Tag Archives: young women

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.

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.

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.

Merit vs fair representation is a false dichotomy

Today, NUS UK is debating a motion to introduce quotas for women on student union delegations to national conference, and within a number of the bodies elected by the national conference. There is information from the pro-campaign here http://fairrepresentationnus.wordpress.com/why-gender-balancing/

I’m not at the conference, but delegates I know opposing the motion seem to be framing it as ‘merit’ vs ‘equality’. I’ve just written a long post on Facebook about why I don’t think measures to address women’s under-representation are anti-meritocratic, and as I’ve now written versions of it a couple of time, I thought I’d post a version here for more general consumption.


Framing the debate on the introduction of quotas for women within NUS UK as ‘merit’ versus ‘equality’ is a false dichotomy.

A ballot elects the nominated candidate who receives the most votes. On the other hand, merit selection processes should consider the knowledge and skills of a candidate against those required by the position. However, research shows that even merit processes often fall short of being gender and race blind.

I’m confident our campus student population includes a number of women who have the skills and knowledge to be excellent members of the voting delegation. So, the complete absence of women from the voting delegation either this year, or last, isn’t a question of merit. It’s about something far more complicated – the role and status of women in our communities.

A recent (US) study identified five factors that contribute to college age women being less likely than college age men to even think about running for public office.

  1. Young men are more likely than young women to be socialized by their parents to think about politics as a career path.
  2. From their school experiences to their peer associations to their media habits, young women tend to be exposed to less political information and discussion than do young men.
  3. Young men are more likely than young women to have played organized sports and care about winning.
  4. Young women are less likely than young men to receive encouragement to run for office—from anyone.
  5. Young women are less likely than young men to think they will be qualified to run for office, even once they are established in their careers.

Thanks to the Women & Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School for sharing the research. There is a short write up of the research here http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/blog/2013/04/02/where-are-the-women-candidates/ (and the five factors summary is the Boston Magazine’s) and the short article links through to the full study.

NUS UK introducing quotas for women’s will not address all of the complicated issues that underpin women’s under-representation in civil society. However, it will create a powerful pull factor to keep student unions focused on ensuring that qualified women candidates run, because student union’s will not want to send delegates to NUS who lack the skills to represent their students. 

Yes, there are some student unions, including ours, who might do work on this issue without the fair representation measure, but student unions are busy places and the fair representation requirement will help to ensure that addressing women’s under-representation in student unions remains a focus of our work.