Following Pi’s interview with women’s officer candidate, Kirk Sneade, we speak to Beth Sutton, current women’s officer who is running for re-election, and her campaign manager Annie Tidbury.
Do we need both a women’s officer and an equality officer?
We absolutely do need a women’s officer, just as we need a black and minority ethnic Students’ officer, a LGBT+ officer and a disabilities officer. All four liberation groups require representation. Having an equality officer is pointless; it’s a vacuous position and has been replaced with more effective and representative positions. There are 13,000 female students within UCL, how can one person target their needs as well as the needs of BME students, LGBT+ students and disabled students?
I’m aware that people are beginning to question the need for a women’s officer but where were they when we suggested making the position full-time at the women’s forum? Where were the Facebook and twitter complaints? Why didn’t people like Kirk Sneade run a ‘no’ campaign during the referendum on UCLU governance changes (which closed on February 6)?
What do you aim to achieve?
All my aims can be found on my manifesto at http://uclu.org/election/spring-elections-2013/candidate/bethany-sutton but I would have to say my main two would be: working with the NUS women’s campaign on increasing funding for carers in higher education, of which women make up 58 per cent according to a 2009 study. I have worked with the NUS women’s officer in the past, and if she’s re-elected at the NUS women’s conference next Thursday I would work with her, or whoever is elected, to facilitate this. This is a huge job since it would involve policy change within government, and I’d like to speak to liberation groups across the UK to help achieve this.
Secondly, I would set up free and accessible childcare working with the postgraduate officer and forum as well as Mothers in Academy who are UCL students campaigning for this.
Why should you be elected?
Kirk Sneade is not a legitimate candidate, there’s no point in discussing him. He has never been to the women’s network forum or the gender and feminism society. He has never been involved in, or showed interest in, women’s issues. For a man to run as women’s officer is absurd because they do not experience the difficulties women do on a day-to-day basis.
Helen Chandler-Wilde simply doesn’t have enough experience. She hasn’t been involved with feminist campaigns, partly because this is her first year at UCL. Like Kirk, she hasn’t attended the women’s forum. She also withdrew her name from this statement http://ucluwomensnetwork.wordpress.com/ issued by both of us after she was criticised for it. The statement calls for Kirk and his campaign manager Mark Stander to withdraw Kirk’s candidacy and for both to attend sensitivity and equality training, which the union offers for free.
Are women underrepresented or disadvantaged at UCL? What do you think the main problems facing women in the UK are?
I think women at UCL do face problems. During the pro-choice campaign in January, 2012, I spoke to many students on campus who disagreed with bodily autonomy and who voiced sexist views about the right to choose. After speaking to them, some did change their views or at least accepted that though they wouldn’t choose abortion, others should be able to access this. This should also stand for evidence about why we need a woman’s officer!
There is also the proposed closure of the Gower Place Health Centre which would reduce female students’ access to reproductive services.
Women also aren’t offered suitable childcare options at UCL. Childcare starts at £57 a day which is simply unaffordable for many students.
I also think women are subject to harassment as result of the ‘lad culture’ perpetuated by certain male students at UCL. A good example being the recent allegations made against the men’s rugby club, even if only a minority were involved. There is an NUS report coming out next Wednesday about ‘lad culture’ within universities which should make interesting reading about the problems women face.
More generally, government cuts, in particular to the NHS have had negative consequences for women’s healthcare. There has also been a real backtrack by the government on women’s reproductive rights with MPs such as Nadine Dorries advocating a lowering in the abortion time limit.
I also feel that there is a growing culture of rape apologism in which sexual violence is allowed to continue. The fact is that 1 in 4 women will face or have faced domestic abuse and many feel that they cannot report it.
Ultimately I feel that we need to re-learn sexism, instead of accepting misogynistic acts as the norm.
Is there sexual harassment on campus and what should be done?
It is hard to know how much harassment goes on at campus. As mentioned, many women feel they cannot report such occurrences because they will be ridiculed or ignored, particularly if it occurs within a club or society where the majority might turn on them. I would like to facilitate weekly walk-in surgeries, feeding back to the education and campaigns officer where women could report occurrences of harassment and discuss any issues they may have. The surgeries also will allow me to advise students about is best for them to contact in terms of advice and support.
I’d also like to develop a strong working relationship with union bar and security staff so harassment can be easily reported to them.
Do you think that your dialogue with Kirk Sneade has made you seem confrontational?
I consider myself a very approachable person and I want to make it clear that absolutely anyone can come up to me to discuss anything that might be troubling them. I definitely did confront Kirk because I am passionate about women’s rights and he is making a mockery of them. People walked out of a union breakfast meeting because of the views he was espousing and because he likened his ‘struggle’ to that of communists in Nazi Germany! I will continue to oppose him, particularly as he has seriously offended so many members of liberation groups. Him and Mark Stander (his campaign manager) only issued an apology after we pointed out that their future employability might be tarnished by their stunt. He has grievously offended the transgender community by self-defining as a man but running for women’s officer. His knowledge of liberation groups is so scant however, that he doesn’t realise how offensive he is being.
To anyone who sees me as unapproachable, please talk to me and please read my manifesto and see what I’ve done. I am a feminist – that does not mean I hate men. I want equality between the sexes which is a view that I imagine most of you share.
What would be your final message for our readers?
Oppose hate speech, support liberation!
Beth has added that you are welcome to contact her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/beth.sutton.167?fref=ts or tweet her @Beth_Sutton