Impact spoke to Students’ Union (SU) Womens’ Officers, Nina and Krishna, about what they been doing for the last six months. They told us about harassment policies, campus sexism and their controversial womens’ networking events.
What have you been up to since last September?
Krishna: Quite a lot of stuff. We started off with Fresher’s Welcome Week, and the week after that we had a play. We had an outside company doing The Incredible Adventures of Clown Slut and that was really well received.
Nina: The play was interesting because it was about the sexism that women face at uni and as freshers, so we tried to put that message out there. We’ve been trying this year to open the network up more and try and get more people involved, so we had our first meet and greet where we explained what we do and what the network is about.
“Lots of women feel like there are barriers in the way when they go for positions of leadership in the uni, whether that be SU Officer or JCR President.”
We did a workshop and we’ve had regular socials where we’ve showed films such as Africa Rising, which is about FGM, and Made in Dagenham. We’re hoping to open the network up a lot more by having campaigns meetings to get people in the network to not just come along to socials but to get them doing things. We’ve been quite involved in the community this year- there was Reclaim the Night in November….
Krishna: We brought a bunch of people with us and had a banner making session so that was fun.
“There’s a very small proportion of JCR Presidents that are women – that’s always been the case – so we’re trying to change that.”
Nina: We’ve also got some main campaigns we’ve been working on this year. One of the ones you might have heard of is the Women in Leadership campaign. Last semester we spent a lot of time having one-to-ones with people. Lots of women feel like there are barriers in the way when they go for positions of leadership in the uni, whether that be SU Officer or JCR President.
There’s a very small proportion of JCR Presidents that are women – that’s always been the case – so we’re trying to change that because I personally feel that university should reflect a future society that is going to be more equal. If at university we haven’t got women in a position of leadership, that’s not very encouraging for our future society.
“We identified a few major things that were barriers and often they were related to confidence and public speaking.”
Krishna: We spent a lot time having one-to-ones with people, understanding what their problems are and what encourages and discourages them from running. We also interviewed people who were in positions of leadership to find out what they faced, such as problems in their committee.
Nina: We identified a few major things that were barriers and often they were related to confidence and public speaking, so we put on a whole week of workshops which covered different skills to develop women who are thinking of running for positions.
We’ve got a Twitter with the UoN Feminists to highlight that sexism isn’t OK.
Krishna: We also made an inspirational video to showcase the women in leadership that we do have, which has been really well received. It’s nice to see women in positions of leadership because it encourages women to do things that they might not necessarily have done otherwise. We’re also doing a Lad Culture campaign, so we’ve set up a survey and we’re planning out what we’re going to do after we’ve got the results of that.
Nina: We’ve got a Twitter with the UoN Feminists to highlight that sexism isn’t OK. It’s inspired by the Everyday Sexism project and we’re trying to get people to tweet in their experiences of sexism on campus or in the city to help us gather evidence of Lad Culture on campus. We’re also planning a campaign for students with care responsibilities, who are predominantly women. We’ve found some quite shocking statistics about how students with care responsibilities are held back from their potential. Around 50% of them drop out of uni, which is really shocking. At the moment we’re in the process of rewriting the Zero Tolerance motion.
“We’ve found some quite shocking statistics about how students with care responsibilities are held back from their potential. Around 50% of them drop out of uni.”
Krishna: We’re making it a wider motion which will involve the BME network, LGBT and the other part-time officers.
Nina: We’re putting that through this year and that will hopefully go towards stamping out all kinds of harassment, because the one we had before is only about physical sexual harassment. We want it to target verbal sexual harassment as well. Another thing we’ve got this year is The Zine in collaboration with UoN Feminists.
Have you experienced any difficulties with the position since you started?
Nina: I think as a part time officer naturally it’s difficult to balance your studies. It’s been really great being able to do it as a job share this year and I would really recommend that.
There have been some negative responses to your Women’s Networking Events, even from women. Do you think that there’s some difficulty in getting women to accept these initiatives as a positive thing?
Nina: I think it’s definitely an issue that a lot of people are not aware of the fact that society’s still so unequal. Technically women can still get into these roles but there are so many culturally engrained things that prevent them from doing so.
Krishna: There’s a big barrier. I think what we’re trying to do right now is show that it’s hard but they can do it. I think getting the word out about the network is quite difficult. We’ve tried quite hard this year but it’s a struggle.
Nina: I think it’s a shame when people don’t receive these things very well, because ultimately, all we’re trying to do is campaign so that women can be equal to men and have the same opportunities. It’s an illusion that women are equal to men now and I think that people need to realise that and stop denying it. I think that a lot of people are afraid to admit that they believe in equality, really, which is quite strange sometimes.
Have you seen an increase in student participation this year?
Nina: I think there’s been a huge resurgence this year of interest in women’s issues and gender equality issues, but the interest always drops off as the year goes on because people get more and more involved in their work. However, I would say that compared to last year and the year before there’s definitely a lot more interest.
Do you have any advice for candidates running for next year?
Nina: I would definitely say come and have a chat with us. Just find out more about the role because it might not be exactly what you think it is and there are other things that go on with the role that you might not know about.
Krishna: People have an idea about what we do but there’s a lot more to the job outside of the events that we run, so have a word with us. We’re more than happy to talk to people who are willing to ask.
Nina: Also, just go for it, there’s nothing to lose. It’s an exciting opportunity and you get to meet so many people.
Do you think that there could be any changes made to the role in order to support you more?
Nina: I think there could be more support available for part time officers, especially because a lot of us have so many things we want to change and so many ideas and it’s like a political position. It’s good to have support because it is very difficult when you’re balancing it with your studies.
Krishna: Saying that, I think there’s been a definite increase in support this year. For things like the video, I feel like we wouldn’t have been able to do that two years ago.
Nina: I also think it’s being aware that all the different departments in the SU are there to help…
Krishna: And using them as well.
Senior News Reporter
Image: Magda and Toby
Women’s Leadership video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVSf1HnB2d0
The Zine: https://www.facebook.com/ArtemisZine