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.
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.