A motion put forward by a YUSU member which proposes changing the role of the Women’s Officer into a Gender Equality Officer and the Women’s Network into a Gender Equality Network has sparked controversy on campus.
The motion, proposed by Union member Gareth Bennett, has been put forward as one of two issues to be decided by a referendum under YUSU’s Bye-Laws between Wednesday Week 8 and Monday Week 9.
Bennett stated that he put forward the motion: “To raise the need for the representation of the views and issues that affect male students that at present do not have any representation within the union.”
However, the motion has received criticism with those opposing the motion asserting that it would subordinate the concerns of women.
In an email Cat Wayland and Nell Beecham, YUSU Women’s Officers, who are leading the campaign in opposition , stated that the motion: “Alleges the false premise that men and women are equally affected by gender inequality, when in fact women as a power minority have been and remain systematically disadvantaged compared to their male counterparts.”
Commenting further, Bennett added that he was aware that, “the motion has been wrongly perceived as an attack on women”, and that he felt the NO Campaign had “failed to fully understand the intent behind the motion.”
In what looks like an attempt to address the negative reception of the motion, it has been amended with the added stipulation that the roles of the, “Gender Equalities Officer(s) are to be held by two people; one must self-define as woman and the other must self-define as a man,” thus guaranteeing female representation in the role. Prior to this change, the motion was not gender specific.
In response to the amendment, the NO Campaign has expressed further discontent with the fact that: “There will also be a man stipulating the terms and conditions of women’s liberation.
The No Campaign has also argued that the amendment is transphobic as it restricts anyone who self-defines outside of the gender binary.
Attempts to mount support against the motion have been successful according to Wayland who said that, “by and large, support has been very good.”
The motion has received support from students at the University of York also, with some regarding the current role of Women’s Officer, which is open to women only, as a form of positive discrimination.
Matt Ravenhall, a York student, commented that he supported the motion as, “[the role] in its current form, denies men the opportunity to officially fight against sexism in all forms and to vote for those who represent the students.”
He added that the passing of the motion “will enhance the committee and pave the way for real, progressive campaigning for true gender equality.”
Despite this support, the role of Campaign Coordinator for the YES Campaign remains open.
Questions have been raised about the legitimacy of the proposed referendum, with some suggesting a violation of YUSU’s Bye-Laws under which it is proposed.
Emma Brownbill, LGBT Officer, tweeted that, “ByeLaw 9§10 requires @yorkunisu to give 10 working days notice of referenda motions. It hasn’t. This referendum is accordingly out of order.”
However in a blog post Luke Sandford, Union Chair stated: “As the delay has not changed the time available for debating and campaigning on the issue, and most importantly voting, Democracy Committee has agreed to keep the timetable of the referendum as it was published.”
A motion was also submitted to twin YUSU with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and to lobby the University to do likewise. York was joint 121st with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in this year’s Times Higher Education Authority’s rankings of the world top 200 universities.
Both these motions will be debated on Tuesday week 8 before voting opens the following day.