Women need a Women’s Officer

Changing the name and set up of the YUSU Women’s Officer position is not going to help women on campus, it is necessary to have women representating women in order for their issues to be fully represented

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.

6 comments

  1. Just worth mentioning: “and will earn less than men after leaving university despite having the same qualifications” – not true. While there is still a pay gap in most age groups, this gap has now reversed for recent graduates with women earning more than men.

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  2. “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.”

    The amendment means that ‘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’.

    I don’t understand why there shouldn’t be a both a Women’s Committee and a Men’s Committee. The Women’s Committee could continue to promote their important campaigns, but may be able to make them more effective by engaging with men. Of course, men are able to get involved with the Women’s Committee (though not hold any positions within it), but there are many *women’s* issues that would be well served by encouraging and supporting an official Men’s Committee to engage with them.

    It would likely be more effective to deal with things like ‘the objectification of women for the pleasure of men’ if men were encouraged to discuss the social pressures they may feel they are under to express sexist views and compete for social status. This would complement and enhance, rather than oppress, women’s rights.

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  3. @ Matt:

    I’m sure you didn’t mean it as it sounds, but this “The Women’s Committee could continue to promote their important campaigns, but may be able to make them more effective by engaging with men” sounds awful.

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  4. 1 Dec ’11 at 2:07 pm

    Rachel Thwaites

    @AE Thanks for that. Women graduates in their twenties now earning 1.7% more than men; reverses again in their thirties. Yet all the comments on the news articles are outraged – it’s funny how it works like that, when women still earn less than men in general. Hopefully one day we’ll all actually just follow the equal pay guidelines regardless.

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  5. @ Rachel Thwaites

    Your so called article is a sexist rant.

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  6. “Imagine asking a white person to represent BME groups on campus.”

    As a member of the absurdly-coined “BME” group, I take not inconsiderable fucking issue with this insultingly patronising notion.

    The very *point* of any Equalities officer is in the name- to remove the barrier to entry. I see absolutely no reason why a White person should be prohibited from taking a leading role in any racial equalities organisation- having white skin doesn’t in any way preclude strongly held anti-racist principles.

    The fact that I’ve, thus far, only heard this argument put forwards by effusively self-righteous WomCom members depresses me. Whilst making a case for a Women’s officer is at least somewhat grounded, racial discrimination in terms of eligibility for the Racial Equalities officer position strikes me as almost offensively self-defeating. Ethnic minorities don’t, by and large, face discrimination on racial grounds in York- what discrimination takes place tends to be almost entirely along cultural lines.

    How much better placed would a fully-integrated, culturally entirely British black officer be to deal with issues affecting Chinese international students than an officer identical in every regard beyond the colour of their skin?

    I’ve regretfully voted against the Gender Equalities Officer motion on the grounds that the status quo is, practically speaking, a more practically effective institution to deal with women’s issues on campus. The men can more than look after their own- particularly considering the immense structural bias in our favour.

    But to hear Racial Equality brought up time and time again as an analogous case?
    Piss off- the lot of you. Your sanctimonious molly-coddling’s part of the problem.

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