In London on October 13th the newly formed Feminist Anti-Fascist Assembly (FAF) organised and led a militant bloc at the front of the counter-demonstration against the far right Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA). Working with a coalition of anti-fascist and feminist activists, the group successfully blocked the fascists from marching along their planned route. Then on 25th November FAF took over the streets again, this time on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to march against fascism and sexism across the world. Women from Rojava, Brazil, Poland, Nicaragua and across Britain came together in feminist solidarity as loud chants of “women rise up!” filled Oxford Circus. On December 9th, FAF will be back on the streets once more opposing Tommy Robinson and his far-right “Brexit Betrayal” march. FAF are calling on women, queers and migrants to join them to lead the counter-demonstration.
The existence and growing momentum of FAF speaks to the political importance of anti-fascist organising going hand in hand with feminism. It cannot be overstated how central sexism and misogyny are to the far-right’s political agenda. At the same time, it is crucial to address the fact that too often, feminist organisations and campaigns neglect to take bold, radical action against racism and the far right. What’s more, sexism and misogyny are both common and often unchallenged in many anti-fascist groups. Feminist Anti-Fascist Assembly seeks to develop an inclusive political space which addresses both of these problems and builds a movement that is capable of defeating the far-right both politically and in the streets.
FAF is not just about the dynamics of our organising spaces, though that is of course essential. It’s also about a fundamental understanding that fascism and the patriarchy are two heads of the same snake – and we cannot effectively fight one without fighting the other. Throughout history, in whatever country they are strong, the far right have promoted and perpetuated oppressive patriarchal norms, from restrictions on women’s bodily autonomy, limiting access to abortion, to enforcing rigid gender roles, to legitimising sexual violence and more. You only have to look at the comments on FAF’s social media that are about “women getting back to the kitchen” or telling us to stop “complaining” to see how widespread and normal misogyny has become. So today, as we see the far right surging internationally, we also see attacks against women being entrenched – for example, in the UK on average two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week. In response what we are also seeing is a beautiful, militant and inspiring global alliance of women fighting back against their oppressors, and leading the struggle against both sexism and fascism.
Earlier this year, tens of thousands of Polish women took to the streets to protest their far right government’s plans to tighten abortion laws, after they had already defeated an attempt to ban all abortions in 2016. Meanwhile in the USA, hard right anti-choice conservatives now have the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, and states such as Ohio are poised to further restrict access to abortion. Once again, it is women that are leading the struggles to stop this and to push for more rights and more freedom. In Rojava, Kurdish women revolutionaries have been leading the military resistance against ISIS; a fascist group notorious for using rape and sexual violence against women as a weapon of war. And in Brazil, the fourth largest democracy in the world, far right sexist homophobe Bolsonaro has just been elected President; a man who said in 2017 that he had “weakened” when he conceived a daughter rather than another son. The vibrant #EleNão (“Not Him”) movement that began during the election period was driven by Brazilian women, and they have vowed to carry on resisting across the globe including through initiatives such as UK-based Brazilian Women Against Fascism.
So it’s clear that fascism is far from something that is in the interests of women . But here in the UK, the far right are seeking to mask their sexism and reactionary views about women through promoting a particularly insidious political narrative. One that weaponises the experiences of sexual violence perpetrated against working class women and girls to further an agenda of racism and nationalism. Tommy Robinson, aka Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, has become somewhat of a revered celebrity figure on the far right for his supposedly “brave” attempts to highlight the issue of “grooming gangs” and child sexual exploitation (CSE). Which in reality amounted to him reporting on trials of suspects who had already been arrested and charged, and in one case nearly causing a mistrial by filming suspects going into court. Following on from this, the far right have taken it upon themselves to launch a crusade to “protect” women from Asian and Muslim men whom they claim are enemies of “British values”.
But here’s the thing. We, as women and feminists, know full well that sexual violence against women and girls is an endemic problem in our society. Many of us have experienced it first hand, and feminist activists have been organising against it for decades. We don’t need the likes of Robinson to point this out to us. But what we also know, is that sexual violence is perpetuated by men of all nationalities, ethnicities and religions – it is rife in every community. Yet Robinson and his supporters have absolutely nothing to say when our rapists are white or non-Muslim. It’s almost as if the far right don’t actually care about women, and are in fact using our traumatic experiences to demonise anyone who doesn’t fit with their vision of a white, Christian “Fortress Britain”. We know racism and Islamophobia won’t solve the problem of sexual violence – that’s exactly why anti-racist feminism is so important.
We will not allow Tommy Robinson to speak on our behalf. We do not accept solutions to sexual violence which perpetuate racism and xenophobia. We will continue blocking fascists who march in our streets and we will continue pushing for a society which eliminates violence against women and girls. We are feminists; we are anti-fascists; and we refuse to separate the two.
Join us on Sunday 9th December to oppose Tommy Robinson, UKIP and their poisonous ideology – women, queers and migrants to the front.