An Oxfam staff training document says “privileged white women” are supporting the root causes of sexual violence by wanting "bad men" imprisoned.
In the wake of sex scandals that have rocked the charity, Oxfam has produced guidance which states that: “Mainstream feminism centres on privileged white women and demands that ‘bad men’ be fired or imprisoned”.
Accompanied by a cartoon of a crying white woman, it adds that this “legitimises criminal punishment, harming black and other marginalised people”.
It advises staff to read a controversial book which concludes: “Mainstream feminism is supporting, not undoing, the root causes of sexual violence.”
Oxfam said that the training was voluntary, and the views are not presented as its own but designed to help staff understand the issues.
However, the charity was warned on Wednesday night that the document, compiled by its LGBT network and seen by The Telegraph, could breach equality laws as it suggests reporting rape is "contemptible".
The four-week “learning journey” recommends that staff read Me Not You: The Trouble with Mainstream Feminism, a book by Alison Phipps, a professor of gender studies at the University of Sussex.
Summarising the book’s central premise, the Oxfam document says white feminists need to ask themselves whether they are causing harm when they fight sexual violence.
It then links to Prof Phipps’s Twitter account and a thread which summarises the main themes of the book, including: “White feminist tears deploy white woundedness, and the sympathy it generates, to hide the harms we perpetuate through white supremacy.”
Naomi Cunningham, a discrimination and employment law barrister, says the document may breach the Equality Act, which bans harassment in the workplace on the basis of sex.
“The message seems to be that a woman who reports a rape or sexual assault to the police and presses charges is a contemptible ‘white feminist’,” said Ms Cunningham. “I think any woman could make an arguable case that this has created or contributed to ‘an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’, which is how the Equality Act defines harassment.”
Learning About Trans Rights and Inclusion was drawn up in 2020, whilst Oxfam was still reeling from sexual exploitation scandals in Haiti and Chad.
The charity suffered further blows in April this year, when a female aid worker quit alleging that there was a “toxic culture” and her sexual harassment complaint had been ignored, and it faced separate allegations of sexual misconduct in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The training manual was written after the charity’s LGBT+ network wrote to the leadership team demanding that they publicly support trans people and suggested that any debate about rights was part of a “patriarchal and white supremacist narrative” used by the far right.
The letter called for specific resources to be made available, adding: “To argue that trans-inclusivity would undermine the vital work we do for women and girls is not only transphobic, but also perpetuates the white saviour complex that assumes that we know best for the people we work with."
It says that it is “transphobic” to question whether men who identify as women could pose a threat to women and the fact that debates around identity continue among staff is exposing queer employees to “harm”.
The strategic leadership team responded saying that there “is no place in Oxfam for transphobia”.
The document produced in the wake of the complaint tells staff that protecting single-sex spaces for women has “contributed to transphobia and undermining of trans rights”.
It says the charity stands “firmly against” any attempt to exclude trans women, adding in an “important context note”: “Oxfam stands actively against any implication that the realization of trans rights and inclusion poses a threat to creating a safe environment for all.”
Oxfam said on Wednesday night that it “works to tackle discrimination and inequality whether that is on the basis of race, sex, gender identity or sexuality. Our commitment to gender equality includes trans people.
“We believe everyone has the right to freedom of gender identity and expression and will do everything we can to ensure those rights are respected and upheld within our organisation and through our work,” a spokesman said.
“Oxfam treats all allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse extremely seriously and actively encourage people to report wherever they have a concern. How to report is covered thoroughly in our staff training provision.”
Much of what feminism has won now seems up for grabs
With the rape conviction rate at an all-time low, I would have hoped that a charity concerned with inequality and oppression would make combatting sexual violence a priority, writes Julie Bindel. Particularly one whose own history in this area is dubious at best.
In the UK, of the tiny minority of rapes that are actually reported to police, only 1.4 per cent are charged by the Crown Prosecution Service.
However, looking at the document that forms part of Oxfam’s training programme, Learning about Trans Rights & Inclusion, you would think that sexual violence was an imagined problem, dreamed up by racist or fragile white women.
Feminists have fought for sexual assault to be taken seriously. The low conviction rate is evidence that this battle is being lost. If we are now to further dismiss women’s experiences as simply "tears" what hope do we have for this endemic problem to ever be taken seriously?
Calling women who have been traumatised by male sexual violence or campaign against it "privileged" because they are white is staggeringly offensive. To further claim that white women give more power to the police by reporting their rapists loses sight of the fact that if sexual predators did not face serious consequences, they remain a danger to all women.
Does Phipps imagine that when "white, privileged" women demand that sexual harassers be removed from a workplace that they do not care if these men go on to rape impoverished black women?
As workplaces are increasingly captured by harmful identity politics it seems a stand is being taken against women; a war being declared against feminism.
Many of the battles we have fought as feminists appear to be up for grabs. We campaigned for, and set up, women’s refuges, rape crisis centres and other specialist services where women could feel safe from male abusers.
Feminists have fought tooth and nail to improve the response from the criminal justice system to rape, sexual assault, stalking and domestic abuse. All of these achievements are now under threat, as extreme trans activists and their so-called allies label women-only facilities – or us who campaign for them – as "transphobic" and "bigoted".
Domestic abuse helplines
While these groups pose as progressives, I hear time and again from young women both in universities and in workplaces, desperate for the type of feminism that protects women from male violence. Instead of feeling that they can debate their concerns freely, they feel shouted down or trolled on social media with such venom that most are silenced out of fear for their safety or losing their jobs.
"Feminism is for everyone" is one of the statements presented to Oxfam staff. But is it? As far as I am concerned, Oxfam is peddling not feminism in its training, or rather indoctrination programme, but anti-feminism.
All women are vulnerable to rape and other forms of male violence and feminists fight hard to ending this while also recognising the many differences between us.
In suggesting white women are "racist" or harm black and marginalised people when they speak out about rape is nothing more than a warning for them to shut up.
Julie Bindel is an English radical feminist writer and co-founder of the law-reform group Justice for Women