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Defending Women’s Spaces

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Karen Ingala Smith


Who counts as a woman? This question lies at the heart of many public debates about sex and gender today. While we increasingly recognise the desire of some to eliminate the sex binary in law, a particular boiling point emerges through conflicting demands over women’s spaces. Which should govern access to these – sex or gender identity?

Karen Ingala Smith, a veteran campaigner for women’s and girls’ rights, opts for the first choice. In this trenchant critique of inclusivity politics, she argues that we cannot ignore the wealth of evidence which shows that people of the female sex have a unique set of needs which are often not met by mixed-sex spaces. Drawing on her 30 years of experience in researching and recording men’s violence against women and girls, she outlines how certain spaces, including refuges, benefit from remaining single sex – and what they stand to lose. Written with sensitivity and respect for all concerned, this book nevertheless dismantles the idea that we have reached a post-sex utopia.


‘Karen Ingala Smith makes a clear and powerful case for the right of women to have a room of our own, not as part of some crude competition for the status of ultimate victimhood or to prioritise the human rights of women over others, but as a key site of feminist resistance against patriarchal violence and sex-based oppression. Let’s read, discuss and even agree to disagree, but let’s do it with honesty, decency and compassion, and without descending into the blind alley of regressive identity politics.’
Pragna Patel, founder and ex-director of Southall Black Sisters

‘This is it. This is the reminder, handbook and call that everyone on the frontline of defending women’s rights, voices and single-sex services has been waiting for… this is a must-read for anyone wanting to know why attempts to dismiss, dismantle, and ‘cancel’ the reality of biological sex mean a decimation of the hard-won rights and spaces of women and girls everywhere.’
Onjali Raúf, author and CEO of Making Herstory

‘Defending Women’s Spaces is an important, factual, and therefore appropriately chilling account of how gender identity politics has destroyed women’s safe spaces and challenged our feminist understanding of women’s sex-based rights. Essential reading.’
Phyllis Chesler, author of Women and Madness and A Politically Incorrect Feminist

‘A lucid and insightful defence of women’s sex-based rights and the need for single-sex services for women who have been subjected to male violence and abuse written by someone who has worked in the sector for three decades.’
Joanna Cherry QC MP

‘Karen Ingala Smith makes a compelling argument in favour of female-only spaces and services… Her deep knowledge and crisp, clean prose make this both an essential and enjoyable read… an important and welcome intervention into the academic debates around gender. This book will also force policy-makers to recognize how sex matters.’
Michael Biggs, Associate Professor of Sociology and Fellow of St Cross College, University of Oxford

‘Karen Ingala Smith is a giant in women’s safety: few have done more to fight for women’s lives and voices to count. She is unapologetically women-focused.’
Jess Phillips MP

‘Karen is a true feminist, gutsy and determined and forcing us to confront the terrible extent of violence against women and girls carried out every single day in the UK. Her book is accessible, sometimes brutal, but delivered in her own style as a very funny and incredibly likeable woman. Direct, punchy and readable, these are things all women should know.’
Rosie Duffield MP

‘authoritative… deep knowledge and crisp, clean prose make this both an essential and enjoyable read.’
Helen Joyce