With news just in that NUSNC has lost the only woman in the race for President, I’m left wondering: why, historically, don’t women run for Presidential positions? And is this necessarily a bad thing?
At my home uni of King’s, KCLSU has only seen three female Presidents in the last 90 years. But – at least for the last three years – we don’t have the problem of women not wanting to run. NUS fare slightly better in the number of female Presidents in it’s history, with the most recent female president, Gemma Tumelty, serving a two year term. However, 7 in 90 years is still not anything to shout about. Liam Burns noted that it ‘remains a badge of shame’ that NUS’s first female President took the role only in the 1970s.
But it is NOT not for want of trying. Ladies just don’t seem to want to run. In 2011 no women ran, 2010 saw a close fight between Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Aaron Porter and another male candidate, whilst 2009 was a two man race. Even looking back over the scant archives, whilst there may be a woman’s name here and there, overall there are simply more men – totally out of sync with the actual demographic of students.
So what can we learn from the situation? Is it a bad thing the NUS has not had many female leaders? First of all, all being equal and all, for me Presidents, or any Officers, should certainly be elected on their policy rather than their gender identity. If their gender has informed their policy, well, that’s when things get complicated I suppose, but you should still be able to read manifestos blind, and vote for those who speak most to you.
I would argue that we can clearly see now more than ever that more needs to be done to encourage women to run in the first place: unless we just assume that women don’t want to run, and I for one refuse to believe that. We need to do more to discover what holds women back, or, on the other side of the coin, why we lose intelligent, brilliant women from the student movement, because they’d rather get on with high flying jobs. Student Union roles need to be seen as both attainable, and desireable for everyone… but that is a whole other topic looking at the true perceived effectiveness of unions. I digress. Back to what the NUS can do, whilst the work of the NUS Women’s Campaign has been doing fantastic work for grass roots activism, I look forward to more sessions for all women students in the vein of the ‘I WILL… Lead the Way’ http://www.nusconnect.org.uk/news/article/womensrepresentation/I-WILL-Lead-the-Way-for-Musliim-Women/ programme, which looks like an excellent start for Muslim women. But we need more of this for all women.
And it’s not just the NUS’s responsibility of course. More work need to come centrally, pushing local students’ unions to do more to encourage their female students to run in Sabbatical elections (and not just for the Welfare positions [not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with that]). Practical ideas are needed… any suggestions?