape Crisis it has um… been known.. it has come… you know ERCC [Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre] has been a trans inclusive space for a really long time.. so it had to really wash and clean its history of the perception of rape crisis centres not being inclusive of trans people, which is our history and also is true in some context, not so much in Scotland for our sector, however, um… in making it known to the trans community that we are inclusive what we haven’t done enough of is work with each other within the organisation um.. to question and challenge what this actually means and what do we need to do differently if anything to make ourselves more inclusive.

So simply put just last week we were having a conversation about um..what if someone is using our service asked us “what does trans inclusion mean?” can you as a support worker, can you as the person who answers the phone, are you able to explain it? Are you able to say what we mean by that and how providing space and equality and being really radical in our inclusion of those who are marginalised does not discriminate against those who have relative privilege in our society. And the answer that we got back is that we didn’t quite know how to do that apart from some of us who have campaigned externally for inclusion.

So I think one of the key lessons around intersectionality for us as a centre, for my workplace is… apart from the big display boards and the exhibitions and the public statements and the recruitment of trans women to lead the centre we really have to be able to talk about inclusion and intersectionality um… in a way that we don’t doubt ourselves or our knowledge and we are able to reassure those who question um.. our attempts to be inclusive problematic so that we don’t alienate them but also that we don’t alienate those more marginalised. Because I think the history of our movement [inaudible word] from my perspective, and hopefully there will be others who .. are against me because that’s good and healthy, um.. is that we are… like the Rape Crisis movement…I would say across the United Kingdom, is a white Cis, largely heteronormative movement. Often run by white, cis, heteronormative women… um… and most of the women in our case load are white, cis, het women using our services and in Scotland, as I imagine in England, the Rape Crisis movement is, has, been grossly underfunded. So, when you are grossly underfunded um.. and there is a huge demand from the majority of the population then it’s quite hard to make good and effective investments in breaking down barriers for those who find it harder to come to your service and that’s just the reality of our sector.

So therefore it makes sense that it’s easier for orgnaisations to release statements, to have ah.. social media campaigns on limited resources to say that they are inclusive and.. and not spend as much time within our organisation talking to our teams, constantly and consistently about what inclusion actually means. So that they are not aware that they are meant to be inclusive but actually practice inclusion. [Something inaudible] let me start that line of explanation now and maybe reflect a little bit on what we do practically to make that happen. And it is really subject to each organisation and each organisation’s existing culture, and everyone has to start at a different point, on their journey for making our organisations and our services truly so.. first time organisations they might be at a place where they are actually able to have open conversations with survivors if they wish and are willing to engage around what equality and diversity means, whether it is in the context of group and if survivors bring it up in the context of.. of.. healing… um.. but many of us are not really there and if we do it then it should always be survivor led. But I think there are ways of ensuring that our conversations on equality, and for me it’s about whether you are trying to be intersectional, it has to be not just LGBT, individuals and people in LGBT communities but communities of colour, migrants, disabled people and others who are missing from our services.

So, it’s part of every agenda that we have within our organisations. For every conversation that we have, whether it’s a team meeting, whether it’s a supervision, it’s a standing agenda item to talk about equality so where we are reflecting with our front line colleagues on what have they come across in their case work um..where they felt that they did really well or didn’t do so well about issues that are not part of our mainstream experiences of providing sexual violence services, that is what if you have a trans person on your case load or if somebody has experienced sexual violence from someone with a protected characteristic and they are talking about them in a stereotypical way, um.. as perpetrators and then stereotyping the community… if that has come up … how are you dealing with that? And then it’s also up to the supervisor, the manager, the board member, the CEO to bring in what’s happening in the outside world around inclusion into those sessions so that we have a constant, Consistent dialogue um.. on these issues and out of that comes really practical solutions on inclusion um.. whether it is further things we need to do to break down barriers, whether it means for Edinburgh Rape Crisis to go out and build stronger relationships with LGBT and BAME organisations and talk to each of these service providing organisations about intersectionality and asking them “what are you doing to make your space accessible for BAME LGBT people or your space accessible for LGBT survivors of domestic abuse or sexual violence who may come to you, or going into these specialist organisations with our own expertise so that we have a collective understanding but also stronger relationships so that those who use their services know it is ok and safe to come to an organisation like ours.

Particularly in an environment which is so transphobic right now in Scotland where … um… you have large groups of survivors, some are not using our services because they see us as trans inclusive and feeling that they may be exposed to an issue that they are not prepared to deal with or you know… they’ve really been misinformed about what trans inclusion means. So they have groups of survivors who may not be using our services in the context of transphobia, because like, like racism we have to learn to be anti-racist so now we have to learn to be not transphobic, because our society is transphobic and racist and disableist so we have to learn and unlearn so many things like misogyny and I feel that can be a barrier in the context of the transphobia that surrounds and has engulfed, particularly in Scotland, the Rape Crisis movement, and especially any organisation that I am part of erm… and then on the other hand erm… we also need to acknowledge that minority and marginalised communities recognise and know that mainstream women’s organisations have not always been inclusive of them and that they may not necessarily have a warm welcoming experience where they will be believed and that we will be able to engage with their identity and their trauma because again similalrly relating back to transphobia but also our history and also I think the absence of long tern resources and a space within these organisations to go out and do the hard work that is required to build strong relationships and to build trust within marginalised communities.

So there are two groups of people who are probably I think are further away from our services there are two groups of people who are further away from our services than they were before we entered this right wing, transphobic environment that we all find ourselves in as service providers and as service users and as a society at large and why right now certainly in Scotland most of the discourse is around trans inclusion and trans people and the real… in the last few weeks.. the real exposure of those who started off by saying that they have legitimate concerns about the reform of the Gender Recognition Act and what that means for women’s spaces to more and more of them, not all of them I would say, but more and more of them exposing themselves as being on the right and being very comfortable associating with fascists and those who would want to eliminate anybody who is not cisgendered and white in our society.

So in that context we have a really difficult task. So in some ways having eternal conversations and keeping the dialogue going about what trans inclusion or what anti racism or disability inclusion means within our services feels safer but also most powerful because like I think that’s where the real difference happens so in my experience of working at Shakti Women’s Aid all those years ago it was interesting that everybody told us how hard it was for minority ethnic women to access our services because there are so many barriers both from within their communities but also institutional barriers and what we found in reality that we were always kind of [small section unintelligible] Shakti remains over-subscribed by those who need those services but most of the time it was through word of mouth and self-referral that women were coming through so while we were doing some really good work with institutions to break down barriers, important work, in reality providing a good inclusive service was the best way to bring those who are furthest away from us into our services so I think good intersectional work is all the stuff about that we do really well, externally saying who we are saying what we stand for but also keeping that going within our organisations, and making sure that organisational memory which is often lost in the third sector with short term funding because of high staff turnover and poorly funded projects because I don’t know some funders seem to think that misogyny and sexual violence is going to end next year and only fund us for one or two years so with high staff turnover which is a reality for our sector, we also lost organisational memory so good work that we might have achieved in periods of relative calm and space within our centres are often lost with unstable, insecure funding and so keeping the conversation going all the time I think safeguards against some of that memory and expertise being lost because you are recording it, constantly talking about it, you are writing it down and it’s not invested in one person or one role (?) or in some roles (?) it’s everybody’s responsibility. Okay so I’ve said a lot of things and not all of them in great depth so I’m going to pause and see if you have any questions.


Organiser : Hi Mridul. Thanks so much for this.

Mridul : Welcome.

Second Organiser : Yeah thanks so much Mridul and for those of you who may have any questions there is the Q and A function at the bottom of your screen and you have the opportunity to ask a question anonymously as well. So, we’ll just give people a minute to pop some questions in and I Just want to say on behalf of myself, X, and the rest of SayiT a huge thank you. I know I’m still soaking in some of the points that you made and I’m kind of erm nodding my head all the way through erm.. and its so … yeah its so warming to have some of my own personal reflections on the centre erm validated in this space so thank you so much Mridul.

Wadhwa : I can see some questions coming in . can I respond to the first one?

[This was my question – I asked which women Wadhwa was saying were right wing and which women were working with fascists]

“So, there was a protest outside the Scottish Parliament, was it last week? No, the week before last and it was organised by those who opposed the GRA reform but also by those within that group who oppose the existence of trans people.. and I think you know that there are some people who have some genuine concerns about that and we should listen to them and we have been listening. There have been two consultations in Scotland and lots of people have had the opportunity to express their opinions ….but at that protest there were people, that group of women were joined by fascist groups and by those who would rather that trans people not exist, so I can’t say… if it sounds like I said that they were working with them I would say that they have given that space to them and that is quite dangerous and scary for a transwoman like me who do the work that I do. But also, what that means generally for women who are seeking equality and who need radical liberation… minority ethnic women, trans women, disabled women in our society whether in India or here and I have experience of Scotland and here. It has always been easy to be transphobic. There’s a social license and I’ve said this many times and these words and it’s easy to get away with transphobia so if we give space for the people on the right and fascists to stand alongside us then maybe some of the arguments that you are making however genuine and from a good place they might be are potentially harmful and if they come for trans people who are they and when..who are they going to come for next? I hope that makes things clearer.

Organiser 2. Thanks Mridul. Questions coming in. Someone has asked “is high staff turnover due to lack of support for staff in the industry and they’ve also shared that they’re trans and who support themselves [bit unclear at this point so not sure that was said] and are a survivor also and that they see a gap in support for themselves in their job and are reflecting on the difficulty of that.

Mridul Wadhwa: I think high staff turnover can be in some organisations can be due to a lack of ongoing support so high levels of secondary or vicarious trauma and if you are the only person from a marginalised.. if you are trans or BAME then it becomes doubly harder sometimes because your experience and your insight is often different from let’s say the majority in your organisation and often that is not acknowledged and supported. But the high staff turnover from my perspective can be for those reasons but actually sometimes it’s because we have insecure funding and projects end people need job security so if you don’t hear about continued funding and if you don’t hear about continued funding until four weeks before a project ends then people move on. I think reflecting on rape crisis services in Scotland I think we invest a lot of time and money in minimising the impact of secondary trauma so there is access to external supervision, there is ongoing supervision, we have peer support groups. Also I think there should be for those of us who have protected characteristics who work within these organisations a recognition of the additional characteristics who work withing these organisations, a recognition of the additional challenges of being different within our workforces and that, and that, the secondary trauma that we might experience and sometimes discrimination that we might experience when doing this work, whether that is from working with partners, whether that is from discrimination that we experience generally in society. I think that has to acknowledgement of that within these organisations and to create space for reflection and to mitigate against it.

Organiser 2. Absolutely. Thanks Mridul. I’m just going down the list now. Our next question is “please can you talk a little bit about how we can adapt our language to be trans inclusive?”

Mridul Wadhwa : Erm. I think in some ways its quite easy to do and I know that there’s a real movement and shift to use pronouns and I know that some trans people like that and some don’t but I think it’s generally helpful because that is a really useful indicator that you can talk about who you are. I think in terms of language it depends on where you are using that language. So, I’m most interested in how we communicate to those who are using our services that we are interested. SO how when we make our first contact one on one with someone who has made contact with our services, explain our services and how do we create space for inclusion. So that would mean sensible things like even collecting equality data, how do we collect it. It is usually collected anonymously which feels weird to me as some organisations do because its not a job interview that people are coming to. I think they should hand over those forms and say “tell us what you think is important and relevant” and open up a space to talk about identity and say that and acknowledge that doing trauma work brings out and is hard and while you may not be comfortable to talk about let’s say your trans identity in support I do think that we should, as service providers, say its okay and that we are open to talking about these things so you can tell us that when we say this is a safe space I think a better descriptor of what a safe space is. So essentially, that I think depends on not just you as an individual but also on the particular context of your organisation. I wish I could prescribe a particular type of line which … but I think … I would say if your opening conversation whether it is on your website, and not everybody gets it right and I’m, not even sure Edinburgh Rape Crisis has got it right, is about saying its ok to talk about who you are but also recognising that while doing your trauma work and while going on a journey of recovery, and some survivors of sexual violence do not recover and we need to acknowledge that too, um…that there will be.. that its ok to disclose .. and some people will come out while doing trauma work and whether they come out as…as …you know stuff… as disabled…because I’m thinking there are some people with certain disabilities who won’t even call it a disability and sometimes as a result of work. Or coming out as trans or coming out as bi or coming out as lesbian. And I think it’s really important for organisations to say and be explicit that we acknowledge and recognise that and you can talk to us about that.

Organiser 1. Thank you. Can I go down to a question that looks at …“ thanks for a wonderful talk Mridul. I wondered if you can talk about some of the pros and cons of creating specific services for specific minority groups versus inclusion work within mainstream organisations” and I know it’s something we have thought about a lot in South Yorkshire. Interested to hear your thoughts.

Mridul Wadhwa: I don’t think it has to be either or. I think both of those can and should exist. In… in… they can exist in a healthy way and both achieve different things. Because I think like mainstream services have to be inclusive and they have to do a lot of work because in reality a lot of us rely on mainstream services. But to recover from sexual violence or domestic abuse the existence of specialist services particularly minority ethnic women services is vital or even LGBT interested services because having worked at Shakti Women’s Aid for so many years, when an immigrant women from South Asia walked into a building or a service like ours and she saw most of us were South Asian or were black or had immigrant experiences it was so much more easier for her to tell her us her experience without having, without us having to educate ourselves, so if she… if she told me .. I used to know a good example of this but its left my mind…like I remember this woman who said “I just can’t go back to, wherever she was from, because my uncle won’t let me. So I understood what she meant, I didn’t have to ask any questions, um.. and then we could move on to things that were important for her in terms of whatever she needed to achieve. And if you go into a mainstream service and she says “my uncle won’t… its too dangerous because of my uncle” … I think a mainstream service needs a lot of explanation of why an uncle is dangerous, “he’s an uncle hes not your father, hes not your father, he’s not your brother, hes not your husband, why an uncle?” But I get it. But another service will eventually hopefully get it because they are doing inclusion work or should be doing it. Hopefully you will go and speak to a specialist in your area to understand that. But how much of time is spent in getting that one simple point understood. That risk really understood. I mean I feel like that’s why specialist organisations are needed who are led by those who may or may not have lived experience, for example in my case of domestic abuse, or sexual violence or domestic violence um… but they also understand how the system can put up barriers because actually those barriers are also felt by those who are working often within those organisations and so they have and can find ways and are created in how we navigate them and in fact the mainstreaming of inclusion relies upon specialists to break down barriers so we need both. You can’t replace them from my perspective and maybe I’m old fashioned like that and hopefully there will be a world where we don’t need specialist services or organisation but we are not there yet. Especially in an environment which is hostile, which is increasingly hostile to LGBT people, to people of colour and has never stopped being hostile to people of colour as it has never stopped being hostile to trans people and this sort of visible way and you know there isn’t an hierarchy of oppression but some people’s oppression feels more visible and tangible than others.

Organiser 2. Thank you. So we have had a couple of questions that were quite similar. In regards to this and a couple of people are asking “what things can an organisation do on their journey to be trasn inclusive. And we have had many thanks on the back of that too.

Mridul Wadhwa : I think that there are a number of things that you can do. So. So first and foremost what I find most helpful in any inclusion work is to get a real sense of your team and where they stand on it and to accept that just because someone is not with it or is speak the most current language that they are necessarily transphobic. Because I think there is so much of transphobic language prevalent in our society and trans people have always been and continue to be er… presented in a negative light with most media focused on presenting us in a negative light, that I think we should acknowledge the existence of those views within our organisations. Then to see whether are …. Are… are views that can be changed. Or they are views that are permanent. So I think we have to really know where people in your organisation stand so a real consultation like creating space for people to be honest, whether you do that anonymously or you do that one to one, but also acknowledging and um that,,, that it is a journey as I said earlier..

[I was ejected from the meeting at this point. I did try to regain access but it was clear that I had been blocked from using the link. ]

I'll leave you to make your own judgements about Wadhwa said and what you think about it or what should be done about it. There is almost too much to process for me.

These are some of the things I find really repulsive.

  1. The insidiousness of conflating race and trans identity to suggest that the inclusion of men who identify as women is the same as including women of colour. Women of colour aren't "identified as" women or "identified as" women of colour. They are simply women. There is a crucial difference. Of course single sex services must take inclusion measures to accommodate the specific needs of those women. It isn't the same as including male bodied people.

  2. The implication that women operating services which are single sex are racist and always have been to some extent or that there are few women of colour working in those services.

  3. The appalling statement, subtly disguised in the language of "inclusion" that a woman naming her perpetrator as male even though he may identify as trans is "stereotyping a community" is probably the most offensive thing I have read. A man relinquishes any "protected category" for a rape victim when he rapes her and she can call him a man however he feels about that. Because he raped her with a penis and a penis is male.

  4. The blatant lie that women who protested in Scotland were working with fascists. This has become a common claim of trans activists like Wadhwa when women organise on the basis of sex.

  5. The claim that any women who advocate for single sex space want to "eliminate" trans people. The hyperbole is off the scale. Disgusting.

  6. That there is a "social license" for transphobia and that it is "engulfing" women's services. Women saying no to being service providers or service users of mixed sex services is not transphobic and it is a right provided specifically at Schedule 3. Part 7 of the Equality Act 2010 and it is time that trans identified men like Mridul Wadhwa stopped lying to people about it. There is no pressing obligation to include trans identified men in women only services. At all. By Wadhwa's own admission specialist services are necessary to effectively provide for specific needs. Wadhwa must acknowledge that this includes for women who require female only space. Indeed Wadhwa's argument would suggest that specialist trans services are a vital service. Wadhwa should look to providing this instead of foisting a demand on every service to be trans inclusive. You can discuss this at every meeting you like and make it your agenda in all you do. However, the women who built this movement from the ground up will still keep saying the vital word you can't seem to understand in this cast waffling pile of misogyny. That word is very simple. It is "no".

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