Campus is a microcosm of the outside world. It’s made up of all the groups we find around us in the world outside the university bubble; therefore it has within it the same tensions, politics, alliances, discrimination, and power dynamics. One group of people within society who face discrimination are women – despite being a numerical majority women remain a power minority. You’ll find that reflected in campus life, this is why, among the other liberation campaigns, YUSU has a dedicated Women’s Officer and Women’s Committee. This important office is currently under threat from a referendum to have it replaced by a Gender Equalities officer who will have no gender restriction placed upon them. It might sound good and equal, but in fact it represents a dangerous shift away from the reasons Women’s Officer exists.
Women on campus have a range of issues to deal with which are related to them being women. Take a look at the kinds of campus and YUSU endorsed events that are advertised year on year. Recently we had the York Uni Inbetweeners Malia Party in which women were encouraged to wear as little as possible and everyone was going to be ‘knee-deep in clunge’. Nice. So we have the objectification of women for the pleasure of men.
Women still face a greater fear of walking home in the dark and of experiencing sexual assault. Campus is not always or everywhere well-lit and this problem needs tackling by those who understand this fear to the full and indeed the possible outcomes. Women’s Committee is also a place for campaigning on the facts of University scholarship that mean women are underrepresented in particular subjects and will earn less than men after leaving university despite having the same qualifications. Women’s Committee reaches out to raise consciousness about global issues which may be affecting women on campus, or that people should know about in their wider lives: FGM is a topic which Women’s Committee has engaged with last year and will continue to do so this academic term.
Women’s Committee then is trying to raise awareness of discrimination against women and do what it can to the campus environment to change attitudes, perceptions, and actions that go against the health, safety, rights, and representation of women. The attempt to move away from this group to create a Gender Equalities group is an attempt to push women’s issues away from the limelight. In a society where women are the ones at a disadvantage, having a committee dedicated to their (our) promotion is vital, just as is a group for LGBT, black and ethnic minorities, and disabilities.
Further to this, Women’s Committee is the place women can come to ask for guidance and support in matters of pregnancy, abortion, sexual assault and rape, etc, and for practical service matters such as request for more sanitary bins. These are issues which affect women predominantly and the lived experience of being a woman in this society cannot be underestimated for those who seek support from this group. A man cannot always provide the same support, however well-intentioned he may be and women may not feel able to come to speak to a man about certain of these issues. Imagine asking a white person to represent BME groups on campus. The point of the welfare side to the group could be entirely undermined: we need women representing women.
If other welfare groups on campus were being threatened in this way so that they would cease to exist for the function they were created, would you not feel a sense of anger? Women’s Committee has been set up as it is, in name and function, for real reasons. It has point and purpose.