Next steps after AFem2014

Four months have passed since last year’s anarchafeminist conference, and the seeds are starting to spread.

Radical mental health and mutual aid

On 31st January 2015, the organiser of the “Radical approaches to mental health” session organised a follow-up meeting to plan for the future. As it was so successful and over-subscribed, they’re running a second follow up. Details:

Following on from a session at Afem, this is a space to discuss possibilities for radical mental health activism and ways we can support and act in solidarity with each other. We’re hoping to gauge people’s interest and energy in some different ideas and be able to end the day with a plan to move forward.

Some potential ideas include:

  • skill-shares such as emotional first aid, active listening, navigating NHS care, understanding trauma
  • peer support groups – local or issue based
  • co-counselling
  • open-mic/storytelling sessions
  • bookgroup/talks/film screenings
  • direct action/awareness raising activism

If you want to read more about any of these the free zine at mindfuloccupation.org is a good place to start.

Date: Saturday 28/02/2015
Time: 11:30-15:30
Place: Common House, Unit 5E, 5 Pundersons Gardens, Bethnal Green E2 9QG
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1557179054550258/1557243531210477/
Eventbrite to sign up: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/radical-mental-health-and-mutual-aid-discussion-second-session-tickets-15629555421

Anarchism in Love, Sex and Relationships: discussion, peer support and solidarity group

After a well-attended workshop at the anarchafeminist conference, the organisers wanted to continue the discussions and build solidarity and peer support through a series of monthly discussion groups.

They held a first session on Sunday 25 January, and have a follow-up one coming up soon. Details:

As well as using a group like this to discuss issues and learn from each other on a more general level (sometimes with the help of lighter reading material, such as short articles and blog pieces), we also want to use it for peer support and solidarity- so not just theoretical abstract discussions! Our feeling was that for a lot of people doing relationships differently can be quite difficult, with little support and guidance in people around you and in the media, and so it would be great if we could provide this for each other. After each meeting, we will aim to also go to the pub together for a chance to get to know each other more.

We will collectively choose a topic to discuss for the rest of the session. Some of the topics that came up during the Afem workshop were for example:

  • How to do polyamory/non-monogamy/relationship anarchy ethically? What does “ethically” mean?
  • New types of relationships, new labels? Lover, boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, friends, primary, secondaries?
  • What are the distinctions and hierarchies between different relationships, such as friends, partners and girlfriends/boyfriends and how does/should this affect our behaviour?
  • How does our politics (anarchism, feminism etc.) – and the current politics/policies of the state- affect our relationships? And vice versa: how can our relationships affect our politics? What can we do about this?

Date: Sunday 01/03/2015
Time: 16:00-18:00
Place: LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, E1 1ES
Facebook event:

Basque anarchafeminism

Some Spanish comrades that came to AFem2014 organised a follow-up meeting in the anti-authoritarian social centre Subeltz (Iruñea, Basque country), on 20/02/15 at 19:00. They even made posters!AFEM-14 hitzaldia euzkarazAFEM-14 hitzaldia gaztelaraz A3



SWOU statement on London Reclaim The Night

One of the best received workshops at AFem2014 was from the Sex Workers Open University. They’ve written a write-up of Saturday’s London Reclaim The Night, which was “again not a safe space for sex workers” or trans women:

Centre stage was given organisations that fight to put us out of work and onto the streets, and there are reports of planned protests against sex workers workplaces. Recent protests outside sex workers’ workplaces have led to multiple reports of sex workers being spat at by these protestors. Nor was it a safe space for trans women, with transmisogynist leaflets distributed [from S: you can read the leaflet if you want, but warning, it’s incredibly transmisogynist and vile]. Lots of women and groups participating spoke up against this hatred of trans women and sex workers, and we are clear that our concerns are about how the event is organised – and with a small minority who feel empowered to be hateful by the way the event is organised – and not with the many women who marched and are in solidarity with sex working and trans sisters.

This open hatred of sex workers is a sadly familiar situation at London RtN. Events in previous years have seen the sex worker bloc attacked by some women on the main march, and RtN stewards/organisers directing the police to interrogate women marching in the sex worker bloc. This makes clear that the organisers seek not to end violence against women, but violence against some women – and that way they seek to achieve that is through supporting and perpetrating increased violence against women who they deem as not deserving of safety, rights and justice.

The violence that they think we deserve spans a whole spectrum from direct interpersonal violence – such as being spat at as we go to work – through to police and state violence, and the economic violence of poverty. In directing the police to question marchers on the sex worker bloc in previous years, organisers have demonstrated that they support and encourage police harassment of sex workers, including at RtN. The police are primary perpetrators of violence against us, including sexual violence and forms of state violence such as arrest, incarceration and deportation. For sex workers who are migrants (documented or undocumented), people of colour, trans, queer, drug users, or parents (particularly mothers or liable to be read as mothers), the risk of police violence is compounded. By arguing that our jobs should be taken from us, and protesting our workplaces, the organisers of London RtN self-evidently wish to subject us to the economic violence of poverty, and they specifically link our poverty – the “end” of sex work – to their own “liberation”. There can be no liberation based on supporting and perpetrating increased violence against some women. Sex workers in London last night felt scared to be on the streets – scared of violence from RtN organisers.

What is heartening is that trans women and sex workers (obviously not a clear distinction!) were standing side by side throughout this, and that “many women at Reclaim the Night London spoke out and marched in solidarity with trans and sex-working sisters”. Solidarity to all fighting for true liberation!

On the TERFs in our midst

As an organising group including many trans people, we explicitly oppose transphobia, and any attempt to portray trans women as lesser than cis women.

How some people acted at the conference was abhorrent, and entirely against our politics and our identities. TERFs (trans exclusionary radical feminists) are not welcome in our organising, or in our spaces.

We wanted to clear up what happened on the day, and why, to the best of our knowledge. Here goes.

What actually happened with the TERFs during the conference?

This is our best attempt to piece together what happened, from the reports of organisers and volunteers.

Initial all-attendee meeting

During the first session, an audience member asked why there wasn’t a woman-only space in the conference, given that there were other spaces set aside for trans people, sex workers, people of colour, and disabled people.

The question was answered in good faith, explaining that we’d set aside spaces for people that were marginalised within anarchafeminism specifically – and though women are marginalised within anarchism, they aren’t within anarchafeminism, which was what the conference was about.

The ‘introduction to anarchafeminism’ meeting

One of the facilitators was a woman called Gail Chester, who is also involved in the Feminist Library and Black Flag. During her introductory talk, she called for there to be a ‘woman-only space’, by which she meant a space for cis women only. This was against what Gail had told her co-facilitator in advance she would do.

The safer spaces volunteer in the session was prepared to deal with problematic participants. However, they were knocked off-kilter when it was the facilitator that was using trans-exclusionary language. They wanted to shut the discussion down and ask the Gail and the other transphobes to leave, but they felt intimidated and unable to challenge Gail directly, because they’d had run-ins with Gail before.

Instead, they tried to challenge the bigoted views when the session got going, and along with other session participants were vocally supportive of an inclusive feminist movement. The session’s other facilitator tried to silence one of the people that had expressed transphobic views, and for that they ludicrously accused her of being “hierarchical”; the transphobic person, needless to say, kept speaking out of turn.

After the ‘introduction to anarchafeminism’ session

The people calling for a transphobic women-only space talked to each other after this meeting, and then went and had their own unpublicised ‘women-only space’ (i.e. cis women only space).

After this, they approached an organiser and safer spaces volunteer asking if they could organise a more public ‘women-only space’. When asked what they meant by this, it became clear they wanted to organise a space only for cis women.

They were told there was no chance that this would happen at our event, because the very idea is transphobic. They went around asking other safer spaces volunteers, who all gave them the same answer – that there would be no space only for cis women. When told this, they responded with shouting and angry body language.

So why weren’t the TERFs asked to leave?

Some of them were.

There were multiple people in multiple rooms calling for a cis woman only space. Sometimes, they were challenged in the session. Sometimes, people told them to leave the session. When it became clear that the same people were maliciously coordinating their transphobic outbursts, using the quiet space as a base, two organisers went to tell them to leave the conference.

However, Gail told them that they should ignore that and stay – and (unsurprisingly) they listened to Gail and ignored repeated requests to leave, as Gail described herself as an organiser.

Why did you let a TERF onto your organising group?

Gail had in the past expressed some transphobic views. However, the organising group were told (both by Gail and others) that she had changed her ways.

Due to some comments she made during the organising, we specifically asked Gail if she agreed with our organising principles, which included both what transphobia is and how we stand against it. She said ‘yes’.

What power did Gail have as an ‘organiser’?

Not that much.

To be clear: Gail had no access to anything by being an “organiser”. She couldn’t access any contact details of participants – because for security reasons we didn’t collect any.

She didn’t influence the make-up of the day in any way, as she never really responded to work on the organising email list. She also didn’t have any special power to ‘block consensus’ about getting rid of TERFs from the event. We didn’t need unanimity from ‘organisers’ to remove people from the event.

What do we think we could have done better?

We feel:

  • That there weren’t enough people that felt able to challenge bigotry when it happened. This could be addressed in the future by confidence building/assertiveness training for safer spaces volunteers, having more volunteers in each room so they would know at least one other person would back them up, and giving volunteers a very specific and clear set of guidelines on when to act and how.
  • That we didn’t successfully remove bigots in our midsts. Because we as organisers were undermined by another woman who was also an organiser, we were not able to deal consistently with this. We had some reason to mistrust Gail, but we took her at her word. We could and should have spent more time discussing the content of the various workshops with all the facilitators, including Gail.

What next?

We have removed Gail Chester from our organising group, and we will be meeting in the near future to redesign our organising process so that people can’t just lurk on our email list.

We are an international group of active anarchafeminists, and praxis, not securitisation, is our focus; our conference was successful not because we tried to write a perfect set of policies (an endless and impossible task!), but because hundreds of gender-oppressed people from all over the world worked to forge new understandings and new ways of organising together under the AFem banner.

We will be looking for new people and new ideas in the next few months to continue that work.

Apology and reparation

We apologise sincerely to those whom our ways of working failed to protect or support, and we want to make reparation.

If you have suggestions as to how we can do that, or how we can work better in future, please let us know however works for you: we have a feedback form, email, twitter, a facebook page and this blog where you can leave a comment.

Initial thoughts from some organisers

You can submit your thoughts and reflections (and please do! we’ve only had responses from about 10% of attendees), but here are some of ours, whilst we collate all the feedback we’re getting…

There were some great moments and workshops, and we want to build up a record of what worked well.

So if you learned about new concepts and struggles, about how oppression and privilege impact on different groups, made contacts you have the enthusiasm to build on, encountered new ideas and activity that inspired you, thought about how to move anarcha-feminism forward as a political force, or have any other positive reflections about the sessions or day in general, please send us your thoughts (either via afem[at]afed.org.uk or on social media).

These will help us to plan future events because – a surprise to ourselves – we are full of enthusiam for further events.

Having said this, there were serious negatives, as we are all aware and have reflected on elsewhere and will continue to do so.

Most damagingly, was the intervention of transphobes or TERFs (trans exclusionary radical feminists). These breached our Safer Spaces policy and undermined our Inclusion Policy. Much has been said, and will be said here (not least in that we will shortly issue a stament as organisers). We want also to flag up how traumatic this was not only for many people attending the conference, but also for ourselves. Several of us were so upset by this dynamic that we have temorarily taken time out from AFem organising group to try to recover without triggering memories.

Our general happiness about what was achieved on the day is coupled with anger about how easy it was for a tiny handful of privileged people to impose their bigoted, backward-looking and damaging ideas. We say this because as well as issuing a statement, we will be taking the issue very seriously and tightening up our processes in future. In order to do this, we want your thoughts too on how to do this.

Finally, please take the project forward! Organise your own events and activies under the AFem banner, as long as it agrees with our policies. But please protect yourself structurally and personally against people who think the anarcha-feminist movement is theirs rather than belonging to all gender-oppressed people. And send us your reports/links so we can gather momentum in transforming the anarchist movement and the whole world.

For more on how to contact us, and our feedback form for the event, see our post How was AFem2014 for you?

Accountability processes

This is a write-up of the ‘Accountability processes’ session that happened at the conference.

Content note: abstract discussions of abuse, mental health difficulties and victim blaming (nothing specific mentioned)

This was a two-hour session that focussed on the history and practice of accountability processes in radical communities. It took place in a room that had been used earlier in the day for a ‘Victim-survivor led challenges to violence in our communities’ workshop and Empty Cages’ prison abolition workshop. In both of these sessions, the acute need for accountability processes (to render the criminal justice system irrelevant, to challenge and transform oppressive relationships, to maintain people’s safety and to build healthier communities, amongst many other things) was noted. It was clear that we were dealing with something of critical importance to anarchafeminism, and to other imaginations of a more just world.

Please see pages 11-12 here for good rough definitions of accountability processes, restorative justice and transformative justice. I use the most commonly recognised language around this issue, which is also discussed in the link, if anything is unclear.

We began with two speakers: Tanya gave a historical perspective, covering the need for safer spaces policies and accountability processes, tracking how they had emerged and suggesting some principles that underpinned their work (more on this). Romina, joining us from Los Angeles, then discussed transformative justice work in the USA, especially a recent inter-organisational conference held on transformative justice (more on this).

After a short listeners’ Q & A with Tanya and Romina, discussion opened up into the circle. Below are some points that I felt generated the most debate, or were mentioned several times. Please feel free to comment or e-mail to include points that I have missed. For people who would like to read more, there are links to resources below.

  • Asking Questions: The importance of asking questions when accountability processes start. Each process will differ depending on the situation at hand, and perhaps the best way to ensure we do the best work around this is to equip ourselves with the right questions to ask of ourselves and others, rather than rigid ideas about what to do, and how to do it.
  • Making Sure We Have Resources: Accountability processes require a lot of emotion, resources and time to be done well. People reflected on how to manage this strain: separating organisations to deal with accountability processes away from other work? Having a separate group to work with the perpetrator and another to work with the survivor? How does this then feed back into the community? Making sure we had worked out our practice around accountability before crisis hits? Questioning and rebuilding our ideas around safer spaces and accountability are often harmful in times of crisis: how do we build spaces ‘safe’ and ‘free’ enough to do this, so our work can improve, without causing harm?
  • Survivor Led Except in Violence: Accountability processes are always, ideally, ‘survivor led’, but often when survivors are interested in pursuing violence as a response to abuse (verbal, physical violent confrontation or destroying property, for example), they are not supported. Is this hypocritical? How are we supposed to balance a blanket commitment to ‘survivor led’ justice if a certain survivors’ ideas about justice will always be exempt? Should survivors be supported to do what they feel is best, whatever that is? Is there more disapproval and criticism of survivors’ desire for revenge/violence than there is disapproval for perpetrators’ abuse? Should we be challenging this discourse? What about what other organisers are comfortable doing? Is survivors’ anger a productive force that we can mobilise around, rather than focussing on peaceful discussion that collapses survivors’ righteous anger?
  • Accountable Accountability: Many people mentioned experiences of accountability processes falling apart, and organisations and communities fragmenting after accountability processes had been set up. Should we be building a Plan B- an accountability process for accountability processes? A backup plan? Should we anticipate problems in community dynamics at the start, and integrate measures to cope with these? How do we keep the processes transparent enough for perpetrator, survivor (whilst protecting anonymity if requested) and community? Should we keep checking in with all parties before new stages of the process take place? Especially when community members have mental health difficulties such as paranoia, should we have a clear process for transparency? Many accountability processes suggest ‘therapy’ for both perpetrator and survivor- but how do we build relationships with therapists who don’t subscribe to current individualised and often victim-blaming mainstream psychotherapy? Is it a priority for us to build critical mental health practitioners into the movement?
  • Competing Claims of Abuse: There was recognition that we often assumed we were talking about sexual abuse, and often about a man sexually abusing a woman. We saw the conversation had to be broader to accommodate different experiences of abuse. What could people do about competing claims of abuse, especially when this did not cut so neatly along heteronormative power relations? How can accountability processes consider the mental health issues amongst those involved in a useful way (e.g. when community members are triggered by discussions of past experiences, when abuse may have become confused or magnified between people, or when a perpetrator suffering from paranoia is involved in a process where the survivor requests anonymity?) How do we come up with ways of working that are broad enough to hold the complexity of people’s relationships and experiences, whilst still taking a strong stance on abuse?
  • Polarising Perpetrator vs Survivor: Our discussion used the words- perpetrator, survivor, abuse etc.- that are often used in discussions on this topic. There was disagreement about whether the polarised split between ‘perpetrators’ and ‘survivors’ was helpful: How can we recognise that we are all capable of transgressing boundaries and causing harm whilst avoiding the dangerous ‘blurring’ of perpetrator/survivor roles that happens in wider society? What does it mean for accountability processes when we recognise that abuse emerges from structural systems of domination, into which many of us were born and raised? What does this say about the people who are in charge of accountability? How do we stay humble enough to recognise that everyone has the capacity to abuse whilst challenging that very culture that sits in all of us? Does it help us to unpick the complexity of harm caused by highly charismatic, popular and manipulative people if we simply name them ‘perpetrators’? Can we deploy this polarising way of looking at things selectively, should we be doing it at all, should we always and only be doing it?
  • Total Exclusion: Immediately excluding someone who has committed abuse from radical community spaces is often the first port of call for accountability processes, to protect the survivor and the community at large. Most people were glad of this, but there were questions: what does total exclusion mean for the perpetrator? Are they most likely to learn this way? ‘Kicking them out’ pushes the perpetrator onto other communities outside of our own- is this what we want to be doing? Leaving them to harm people outside of radical communities-who may be less well equipped with support and radical awareness around abuse? What has the organisation succeeded in doing if that is the result? Again, what happens with regards to exclusion when there are competing claims of abuse?

These are some rough jottings of the many questions the session opened up for us. There were also some reading mentioned in the session, with links here. Again, please feel free to suggest links to add.

Transformative Justice LA

The Fundamental Requirement for Organised Safer Space

Taking Risks: Implementing Grassroots Community Accountability Strategies

The Revolution Starts At Home

The Problem With ‘Privilege’

This Is Not a Safe Space

What About the Rapists? Anarchist Approaches to Crime and Justice (zine)

CALL-OUT: How was AFem2014 for you?

The dust has settled. The organisers have slept a bit. People who didn’t even attend AFem2014 are expounding their ideas on social media.

The outpouring of support was so amazing, but we all know that the event wasn’t perfect.

We need your help to make any future events even more enjoyable, even more effective, even more militant than last week’s. Here’s what you can do:

  1. FILL OUT OUR FEEDBACK SURVEY! Whether you were a facilitator, a safer spaces volunteers, an organiser or an attendee, your feedback would really help us. Put in as much or as little info as you want. Don’t worry about being critical, we’ve got thick skins.
  2. LET PEOPLE KNOW HOW IT WAS! Don’t just let us know how it was. If you’ve got a blog, write that shit up. If you’re in an organisation, feed back to the other members. If you do write something up, even if it’s just a Facebook post, let us know! (either via afem[at]afed.org.uk or on social media)
  3. GIVE US YOUR PHOTOS! We’d love photographic evidence of the day too! Again, you can email them to afem[at]afed.org.uk, or send them to us on social media.
  4. HELP MAKE AFEM2015 A REALITY! We don’t know if there even will be an AFem2015, or whether the organising group will divert energies into other anarchafeminist projects. But either way, the more organisers the merrier. Make sure you leave your email at the end of the feedback survey, or again contact us via email or social media.

Bonne chance! Our feedback form:

“At a moment of backlash”: one organiser’s take on the day

Taken from a Facebook post from one of the organisers the day after the conference.

The background

AFem, the inaugural UK based conference organised by a group of 35 anarchafeminists in Solfed, AFed and international anarchist organisations, as well as unaffiliated anarchafeminists, took place this weekend on Sunday 19th October. The conference was very popular, with just under 300 people through the door from 19 countries and counting, including Argentina, the Philippines, Brazil, Japan, Iran, the US and Canada.

The conference was funded by a mix of donations, a fundrazr for £2k, and smaller fundraising events in 3 UK cities. Food Not Bombs also held a fundraiser so we could afford to feed those on low or nil income, and many in kind donations were made, from printing to translation to childcare to signing.

On the day

The conference was largely well organised with few technical glitches: there were not enough programmes, we had issues with the technology and as we had not put a numbers limit on sessions, some of the rooms were overcrowded. We had not given enough thought to accessibility – no large print programme was available and we did not have dedicated helpers for accessibility needs.

However with those exceptions the day ran fairly smoothly from a practical point of view. Facilities at the conference were good, with a creche, a quiet space, free food for those on low or nil incomes, listeners and emotional first aid all available. In addition there was a team of 18 ‘safer spaces’ people who sat in sessions, at the front desk and in the quiet room to resolve issues or questions relating to the day’s safer spaces agreement, or help people who felt triggered or unsafe.

The conference offered 23 workshops and 2 plenary sessions. Workshops were broad, ranging from “what is gender?” to prison abolition to workplace organising around gender to middle eastern feminism to survivor-led accountability, with dedicated strands for disabled people, trans people, people of colour and sex workers. The timetable is attached as an image.

The workshops were by and large received very well at the conference. The comments book on the day was overwhelmingly positive and the atmosphere was excellent – many remarked on the new organising connections they were making and on the unusually anti-oppressive politics of the organising group and the conference itself.

However the day was not without difficulty. A small group of trans exclusionary radical feminists attended the conference, misgendering and insulting trans people and demanding space for cis women only. Exclusion of trans women from women’s space is direct transphobic discrimination and managing this issue became the bulk of the work done by the safer spaces team. As a result, several trans people at conference experienced transphobia and some were extremely upset by this. Efforts were made on the day to repair this damage, both interpersonally and politically, and care was taken to help those who had these experiences stay safely at conference, but nevertheless the TERFs should have been excluded.

Working with the organising group to develop and carry through the politics of AFem – anarchocommunist, feminist, multigender, anti-oppressive, accountable, democratic and transparent – has been one of the best organising experiences I’ve had in a long time, but also one of the most difficult, because we’re currently at a moment of backlash against prefigurative political forms.

In the run-up to AFem, as we made our politics clear on our website, blogs and social media, an increasing number of critiques were posted online. This made the run-up to conference extremely tense – we weren’t sure whether there might be opposition or even disruption on the day. For those who haven’t seen them, our gender inclusion policy and safer spaces agreement can be found on the AFem website.

There’s clearly some anxiety in our milieu about whether accountable organising spaces are overly authoritarian. My feeling is that this conference was a good initial response: it was a popular and much-needed event with minimal difficulty and an atmosphere of solidarity, and I’m really happy solfed supported it and supported me and other comrades to help organise it.

The organising group will respond to criticisms on the AFem website, once we’ve got the post-conference tasks done and all the feedback collated. We plan on organising further AFem events, and will recruit new organisers shortly.

Note: I’ve held off commenting on racism and cultural appropriation cos I’d rather that commentary came from poc, but I’m really happy we organised the poc- only space and that critiques were fed back to conference as a result.

For other write-ups from the day, see our conference summary page.


AFEM2014 is being held at the Bancroft Building at Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London, E1 4NS.

The Bancroft Building is fully wheelchair accessible.

The conference is taking place on the third floor of the Bancroft Building. There are lifts up to the 3rd floor.

There will be childcare available at the conference.

We are working on having sign language interpreters available throughout the day.

There will be a quiet space available for use and staffed all day.

London Food Not Bombs will be providing food for those who cannot afford to buy any. Map of food outlets in the vicinity of the venue here: Map

We are committed to making the conference as accessible as possible. If possible please contact us at afem@afed.org.uk if you have a specific access need that we can address, or come and speak to us on the front desk on the day of the conference, where there will be people to support you in fully accessing the conference.

Afem2014 timetable

AFem2014 October 19th Bancroft Building, Queen Mary University.

Bold means that these are confirmed sessions. Non-bold means that we can practically support these meetings if you would make them happen. Please contact us a.s.a.p.

Please click on the timetable for a fuller view of it. A pdf of this timetable is available here: https://afem2014.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/final-timetable.pdf

Final timetable