As candidates for YUSU elections are revealed, I’m filled with a sense of niggling disappointment. For 2013, there are women standing for three out of the five full time sabbatical positions. Across the board, though, numerous positions are dominated by male candidates, and the hope of the 56 per cent of students that are women being adequately represented in the union is strikingly slim.
You might ask why this is an issue. Women can’t be forced to stand, so if they don’t want to, why bother addressing the problem? Yet this question just highlights the unfortunate misogyny that is inherent in the University. From sexist messages on Spotted to the criticism WomCom came under for trying to protect their society last year, women are frequently subject to scrutiny and judgement simply for making themselves heard. These problems, sadly, permeate in to later life, as is evident in the disproportionate number of women in our parliament – of all MPs, less than 25 per cent are women.
It is, I believe, for reasons such as these that many women are dissuaded from running for high profile positions at the university. As such, it is not a simple case of ‘women not wanting to stand’, rather, many lack the confidence to run for such positions simply because of the male-dominated nature of the union and because of the cruel gender-centric comments which women are often subject to. It is for these very reasons that encouraging women to stand in YUSU elections is so important. If more women were elected in to YUSU, female presence is more prominent in the union, which increases representation and creates a stronger female voice, which in turn, might well encourage more women to stand in the elections in future.
It is interesting to consider why students seem fairly comfortable with a totally misrepresentative union in terms of gender. It’s high time we question why we aren’t encouraging more women to stand in the elections. It’s easy to fall in to complacency in terms of previous patterns of candidates, but when there have been more joke candidates for YUSU president than women candidates, you know it’s time to address the problem.
If anything, this year’s candidates have only reaffirmed the importance of the position of women’s officer. While I wouldn’t be in favour of enforcing a quota of women for each YUSU team, it is important that we see more women in our union. The position does mean that we are guaranteed at least one woman in the union each year, however sad it is that we have to have a role to facilitate this. Until we see as many teams of all-women sabbs as all-men, long live the role. The means in which we get more women in to YUSU is what’s important.
There is plenty that can be done to tackle the lack of female involvement in the union. First and foremost, more women need to be encouraged to run for positions in YUSU. This could be through assertiveness and public speaking workshops, support from relevant liberation bodies, and generally increasing the confidence of women in student politics. This could well make for stronger campaigns from women candidates, which could result in more women being elected. Once this is achieved I truly believe that more women would be inspired to run for YUSU positions themselves. YUSU is the student’s union, and until its officers truly represent that student body, there is scope for action.