Statement on GWL’s withdrawal from the Audacious Women Festival

After withdrawing our involvement in the Audacious Women Festival (AWF) last week, we feel it is necessary for us to provide a fuller explanation. We do this in order to provide full transparency around what led us to this difficult decision and to communicate what we have learned as an organisation through this process.

On Friday 22nd February, Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) was scheduled to deliver two free but ticketed events at Edinburgh Central Library as part of the AWF programme.

On Wednesday, two days before the scheduled GWL events, Social Media posts came to our attention about the ‘women only’ policy position of the AWF, which was eventually confirmed by the AWF organisers in a Facebook post as, “For women only events we follow EHRC guidelines on providing single sex spaces, so these workshops are open to all women, including trans people with a GRC or who are visually and for all practical purposes indistinguishable from other women.”

We considered this as problematic, implying that access to our event would have entailed confirmation from trans women regarding Gender Recognition certification and our staff having to make judgments on whether women attending ‘looked like’ women. We considered that this is not a humane, tenable, or indeed practical, policy to implement.

On Thursday 21st February we emailed AWF to request that they explicitly include the GWL ‘women only’ policy wording on the Festival web pages related to our two events but the reply we received later on Thursday did not address this request or our concerns regarding the AWF statement.

We decided to give as much time as possible to AWF to post our own policy wording on the GWL event listing pages, even if this meant allowing an overnight time scale on Thursday. When nothing had changed early on Friday morning, we felt that we had no choice but to withdraw. We would have preferred to have been able to act sooner and given more notice, but we wanted to give AWF time to respond and hopefully be able to continue with the workshops.

We contacted AWF, posted our cancellation on Social Media, and contacted the venue. We were unable to contact participants directly as bookings were made through AWF organisers. A GWL staff member went to the venue to speak to women turning up at both events.

Although we wanted to give AWF organisers as much time as possible to respond, we sincerely apologise to the women who turned up to the event, and to those who were inconvenienced.

The learning that the GWL team has taken from this for the future is that we will take greater care to ensure that when working with partners, our respective policies and core values align from the first instance.

GWL has worked tirelessly for nearly 28 years to support women and has created a unique, nourishing, safe and supportive environment where women flourish and their lives can be transformed. We look forward to welcoming familiar faces and new visitors to GWL to experience this special place.

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