Rachel Hodgson, President and a founding member of the Feminist Society, gives her views on women’s issues in the manifestos of this year’s election cohort.
The absence of a Full Time Women’s Officer on the Executive committee next academic year raises the question as to what will happen to the Women’s Rights movement at Swansea University. The role of the Women’s Officer is a crucial part of a wider support network for women students on campus; they provide a safe space for students to go to if they need help or support with any issues that are affecting their mental wellbeing, and their overall quality of experience at Swansea.
Some of the work that past Women’s Officers have done include, but are not limited to:
- The implementation of a campus wide Zero Tolerance policy towards sexual harassment against students
- Securing lights in Singleton Park
- Annually taking students to NUS Women’s conference to give students a chance to represent our University in the fight for Women’s Rights on a national level
- The implementation of a free night bus to allow students safe travel home from after a Wednesday night out
- The successful passing of a motion to ensure that Lad’s Mags are no longer sold in Students’ Union run stores
- Organisation of an annual student attendance at Reclaim the Night in Cardiff to give students a chance to take a stand against sexual violence
- Supported students who have been victims of sexual harassment and violence whilst at University
- Aided other liberation officers in their campaigns across campus
In lieu of everything that past Women’s Officers have achieved throughout their time in exec, it does raise the question as to whether the presence of Women’s liberation will remain on campus. Looking at the manifesto points of all the current candidates running for full time officer positions on next year’s exec, it’s a safe assumption to make that assimilating the role of the Women’s Officer into any of their remits, is not something that has gained much focus. A worryingly low amount of candidates have included liberation issues in their manifestos, with only six candidates, out of a possible nineteen, specifically mentioning liberation issues.
This year saw the founding of the Swansea University Feminist Society
It is worth emphasising that the loss of our Women’s Officer has come at a time when Women’s Rights activism upon campus’ is only growing larger; with events such as One Billion Rising, Reclaim the Night, and the Red Tent, as well as an insurgence of Feminist Society’s, Women’s Working Groups, and Pro-Choice societies across the UK. With the prevailing rise of lad culture, Page 3 tabloid newspapers, rape culture, sexual objectification of women and domestic abuse, it is understandable as to why students across the board constantly make a stand in protest against the mistreatment of women in our society. The NUS Hidden Marks report that was released in 2010 was the first ‘nationwide report into women students’ experience of harassment, stalking, violence and sexual assault.’* These shocking statistics revealed that one out of seven students experienced a serious physical or sexual assault during their time at university, more than one third felt unsafe on university grounds during the evening, and over two thirds had experienced some kind of harassment on their campus. With being victim to this kind of behaviour being viewed as an ‘everyday occurrence’** for many women students across their campus’, it would arguably stand to reason that officer candidates would address these issues in their manifestos.
However in terms of Women’s liberation issues, these are never mentioned in any candidates’ manifesto – an absence that is not only of great concern, but one that arguably isn’t that surprising given that the position of the Women’s Officer has never received a lot of support at Swansea University. However, candidates have specifically mentioned supporting International students within their manifestos, and as such have included points that work to assimilate the role of the International Officer into their remit. Whilst I of course recognise how important the role of the International Officer has been at Swansea, it does raise the question as to whether it is seen as a more important position than the Women’s Officer?
Ultimately, with the absence of a Full Time Women’s Officer, the women’s rights movement on campus will suffer. Although there will hopefully always be student led events and campaigns; such as the phenomenal FashionAid event held in celebration for International Women’s Day, it will be a lot more difficult for students to mobilise together on campus without a lead figure to rally behind for support.
By Rachel Hodgson
*NUS Hidden Marks, 2010, p3
**NUS Hidden Marks report, 2010,p3