More than 50 people turned out on Saturday to protest over changes made to a pledge protecting women’s rights made at a conference organised by MP Fiona Bruce.
As we have reported, the intention of the London 2022 International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief – co-organised by Congleton MP Mrs Bruce – was to increase global action on freedom of religion or belief for all, including those with no religion.
Speakers included Humanists UK’s chief executive Andrew Copson, also president of Humanists International, as well as Prince Charles and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi, and Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh leaders.
But a post-conference statement committing to the fundamental rights of women and girls was amended to remove references to “sexual and reproductive health and rights” and “bodily autonomy”.
Some 22 countries signed the joint statement before it was amended but 17 then withdrew. Malta, where there is a ban on abortion in all circumstances, including rape and fatal abnormalities, then signed the reworded document.
The local Women’s Equality Party said it was “outraged” that the “Feminist Republic of Congleton”, which elected the first WEP councillor, Kay Wesley, was the source of an “attempted roll-back of women’s rights”, with many blaming Mrs Bruce for the changes.
The party staged a protest on Saturday outside Mrs Bruce’s office at Meadowside, Congleton – and from the number of horns being sounded in support while the Chronicle was taking photos, the campaign for women’s rights had wide support.
The Women’s Equality Party and other campaigners mounted similar demonstrations in other towns, Saturday selected because a march supporting restricting women’s rights was held in London.
The Women’s Equality Party in Congleton organised the protest but representatives from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens joined in as well as people with no political affiliation.
Organiser Coun Wesley said: “The response from people along Mountbatten Way was fantastic. Motorists including women, men, families, bus, van and lorry drivers tooted their horns, waved and shouted in support.
“Passers-by came to chat and tell us of their strong support for women to decide what happens to their own bodies. Many were shocked when they heard that their MP not only opposes women’s reproductive rights, but is actively campaigning to roll them back and take us back to the 1950s.” The demonstrators spent the morning chanting, including “Be alarmed by Mrs Bruce; no going back!”; “Our Bodies, Our Choice! And “Why why why, Fiona”, to the tune of Delilah.
Coun Wesley said: “We are holding this protest to highlight the fact that Fiona Bruce has consistently voted against women’s reproductive rights in Parliament.
“For example, doctors agree that the new rule to allow women to choose to take early-abortion pills at home is by far the safest for many women, yet Fiona Bruce spoke against this law earlier this year.
“A recent conference on global freedom of religion and belief organised by the UK and chaired by Mrs Bruce, actually deleted bodily autonomy and reproductive rights from an international treaty on women’s rights, prompting complaints from other countries about the UK’s role.
“Women’s right to choose whether or not they continue a pregnancy is a healthcare matter, not a matter for anyone else and certainly not for governments.
“It is recognised worldwide that the choice of whether or not to bear children is a key building block for women’s equality. Mrs Bruce’s record in trying to rollback women’s rights is shameful, and her constituents need to know about it.”
The statement released by the conference, co-organised by Mrs Bruce in her role as envoy for freedom of religious belief, saw a section on “laws that restrict women’s and girls’ full and equal enjoyment of all human rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, bodily autonomy” being repealed removed.
A section that committed “to protect and support individuals, organisations and institutions that work to promote gender-responsive religious interpretations and practices” changed with “gender-responsive” becoming “human dignity”.
Another part saying “support and build capacities for local religious and belief leaders to advocate for gender equality, denounce sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices and ensure access to sexual and reproductive health and rights” changed, removing everything after “religious and belief leaders”.
The Chronicle has previously asked Mrs Bruce to comment on the changes, but she did not.