The Ladies in Politics Society (LIPS) was launched recently, aimed at encouraging women across campus to get involved in student and national politics. Opening speeches from its founders informed members that the society would hold workshops on public speaking, play host to prominent female guest speakers, and help to increase awareness of women’s issues around campus.
Madeline Spink, co-founder of LIPS, said of the event, “It’s really important that women have the confidence and motivation to take part in political arenas which are often very male dominated. Hopefully, LIPS can encourage more women to get involved in societies, YUSU, and political life after university.”
The launch event was held in the Student Centre and attended by Kallum Taylor, YUSU President, Bob Hughes, Welfare Officer, and representatives from various political societies.
LIPS got me thinking about how important it is to have a society that encourages self-identifying women to take more of a stand in student and national politics, and that it’s about time that confidence workshops were on a political agenda. As a fairly politically minded person myself, I felt obliged to attend a meeting that not only gave me lip-shaped sweets but also the knowledge that I wasn’t the only woman to have ever thought I sometimes wasn’t being taken entirely seriously because, well, I’m a woman.
It’s easy to assume that anyone who’s interested in politics can get involved; we live in a free society after all. And they can. The problem starts once you realise, as a young woman, that you have opinions but they’re not taken as seriously as someone of the opposite sex. Perhaps it’s because we still don’t have an equal gender ratio within government (or in YUSU for that matter), perhaps it’s because our society is still inherently quite sexist; either way women seem to get a raw deal of it when it comes to being taken just as seriously as men in politics.
Alex Osborne, co-founder of LIPS, stated that the student body consists of around 8,900 women (which is 56 per cent), but shockingly only an estimated 20 per cent regularly attend Politics societies and that in recent years, there have been more joke candidates for YUSU President than there have been female ones. At first I doubted that the statistics could be so staggeringly low. Isn’t university supposed to be that time when you get overly-keen on just about any issue because there’s a society offering biscuits?
According to LIPS, the reason that women across campus appear to be so apathetic isn’t because they necessarily are, just that they don’t feel they have the confidence – or tolerance from others – to speak up and attend events. It seems to make a lot of sense when you consider the fact that the majority of political societies are heavily male dominated. I have to admit however that feeling intimidated in serious discussions isn’t always down to the fact that I’m a girl, half the time it’s because I have no idea what I’m really talking about (anyone with Monday morning seminars would surely agree with me here, regardless of gender). But the situation is different when you know you’re not being taken seriously in a situation, political or not, just because of your gender and it could just be one of the most degrading feelings you can imagine.
Young women shouldn’t be made to feel alienated from societies, nobody should, they have a voice and it’s only fair that it’s heard as loudly as the rest of the group. It’s easy to see how it could sound a little far-fetched to say that girls feel intimidated every time they want to say something serious or political, but Osborne listed examples of women feeling that their gender put them at a disadvantage in certain societies, and this is simply not acceptable. Sometimes we underestimate how important it is to help people speak out confidently, and seeing as we have these issues across campus. A focus upon young women through LIPS is a great way to do this.
It’s fundamentally important for women to feel they are able to be involved in politics at any level and by providing workshops on public speaking and advice on how to deal with intimidating circumstances, LIPS has promised something that schools and government should be actively encouraging. Helping more women engage in politics can only be a good thing, sending a clear message to say that they should be taken more seriously in their opinions at debates, in university societies and in political participation at large.