From no women running for LUSU President, to a woman elected – a year of #lancswomenlead

A year ago this week, Lancaster University Students’ Union (LUSU) Council adopted a policy highlighting our campus’ poor record in electing women. A group of us had been moved to action because at the close of nominations in 2013 two of our six full-time officer positions, President and Vice-President Union Development, had no women candidates. As we worked to understand the history of women’s representation in LUSU, we learnt another disappointing statistic. Students at Lancaster had only elected five women to be President in the history of the students’ union.

The policy we wrote called on LUSU to develop a better understanding of the barriers that excluded women from our union and to do something about it. A resolution officers and activists of LUSU took seriously. Aided, no doubt, by the National Union of Students prioritizing women in leadership as a campaign for the year as well.

At the 2014 full-time officer elections there were women candidates for every position. When the results were announced women’s representation in the full-time officer team held steady at two out of six, and we are celebrating the election of our first woman President in 10 years, and the sixth in LUSU’s history.

We know that our #lancswomenlead campaign contributed to this. Women involved in the campaign actively encouraged women to run, and then provided both emotional support to candidates and practical support to campaigns. We know we made a difference, because one candidate acknowledged at hustings that part of her reason for running was the awareness our campaign had raised. And we saw the issues we were raising reflected in candidates’ platforms.

We’re grateful to each of the women who contested the elections, anyone of them will tell you that it is hard work and not a little bit scary to put yourself forward as a candidate. Unfortunately, many of them will also tell you about the gendered abuse and harassment they recieved. Which, of course, brings us to the work still to be done.

iwantlusuto - have more women presidents

A woman President is a wonderful thing, but we don’t want to wait another 10 years for the next one. Next year would be good. I keep telling people about the students’ union at James Cook University who not only elected a long line of women presidents, but two in a row named Terri, one of whom has just been elected to the Australian Parliament.

Our campaign is not just about electing women as full-time officers. We want to

  • challenge the culture that still overwhelmingly equates ‘leader’ with a stereotypical image of a straight, white, man and through sexism and harassment seeks to bully women back into stereotypes of what a ‘good’ woman might be, and
  • support women to demonstrate and develop their leadership in our colleges, in our clubs and societies, and through activist campaigns.

We know there are many on campus who would like to be part of this campaign, and if you’re reading this and would like to be part of this work going forward please leave a comment wherever you’re seeing this blog.


Come and join the conversation about women’s leadership at Lancaster University?

Did you know that only 5 LUSU Presidents have been women? Or that only 12 out of 42 full-time officers since 2007 have been women, and 6 of those in the last 2 years.

LUSU isn’t the only democratic organisation that struggles to recognise & fully utilise the leadership talents of women. We see this weakness replicated in parliaments across the world, and recent research from the United States demonstrates women’s experiences at university shape their future engagement in political and civic organisations.

A group of women and men have started a conversation about the barriers to women running for election on campus, and what we can do to lift those barriers. If you would like to join this conversation, we would like to invite you to join us on at 7:30pm on Tuesday 4th February in Bowland Lecture Theatre 2 for a screening of the film Miss Representation followed by a purposeful conversation.

Miss Representation is an award winning film which draws on academic research, personal stories and striking examples to highlight how the media’s portrayal of women contributes to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence.

For more details for the event and to rsvp.

Turn of the Year Musings – Part 1

The turn of the year is often a time for reflection and making plans for the future. As a second year Phd, working toward a minimum time completion, in the next twelve months I’ll need to be making decisions about where to go next. Forward to new fields, back to old haunts. But the question really is – where is the best place to stand to do the work I want to do, and preceding that, what is the work I really want to do.

Change the world, is a given, but how to do that. The career I’ve already had has given me opportunities to work with individuals, institutions and entire national systems, in both the public and community sectors, alternatively focusing on education or gender – but how do I think change really happens and where do I believe I can make my most effective contribution?

How big a risk am I prepared to take to get to where I think I could make the most difference? I’ve been reading Bourdieu, and the idea that you unknowingly trim your goals to fit your chances resonates with me. But my interest is in changing chances, creating opportunities for young women who weren’t brought up to challenge the status quo to recognise, and then demonstrate and develop their capacity to lead social change. So, I should try and start with me. Without hedging my bets what is the work I really want to do, and where do I believe that work can best be done?

No answers today, and one of the critiques of Bourdieu’s work is that despite his engagement with practical politics, social change is not central to his model, so I wonder what critical theory might offer me, and how to blend it all with feminism? Clearly, to be continued…..

Talking women’s leadership in the student movement

Yesterday I had the privilege of joining 130 other women at NUS UK’s first women in leadership conference. It was amazing. I’m still processing it, but already I can see the difference it is going to make personally and to both my professional hats – research student and feminist activist.

Personally, as I’ve said before, it is always refreshing to spend time with other women committed to changing the world.

As a doctoral student my research is about young women’s leadership in social change organisations and so I’m invigorated by the stories of action and the possibilities for collaboration. I’m looking forward to further conversations with the NUS UK to see how I can help.

And as a activist who started the week wondering whether I had the balance right between practice and reflection, it was the icing on the cake in a week where there has been rewarding movement on a bunch of projects I’ve been chipping away at over the last year.

So having started the week on a bit of a low, I end on quite a high. Excited to enact the plans made on the way home with Emily and Rachel, the female full-time officers of at Lancaster University Student Union, and ever more determined to see my research work find practical outlets.

And, in the spirit of Thanksgiving – I note my thanks to the conference organisers, the inspiring speakers and talented facilitators; my student union for giving me the opportunity to go to the conference; and the amazing student and women’s movements who have been, and remain such an important part of my life, and do such inspiring work.

An ode to the wordprocessor and ‘cite-while-you-write’

Like many Phd students I’ve spent my summer writing, discarding, recovering, and re-writing – and right now I have to say – I just don’t know how anyone did this before the word processor and ‘cite-while-you-write’.

I know it was done and I’m sure that with trial and error, students who had to handwrite, or type their manuscripts must have come up with strategies for coping, but I just can’t imagine what they were. Although, one of my sister students is currently rewriting a chapter by cutting it into strips and using sticky tape to put it back together – so maybe I have a hint.

photo courtesy of Lula Męcińska

photo courtesy of Lula Męcińska

A fortnight ago, I had a couple of thousand words that I really didn’t like, but today I’ve read them again and they’re not so bad. And they’re definitely better than looking at a blank space headed ‘methodology’ where they used to be. Of course, they still need work, but they probably don’t need discarding. So, I cut and paste them out of the old document, and into the current version. Then moments later, the document refreshes, the references do their thing, and the bibliography magically expands still in alphabetical order.

Even with the best of handwritten/typed strategies, I’m guessing the word processor and ‘cite-while-you-write’ make the process a whole lot easier.

Everyone who wrote out their Phd longhand and had it typed, or typed it up themselves – I’m impressed.

Building Summer Writing Habits

While the undergraduates have gone home for the summer – to holidays and summer jobs – it seems research students see the summer as an opportunity to make new habits and meet ambitious writing goals.

In the same week as Phdforum launched its virtual writing retreat, the sociologists on campus went on a physical retreat and although I didn’t participate in either it’s been interesting to see the ripples from both activities.

According to their website, the Phdforum virtual retreat was so successful they are going to open the virtual doors in the first week of each month.

It also seems like the sociologists had a very productive two-day retreat. I’ve bumped into folk around town who are still writing for three sessions a day and another has set up a facebook group to keep up the momentum.

The facebook group is an interesting space: through the day people announce their writing intentions, invite others to join them, and report their progress. I wasn’t on the original retreat, but having been invited to join the facebook group and feeling that my summer writing goals were somewhat ambitious I found myself responding to a call for a 5:30am writing partner.

Now, it may seem odd to write at such an early hour, but for my writing partner it is the time before her children awake, and for me it harks back to earlier days as a part-time law student with a busy job and passionate volunteer commitments. Then getting up to study for a couple of hours each morning before leaving for work, meant it didn’t matter what craziness happened in either my paid or volunteer activities, or how exhausted or busy they kept me – I had done my study for the day.

For me life is simpler these days, I’m still a passionate volunteer, but I’m in the lucky position where being a Phd student is my job. However, I’ve still found writing without a hard deadline difficult to do.

Therefore, I’m writing for an hour at 5:30am each weekday morning. Knowing the first thing I’ll do each morning is write. It will very rarely clash with anything else, and I’ll start each day having put words on the page. And it is surely easier to edit a page, than to look at a blank one.

Plus if I can make this early morning writing a habit over summer, then 5:30am is early enough that even after term resumes it’s early enough that it will still fit before teaching or meetings and should be able to become a long-term habit.

Even after just a few sessions, the mix of repeated action, and accountability to my partner meant that even though the alarm clock failed to go off this morning, I still woke up and was ready to write at 5:30am.

Plus I’m excited about writing each morning!

What strategies are you using to write over summer?

Response to: Today’s young women have betrayed feminism

Today’s young women have betrayed feminism‘ reads the headline of Yasmin Alibhai Brown’s article in the Independent on Monday 17 June 2013.

I appreciate headlines allow little space for nuance, but really? Surely, this argument is old, tired and sloppy. And more importantly, I’m not sure it’s helpful.

The last time I felt the need to write about inter-generational issues in feminism was 2011 was for Gillian Pollack’s International Women’s Day blog. Then I justified my need to comment with the excuse ‘I’ve been cranky about this for about 15 years”, but Yasmin’s article defines young as women between 20 and 40 years of age, so apparently I’m still part of a generation (or two) ‘proud that they dissed and dumped all we fought for.’

As someone who came of age as a feminist under a conservative government in Australia I certainly didn’t ‘dump’ what my foremothers had fought for. Instead it often felt we were trying to hold back the tide. And while defensive campaigning might bring with it the passion of desperation, I’m not sure it’s the same recruitment tool as the exhilarating win.

Perhaps my ire has been deliberately raised by Yasmin’s sub-editor, looking to boost circulation, as the article does recognise ‘there are always exceptions’ but we exceptions are dismissed in the very next phrase ‘but what matters are the common narratives and those, alas, are regressive and anti-women’. Although June’s Observer didn’t seem to think so when it invited us to ‘meet the new wave of activists making feminism thrive in a digital age‘.

So, I return to the question of ‘what is the benefit of writing such pieces to the women’s movement?’

It may stir a few women like me to write blogs that, at best, will be read by our Facebook friends, but few of us will get the circulation Yasmin does, or become part of the public record on young women and feminism.

Rather than blaming younger women for ‘squandering’ the achievements of feminism, would it not be more useful to ask what we can do whether as individual feminists, or feminist organisations to ensure we reach out to more women, of all ages, to engage them in the continuing work of the women’s movement?

I’m not sure that any feminist can claim that in her generation all of the women are feminists. So, there is work for all of us to do. But please remember, not all young women are new to feminism, and not all experienced feminists are older women. Women can be new to feminism at any age, and we should make sure we are always looking for ways to engage new women in the movement.