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Sisters in solidarity: Speak Up for Women NZ and A Woman’s Place UK

Kiri Tunks with Beth Johnson’s son, September 2019

Kiri Tunks is a British trade unionist, socialist and women’s rights campaigner. She is a co-founder of A Woman’s Place UK (WPUK), an organisation set up in September 2017 to uphold the Equality Act. The Conservative government had proposed rewriting the law to eradicate single-sex spaces and safeguards for females. A large grassroots movement sprung up to oppose the changes, and now WPUK is carrying on the fight for women’s equality.

Jenny Whyte and Beth Johnson, two leading figures in Speak Up for Women NZ, met Kiri and they got to share their experiences.

Jenny met Kiri in New Zealand earlier this year after connecting online with WPUK supporters. “We had realised we had a mutual friend in NZ who Kiri was coming to visit. Kiri also has NZ connections through her father – hence her Maori name”.

Kiri is a secondary school teacher and had just completed her tenure as President, first of the National Union of Teachers and then Joint President of the newly amalgamated National Education Union in Britain. During her term of office, she has been subject to public campaigns to have her removed from her national positions as well as facing complaints made against her. These actions have been unsuccessful because the Union supports the right of members (and staff) to hold different political positions to the Union (and to campaign for those positions) as long as individuals don’t claim to represent national union policy or use their position to advance their individual viewpoints. “

Despite living on opposite sides of the world “we realised how much our groups had in common” says Jenny. “The sorts of women involved were much the same:  leftists, environmentalists, teachers, medical and health professionals, mothers, and scientists”. Both organisations have been subjected to similar slurs by opponents claiming the women involved are  bigots, Nazis, and TERFs. 

In both countries there are  increasing numbers of women facing attacks on their livelihoods as a result of speaking up in opposition to sex self ID. “We also talked about how amazed we were that so many young people are attacking second wave feminists – unaware of all they achieved. Young men in particular are happy to attack and denigrate feminist women.” With the ongoing attacks on women’s rights they spoke about the need for good organising skills in both groups – which is why it is good to have trade unionists involved.

It was agreed to forge closer ties between the groups and support each other, to keep in closer touch, and to share resources.

Beth met Kiri in September this year while visiting the UK. She and Kiri noted how similar the organisations are, including their structure with a core decision making team, a working group of skilled volunteers and a wider group of supporters.

Both groups have started out funding campaigns from their own pockets, all positions are voluntary, and the work is sustained with donations from supporters and money raised from event tickets.

Women’s Place and Speak Up see ourselves as part of a broad, international women’s liberation movement which is growing in strength and confidence. As Kiri put it, “We are a global network of resistance fighters”. Both organisations realise the fight will take years and we are in it for the long haul.


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