As you may or may not already know, I work within a Students’ Union. These organisations are charities and are external organisations to the University they are affiliated with. As a result Students’ Unions are not governed by any of the university rules, policies or regulations even though most of a unions funding will tend to come from the university! Students’ Unions are ran by the students themselves and are democratic organisations. Every year around this time, elections happen, students put themselves forward as candidates and call on the rest of the student population to elect them as student body representatives for the next year.
Its an amazing experience and one of the best jobs I have ever had the pleasure of doing. I won’t go into the ins and outs of what the roles involve, because that’s not what this blog is about. I want to talk about the issues surrounding support offered to female students to help them and encourage them to stand.
This comes off the back of my own work in the democratic services department at my current employer and from a facebook status update made by the President of the Students’ Union I use to be the Vice President for.
The first comment got under my skin, the poster had taken something that was clearly just an attempt to encourage more women to stand, thus helping increase the representation of the student body, and then twisted it to put a negative light on it. They were reading this from an anti feminist stance and seeing this status as an anti male comment. After some backing and forwarding between myself and a couple of other posters, the below comment was made by the same poster as the first comment.
At this stage I wasn’t sure if the comment was serious or if they were just “trolling” the thread to try and get a reaction. It was clear they hadn’t read any of the previous posts that had outlined the intent behind the status and the positive support it had received from other comments. The debate then spiraled off with many valid points being made, but unfortunately a handful that were based purely on the anti feminist perspective.
Most of those who commented from this angle were missing the point of this status, especially the one regarding it being sexist. If I was still the VP of the union and had posted that status, they would have a hard time making the label of “Sexist” stick! The status wasn’t about the SU only wanting women to be presidents, it was about equality and encouraging more women to put themselves forward for positions of leadership.
A woman wont necessarily win, its a democracy at the end of the day and people will vote for the best candidate, be that male or female! But for there to be equal chances for the under represented group, we, as employees of students’ unions need to encourage those to stand. If year on year people only see white able middle class men standing for the position it become entrenched that its a white able middle class male post and other groups wont put themselves forward.
The second people stop looking at comments like this from an “Anti Male” perspective, it should become clear they are not an attempt to fix an election so only women win president. Instead they are trying to get more women use to seeing females standing for and getting into the post.
I could go into more detail about other under represented groups, such as LGBTUA+ and Disabled groups and what could be done to help support those and the mine field that comes with encouraging them to stand for election but that would be another blog all together.
After being accused of “patronising women” during this comment thread because I was a male speaking out for female representation issues, a good link to a blog was posted by a member of the University staff. Up until this point I had always shied away from using the word “privilege” when getting into these debates, as I fall into the category of being privileged myself, but this blog post explained the angle my comments and the original status update were coming from perfectly:
The reason why more needs to be done in the area of encouraging women to stand and more support needs to be offered is that while 56% of the UK student population in both FE and HE are female, only 38% of students’ Union presidents are women. This isn’t a case of positive discrimination, this is about leveling an uneven playing field that goes in favor of one gender over another. All i can say, is if you are a woman and you are considering running for a student election, go for it!
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