Women’s Prize for Fiction sparks transgender row after opening award to any writer legally identifying as female

  • Women’s Prize for Fiction sparks transgender row by extending eligibility
  • It will now accept submissions for novels to include ‘cis women, transgender women and anyone who is legally defined as a woman’ 
  • Decision comes amid fallout with transgender author Akwaeke Emezi 

The prestigious Women’s Prize for Fiction has extended its eligibility for submissions to include anyone who is a ‘cis woman, a transgender woman or anyone who is legally defined as a woman or of the female sex’.

The Prize was founded 25 years ago to ‘honour, celebrate and champion women’s voices, and to shine a spotlight on phenomenal fiction written by women’, a statement claimed.

It has now decided that it will receive for submission full-length novels ‘by all women’ – including ‘cis’ (heterosexual) women, transgender women and ‘anyone who is legally defined as a woman’.

Joanna Prior’s statement added that the Trustees of the Prize, who include Anita Anand and Kate Mosse, are ‘firmly opposed to any form of discrimination or prejudice on the basis of race, sexuality or gender identity’.

Joanna Prior, chair of trustees on the Women’s Prize for fiction, said they were ‘firmly opposed to any form of discrimination or prejudice’

The decision comes amid a row between the Prize and Akwaeke Emezi, who became the first transgender author to be nominated for the Women’s Prize in 2019.

Judges last year said they had not been aware of Emezi’s gender when reading submissions and described their longlisting as a ‘historic moment’.

But today, Emezi said their publisher, Faber, had asked them if they wanted their second novel, The Death of Vivek Oji, to be submitted for the prize this year.

Akwaeke Emezi became the first transgender author to be nominated for the prize last year

Emezi said that when Faber got in touch with the Women’s Prize about submitting The Death of Vivek Oji, they were allegedly informed: ‘The information we would require from you regards Akwaeke Emezi’s sex as defined by law.’

According to The Guardian, the prize organisers then said that their terms and conditions for entry equated the word ‘woman’ with ‘a cis woman, a transgender woman or anyone who is legally defined as a woman or of the female sex’.

Ms Prior, chair of trustees, said: ‘The Women’s Prize for Fiction was founded 25 years ago to honour, celebrate and champion women’s voices, and to shine a spotlight on phenomenal fiction written by women.

The Women’s Prize for Fiction has extended its eligibility for submissions to include anyone who is a ‘cis woman, a transgender woman or anyone who is legally defined as a woman’

‘Over the past quarter of a century, the prize has publicly championed and amplified a diverse breadth of women’s voices, and holds the principle of freedom of expression among its core values.

‘As a prize which celebrates the voices of women and the experience of being a woman in all its varied forms, we are proud to include as eligible for submission full-length novels written in English by all women.

‘In our terms and conditions, the word ‘woman’ equates to a cis woman, a transgender woman or anyone who is legally defined as a woman or of the female sex.

‘The Trustees of the Women’s Prize Trust would like to reassert that we are firmly opposed to any form of discrimination or prejudice on the basis of race, sexuality or gender identity.’

It appears the row was sparked by the Government’s rejection of proposals to allow transgender people to ‘self-ID’ without a medical diagnosis.  

Women and Equalities Minister Liz Truss had said that instead of changing the legislation, the process and experience of applying for a gender recognition certificate would be made ‘kinder and more straightforward’. 

In a long-delayed response to a two-year public consultation on the Gender Recognition Act, Ms Truss wrote: ‘We want transgender people to be free to live and to prosper in a modern Britain.’  

 Ms Truss announced plans to cut waiting lists at clinics, build three new NHS gender clinics, make it cheaper to get a gender recognition certificate and put the application process online. 

She said gender recognition reform is ‘not the top priority for transgender people’ and that their ‘most important concern is the state of trans healthcare’. 

The Government believes the current Act strikes the right balance in providing ‘proper checks and balances’ and ‘support for people who want to change their legal sex’, she said. 

The minister agreed that the system needs to be ‘kinder and more straightforward’ and said the changes were made based on responses from the ‘largest survey ever of British LGBT people’ taken in 2017.  

Twitter users have raised eyebrows at the decision, with TalkRadio presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer leading claims that it opens up the Women’s Prize to men

To help people who felt the process was ‘too bureaucratic’ the procedure will be put online and the fee will be reduced from £140 to a ‘nominal amount’, Ms Truss said. 

The three new gender clinics are expected to cut waiting lists down by 1,600 patients in two years. 

The Women’s Prize was founded in 1996 to recognise the literary achievement of female writers.

The winner of the prize receives £30,000, along with a bronze sculpture called the Bessie created by artist Grizel Niven, the sister of actor and writer David Niven.

Typically, a longlist of nominees is announced around March each year, followed by a shortlist in June; within days the winner is announced. The winner is selected by a board of ‘five leading women’ each year.

Twitter users have raised eyebrows at the decision, with TalkRadio presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer leading claims that it opens up the Women’s Prize to men. 

‘The Women’s Prize For Fiction is now open to trans women as well as actual women writers. So it’s now the Women’s And Men’s Prize For Fiction,’ she tweeted. 

‘So really it’s just the Prize For Fiction now, isn’t it?’

Left-wing journalist and campaigner against sexual violent Julie Bindel commented: ‘Women’s Prize for Fiction is now open to men. Progress, eh?’

One social media user said: Women’s Prize for Fiction seems to have missed the memo that a week ago the government rejected self-ID legal reforms.

‘There is zero legal compulsion to open this prize to males. Women can reasonably expect not to compete against males for this prize at least.’

Another posted: ‘You are ‘firmly opposed to any form of discrimination or prejudice on the basis of race, sexuality or gender identity’?

‘But not sex? The Women’s Prize for Fiction isn’t opposed to discrimination on the basis of sex?’

‘Oh great! So, it’s not longer Women’s Prize for Fiction then?! Give it a rest!’ said another.

One commented: ‘A man can now win a ‘Women’s Prize for Fiction’. Go home 2020, you’re drunk.’

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