When women are pitted against women in the fight for gender equality there can only be one winner – men

Bristol Women’s Commission was set up 8 years ago to deliver on the European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life. The Commission is made up of representatives from key agencies who give their time to work together to identify and tackle gender inequality through a number of task groups – focusing on education, economy, health, business and safety. 

Among other initiatives, we led a 50:50 campaign which helped boost the number of female councillors in Bristol from around 20% to over 40%; we set up the Women in Business Charter to address inequalities facing women in the workplace; and we launched the Zero Tolerance initiative to tackle gender-based violence in the city. As part of this ongoing work we are calling for a nil-cap on Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEVs) in the city.

In response to this, we have (predictably) seen the opinions of women sex workers pitted against the position of women’s rights advocates – on social media and in the press. Bristol24/7 has published a series of articles about this – one from the Local Democracy Reporter reporting the proposalan interview with a dancer speaking out against the proposal and several articles based on Tweets by the same few dancers. A number of accusations have been levelled at us on Twitter by the pro-SEV lobby – many of which have subsequently been picked up uncritically by the press. From attempting to painting our position as a moral one (it’s not – see the link between SEVs, sexual objectification and male violence); and suggesting it’s ‘anti-feminist’ to restrict a woman’s ’employment’ options – which show no regard for the implications for women and girls in Bristol who do not choose to be sexually objectified. 

The latest accused Bristol Women’s Commission of ‘misogyny’. for urging councillors to support a nil-cap on SEVs in line with the council’s ambition to end gender inequality with a public statement at full council. These accusations are unfounded and contradict everything we stand for. We asked Bristol24/7 for a right of reply, you can read that here. Bristol Live then ran a very similar article, which included a response from us in a bid to address some of the accusations.

Our position is not based on judgement of women who work in SEVs – we met with Bristol Sex Workers Collective back in early June to listen to their position and share ours and it’s right that they are supported to find work. We will not be personally attacking them on social media; we will not dig for information about them in order to target the places they work, volunteer or study – tactics used against our members and volunteers. We will, however, continue to share the reasoning behind the proposal and paint a bigger picture about the impact of SEVs on achieving gender equality. 

While women campaigning for their right to strip in SEVs are attacking women campaigning for wider gender equality, men who want more access to women’s bodies can sit back and congratulate themselves for a job well done. 

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