The Women's Prize has issued a statement saying 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".
The clarification was provided after writer Akwaeke Emezi, who identifies as non-binary, said on social media they would be required to provide information on their "sex as defined by law" by organisers. They were longlisted for 2019's prize for their debut novel Freshwater (Faber) but under the new terms and conditions will not be able to enter new novel The Death of Vivek Oji (Faber).
The prize emphasised it seeks to celebrate "the experience of being a woman in all its varied forms". However, organisers confirmed that "anyone who wishes to enter must also be legally defined as a woman or of the female sex to be able to do so". The two key documents required to demonstrate this are birth certificate or a gender recognition certificate.
The policy means transgender women who have yet to legally change their gender would not be able to enter. In 2018, the government revealed that only 4,910 people had legally changed their gender since the Gender Recognition Act came into force in 2004. Individuals who identify as non-binary would only be able to enter if legally their gender is female.
Joanna Prior, chair of trustees for the award, 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. 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."
Emezi said on Monday that the Women’s Prize had informed their publisher, Faber, that "the information we would require from you regards Akwaeke Emezi's sex as defined by law", strongly criticising the policy.
"Forget about me–I don’t want this prize—but anyone who uses this kind of language does not fuck with trans women either, so when they say it’s for women, they mean cis women. And yes, this does mean that them longlisting [Freshwater] was transphobic," Emezi wrote on Twitter.
"It’s fine for me not to be eligible because I’m not a woman! But you not about to be out here on some ‘sex as defined by law’ like that’s not a weapon used against trans women."
The Women's Prize said in the aftermath of Emezi's longlisting in 2019 that it was "working to formulate a policy around gender fluid/transgender/transgender non-binary writers to provide clarity for the Prize in the future".
Reaction to the Women's Prize's stance has been mixed, with reaction ranging from those who welcomed its inclusion of trans women to those who took issue that the prize doesn't allow for self-identification, requiring verification of sex by legal documents, and to those who strong criticised the admittance of any trans women to the prize at all.
One comment on the announcement read: "Why say you unequivocally welcome trans women for the prize and then in the same breath define a woman 'legally' or by 'female sex'? if you support trans people - why bring law and sex, both used to invalidate our identities, into the conversation at all? Genuinely don't get it."
Another said: "Have a separate prize for transgender women, by all means. But keep the Women's Prize for women. Women authors deserve that. Women's rights were hard-won, and you're giving them away."
"Honestly horrified by the bile this has received," came opinion from another camp. "A welcome and overdue clarification that goes a small way to addressing some of the transphobia in this industry."