Swansea University Students’ Union is in turmoil after an apparent breach of Union policy during election season.
The publication of a candidate’s manifesto that was deemed offensive and discriminatory towards women has led to a call for an investigation into the matter.
A series of complaints were made to the current Women’s Officer and the original manifesto was removed from the Students’ Union website and replaced by the new version which was changed by the Union. However, the original manifesto remained on the online version of the official student newspaper for three full campaign days until its replacement on Monday morning; causing confusion and anger for those who accuse the Union of allowing the publication of degrading and discriminatory material, thereby breaching official Union Policy.
Concern was also raised when the manifestos of the 21 other candidates running for positions in the 2012 elections were removed from the Students’ Union website for an entire day to allow the replacement of the controversial one; potentially damaging campaigns by removing them from the view of other students.
The original manifesto stated that the candidate intended to:
- Open a hotline, whereby women across campus may call [me] anonymously to talk about relationships and sex.
- Open workshops and drop-in sessions to discuss and practise new recipes.
- Recipe of the Week and Cleaning Tip of the Week will be published.
- Co-orperate with the Sports Officer to help women understand the offside rule.
- Give friendly advice and distribute pamphlets about contraception, abortion and pregnancy.
- Stage protests to boycott dishwashers nation-wide as they attempt to alienate women.
- Abolish the role of Women’s Officer and replace it with ‘Equalities Officer’, as the current position only identifies women. Equalities Officer will over-see the issues of female, black, LGBT+ and disabled students. Every inequality should be addressed- not just one. Black, LGBT+ and disabled students are currently under-represented and unheard in this position. If you elect [me], [I] vow to represent these people with integrity, respect and urgency.
Complaints were made about several aspects of the original manifesto, including the fact that it was potentially traumatic to victims of sexual abuse and assault, and also that it would be detrimental to the work of the current and previous Women’s Officers.
“I spend most of my time in the kitchen; a woman’s natural habitat. I love to cook, clean, bake, iron, cross stitch, knit and, most importantly – tend to my other half’s every need. Looking after sick animals is also a passion of mine as I just adore cute and fluffy creatures! Bless their souls. If elected I intend to impart the virtues of my feminine attributes to women across campus regardless of bust size, hip size or shoe size. No one will leave my office without a sandwich.”
The 100 word version of the candidate’s manifesto published online by the Waterfront, the official student newspaper
– “That it will not publish or make use of any promotional material that degrades, unjustly hurts or discriminates against the identity of its members.”
– “That it will not display promotional materials from outside organisations, that degrade, unjustly hurts or discriminates against the identity of its members.”
Two of the “Union Resolves” points from the “Equal and non-discriminatory promotion within the Union” Policy
Steph Lloyd, Women’s Officer for NUS Wales, voiced her opinion that the Students’ Union had made a grave error in publishing the manifesto.
“This candidate should not have been allowed to release this manifesto and should not have been able to produce another less offensive one which could result in her gaining votes from students who are unaware of her true intentions if elected. The publications of such materials contravene the policies that SUSU upholds and I find this blatant breaking of the rules by the deputy and chief returning officer disgraceful.
“Allowing this candidate to run is not only detrimental to the current Women’s Officer’s tireless work but also to that of the entire Women’s movement. The candidate’s original and offensive manifesto not only proposes to remove the position of Women’s Officer but also provides a vile set of sexist comments that both degrade and oppress women students and further promotes rigid gender roles that only seek to hinder the rights of women and push us back into the ideology of the 1920’s.”
National Women’s Officer for NUS Estelle Hart said: “I’m really disappointed that the SU have decided to let a candidate with views that are not only backwards and offensive but totally contradict the Union’s core values remain as a candidate in this election.
“It’s remarkable to me that she has not been ejected and I think that those who made the decision need to ask themselves some serious questions about whether they should remain involved in the student movement, as they clearly don’t understand its underlying principles.
“As a former Swansea University student I am ashamed of the inaction of my former union and that sexism and misogyny are allowed to run rife there.”
Jennifer Krase, a student at Bangor University and member of NUS UK Women’s Committee, also commented.
“The decision to publish a sexist manifesto for a candidate running for Women’s Officer lies with the Returning Officers, who should be responsible enough to disallow it,” she said.
“The ROs [Returning Officers] have a duty to work with candidates to ensure their aims get across to students in a manner that does not contravene the elections rules, undermine the democratic process, or offend and marginalise students. “Ironic” sexism, much like “ironic” racism, LGBT+ phobia, and ableism, is something that SUSU needs to combat, not encourage.
“If there is a problem with students engaging with the Women’s officer, then it needs to be addressed- but other candidates have managed to raise that issue without writing sexist manifestos and undermining the existence of the Women’s officer position.”
The candidate in question has also been accused making a homophobic remark at a Union event on university premises. Speaking with the recipient of the alleged remark it was made it clear that they were unsatisfied with the lack of action taken by the Union.
“As the recipient of a homophobic insult I am unhappy that even after an investigation the candidate is still being allowed to stand as a Women’s Officer candidate because the allegations were ‘not proven’. Candidates running for any Officer position would be familiar with the University’s policies, especially those covering equalities.
“All Officers deal with students who have a wide range of often difficult issues. A Women’s Officer during her term in office will inevitably be confronted with issues of sexuality and to be able to support students a non-judgemental and supportive attitude is essential. How can someone who has been accused of a homophobic remark be suitable for such an important position? I am also aware that the candidate’s manifesto is controversial in that it does not promote a positive image of women. This does not give a good impression of her abilities as a candidate coupled with the complaint.
“Although I am disappointed in the fact that the student has not been dismissed as a candidate, there is still an active official complaint within the University’s internal procedure so I cannot as yet comment on that as a decision is yet to be made. I have also made an official complaint to the Hate Crimes Unit of South Wales Police.
“I was at the University on the day of my complaint working for an outside organisation. I have made extremely good links with the University and current Women’s Officer in my role as a Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Coordinator and to encounter such a remark against me, although upsetting, has been an isolated incident. I hope that the situation will be concluded soon to my satisfaction and to uphold the strong equalities policies that the university holds.”
A university spokesperson released a statement that read: “The Students’ Union’s Returning Officers sought independent advice from NUS and the University regarding a manifesto submitted by a candidate and have followed guidance given by these organisations in how best to proceed.”