Faber associate publisher Louisa Joyner and publisher Alex Bowler have appealed to the Women's Prize to "revisit" its new rules around eligibility "to consider the lived experience of now excluded writers".
Whilst welcoming the Women's Prize's inclusion of transgender women in its clarification of eligibility this week, Joyner and Bowler labelled the new policy–which renders a previously longlisted writer, Faber author Akwaeke Emezi, effectively ineligible–"not sufficient" because it relies on a legal definition.
The Women's Prize issued its statement on Monday (5th October) clarifying that eligibility for the prize extends to "all women" where a woman is defined as "a cis woman, a transgender woman or anyone who is legally defined as a woman or of the female sex".
In a blog for Faber, Joyner and Bowler gave credit to the statement for showing a "clear attempt to now include transgender women" which was "a fitting step from a prize that has always worked to bring marginalised writers to readers’ attention". However, they criticised the prize's reliance on legal definition, explaining the process for a transgender woman to attain legal recognition could take "years" while the UK's "outmoded" laws in this area also fail to formally recognise people identifying as non-binary. As such, they said to lean on such laws was "a shame" and they hoped the prize would "revisit" its rules before the next submission period.
They wrote: "Our view is that the rule changes are not sufficient, because they rely on legal definition. We believe the gender recognition laws in this country are unfair and outmoded, as they are in other English-language nations. It is a shame to lean on them in any literary award’s criteria. It means, for example, that a transgender woman, who under current law has to wait years for legal recognition, will write their work as a woman but not be eligible for the prize.
"The law also offers no recognition of non-binary categories, so any writer of fluid identity is now excluded from the prize entirely. The law also conflates all people born ‘of the female sex’ as women, erasing any person who was assigned female at birth and is not a woman.
"We hope the prize, a progressive cultural institution of such power, which over its proud history has done such measurable good for equality, will again revisit the rules before the next submission period, to consider the lived experience of now excluded writers."
Emezi was longlisted for the prize in 2019 for their novel Freshwater, but under the new terms and conditions will not be able to enter new novel The Death of Vivek Oji for the Women's Prize.