When student bureaucracy goes wrong – men banned from the women’s committee

“Working together resolves problems, not segregation”: the controversy of a female-only women’s committee

As far as student unions are concerned, committees are places for groups of people to discuss issues around a certain topic and how to solve them. The international student committee discusses the problems international students might face and how they can be solved. The LGBT committee discusses the problems LGBT people may come across and the way to overcome them. The women’s committee discusses the problems women might have and how to tackle them.

I’m sure you get the idea. So why does that last one differ from the others?

The Tab recently reported that the new women’s committee in the University of Lincoln Students’ Union would be strictly women only – unlike its LGBT and international counterparts (you can still turn up at either of those committees regardless of your birthplace or sexuality).

 

Every student I’ve talked to on the subject finds this genitalia-based exclusivity ridiculous, but their council representatives voted for it.

It’s also worth noting that, unlike international students (10% of all students) and LGBT students (percentage unknown*), women technically aren’t a minority at the University of Lincoln. That’s not to say they can’t experience sexism or unequal treatment, but it does make you wonder how necessary a committee, especially a solely female one, really is.

Student gender graph

The gender split at the University of Lincoln compared to other universities (Full data: The Guardian / UCAS)

Men will be allowed to turn up at the women’s committee if they have the permission of the chairwoman, but the problem with this is it gives the chair too much power. Are you a man with an opinion the chairwoman doesn’t like? Well, your student union doesn’t want to represent you.

It was proposed that, for equality’s sake, there ought to be a men’s committee. However, this suggestion – which, curiously, was made by a woman – was batted away, and rightly so. An SU men’s committee wouldn’t have anything to discuss apart from how they’d all been friendzoned this week.

Lincoln Students' Union building as it appeared 26/02/2014

But who wouldn’t want yet another SU committee?

I find the idea that we need either a men’s or a women’s committee quite perverse and backward. People can be interested in and campaigning for LGBT rights if they’re not gay / lesbian / bisexual etc., and the same goes for British people in international circles. These groups seem to understand that working together resolves problems, not segregation, whether that segregation is self-imposed or not.

The contradictory argument to this is to say this committee will be “a safe space for women to speak”. While that seems nice at face value, it presumes that women can’t be safe around men, reinforcing the sort of fear and misunderstanding that’s almost certainly one of the biggest divides between the genders. It also implies that an environment where everyone is allowed to move and speak freely isn’t “a safe space” and shouldn’t be trusted.

Lincoln SU with cloud reflection

This bit of SU blue-sky thinking doesn’t really work very well

I don’t think this is some sort of feminist conspiracy, so you can save your tinfoil hats for another time. Yet these also aren’t the actions of a representative students’ union. With the SU leadership in transition, will the controversial women only committee be reformed?

* According to LGBT rights charity Stonewall, there is no “student sexual orientation monitoring” at the University of Lincoln.

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University of Lincoln equality lincoln students union