On Saturday 26th Of February, Northern Radfem Network protested HMP Styal in Cheshire for a second time, in solidarity with a sequence of prison protests nationwide. Our aim was to drive home our disgust at male inmates being transferred to the female estate after declaring to prison officials that they’re somehow ‘transgender’.
This time round the weather was on our side, in contrast to our previous rainswept demonstration – which at least confirmed that Northern women rally whatever the weather. We had a solid turnout of 40 women, enough to catch the attention of a woman driving past who promptly pulled in to the prison grounds to thank us and to ask if she could join in, showing that far from being a niche corner of a culture war, this is an issue that’s rapidly rising to relevance for women from all walks of life. If you’re reading this, woman in the pink jumper (or anyone else for that matter) get in touch! We’d love to have you on board!
Assembled were a sterling coterie of seasoned activists, representatives from various women’s groups including Women’s Rights Network, Manchester Feminist Network and Sheffield Women of Steel, and a few brand new faces. It was especially wonderful to welcome 2 young women on their very first action, and I hope to see them again at future events.
Adorned with shields, signs and banners, and draped in knitted suffragette finery, we spread out around the prison entrance to an encouraging and near constant chorus of passing cars beeping their horns in support of our message. The word is getting out, no doubt about it. Chants of “NO MALES IN FEMALE JAILS!”, “KEEP PRISONS SINGLE SEX!” and the risque refrain of “NO PRICKS IN WOMEN’S NICKS!” (nice one, Julie!) were led by Belstaffie with trademark rousing exuberance. That lass REALLY knows how to lead a protest.
As an ex inmate of HMP Styal, these particular protests are very close to my heart, which is why I speak at them. This time round I was honoured to do the middle speech between the indomitable Helen Steel talking about female officers being forced to search male inmates, and Belstaffie drawing on her considerable expertise as a sex offender specialist to deliver an as ever hard hitting speech about the very real dangers posed to women and teenage girls inside. The speeches can be watched here and here.
Our points loudly and succinctly made, we peacefully dispersed and relocated to a nearby pub to debrief (no one was thrown out, despite us all sporting seditious feminist apparel) and congratulate one another on an action well done. In an effectively cheeky follow up action, photos of us protesting are now on Google maps and image searches whenever anyone looks for HMP Styal online. It makes for excellent optics and a fantastic way to spread our message among people that may as yet be unaware of what we’re objecting to.
Levity aside, this fight is far from over and we need all hands on deck if we’re to continue getting the message out that society’s most vulnerable women are being harmed by these abhorrent policies. We need more voices, more volunteers and more reach if we’re going to effect real change. Every one of these protests serves as a call to arms, and if they touch even a few people and galvanise them to action we can create a cascade effect that will keep rippling outwards until it can’t be ignored. The more women that join, the louder we will become so please, find feminist groups in your area to link up with and don’t be afraid to keep talking about it. Women inside are in a state of emergency and they need all the advocates they can get. So, get in touch, make connections, add your voice and experiences to the feminist movement and STAND UP FOR WOMEN.
We can’t wait to hear from you!
Northern Radfem Network
Written by Rebekah Wershbale