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August 12, 2013 | by  | in Opinion |
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The McCourt Report

A woman’s place is at the University:

VUWSA has a proud history of advocating for the radical notion that women are people. From the days of Rosemary Barrington fighting for the first crèche in the 1960s, to the debate about quotas in politics happening this Monday at 5.30, feminism has a home at Vic through VUWSA.

At the recent Women in Politics discussion hosted by the VUWSA Women’s Group, the President of the UN Women National Committee, Rae Julian, remarked how a room full to the brim like the one she spoke to would have been unheard-of ten years ago. To me, that says progress. That says that feminism as a movement is on the way back at this campus.

That we concern ourselves with questioning the barriers and particular challenges that women continue to face in politics, and opportunities generally, shows that we are fulfilling our duty to be the critic and conscience of society.

At a local level, it’s the job of student representatives to look at the barriers and particular challenges women face in coming to Vic, engaging in a fantastic student experience and attaining success in their studies.

One such issue that disproportionately affects women is the poorly lit paths around the Mount St hill and cemetery, and the Boyd-Wilson–Terrace area. Not only are these pathways unsafe through lack of lighting, the Mount St paths are also unsealed and can become muddy and even less safe in winter.

Every year, VUWSA hears complaints from students, and runs our Campus Safety Audit that confirms for us just how unsafe these paths are. Some students are even assaulted using these routes. Every year we complain to the University and the Wellington City Council, who share different responsibilities in the areas. Every year the paths remain unsafe.

It’s not good enough, and this year VUWSA is vigorously pursuing a result from VUW and the WCC. Last week I met with one of the latter’s officers to show him the accessways in question. I also met with Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, who said we could expect results before the elections in October. While I know I shouldn’t get my hopes up, I do look forward to the time where women from Vic feel safe enough on our paths to spend that extra hour studying on campus, or to join that club that runs just after the last bus. I hope that time is 2013.

Many people think about universities—with our higher than average rate of female enrolment and completion—as places without discrimination against women. Myths like this make it hard to tackle the issues that do exist, and some of them are significant. Take, for example, the fact that about 64 per cent of tertiary staff on casual contracts are women, well above the number of women working in the industry. Or that women make up only about a quarter of all senior-level staff at universities (such as Associate Deans and above).

Are students much better in our representation of women? Well, yes. Usually. Across VUWSA’s massive Class Rep system, there is a fairly even split among males and females. However, our Faculty Delegates are one group where women seem to be lacking at the table. The VUWSA Executive is another body that fails to live up to a basic minimum of 50-per-cent women. Shamefully, only three of our ten-student Exec were women this year.

Where do these differences between women in the classroom as reps, and at the boardroom as reps, come from? We know that women do equally as well, if not better than men, in student elections.

The problem actually lies in having women putting themselves forward for roles in the first place. Applying some of the research that’s out there to our context; it’s clear that adversarial elections, subconscious differentialism and a lack of good networks around prospective representatives combine to produce a system with high barriers on entry for female students. VUWSA has to take on its duty to right this wrong. Sonya and I will be developing a Student Representative Equity Strategy that will ensure a good spread of representatives in classes, Faculty Boards, Academic Committee and Academic Board who are from Māori, Pasifika, students with disabilities, international and postgraduate communities. At least 50 per cent of these reps will be women.

This is the first time that we’ve truly taken on this issue, and it might not have been possible before the strengthening of our Class Rep system in recent years.

I’ll also be looking at what constitutional changes need to be made to ensure there is a woman running for every position in the VUWSA General Elections.

Before those changes come, there are some very simple things you can do to help lift women’s representation: if you’re a woman, apply to be a Faculty Delegate or run in the VUWSA elections; or, if you’re not a woman, encourage your female friends and whānau to give it a go. Nominations for the Vice-President (Welfare), Education Officer and Publications Committee positions are open until 12 August.

I hope you have a wonderful Women’s Week. Grace and her team have put a lot of work into it, along with Matt, our Equity Officer.

Take some time this week to have a think about the things I’ve raised here, and to attend the range of events on offer. Take some time to be radical.


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