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‘Women should treat themselves with the respect and confidence they deserve’: An interview with Cara Mahon

She’s running for Women’s Officer

With experience as a consent champion at uni and of empowerment through burlesque, Cara Mahon is one of the candidates for Women's Officer at the Sheffield SU elections this year.

In The Sheffield Tab's latest election interview, Cara told us about her experience, bouncing back from negativity about burlesque, and her plans for a sex positive, liberated, and educated Students' Union.

What’s motivated you to run for this position?

I think for my whole life I’ve been grown up to support women’s rights and in school especially I found myself caring more and more about my peers’ education particularly to do with sexual health and I organised quite a few assemblies in my school to teach to people my age about the importance of knowing your body, feeling confident as a woman, and treating themselves with the respect and confidence that they deserve.

Your campaign is very sex-positive – tell us more about this.

With regards to sex there are two main things I want to publicise. The safety of sex doesn’t easily fall into one category so I want to organise a sexual health awareness week which firstly promotes the sexual health services but also gives a platform from less hetero-normative sexuality and gives us a chance as students to explore. If a student felt the way they were feeling or thoughts they were having weren’t normal, it would show us that they were normal and discussing sex is a way to stop it being taboo when it’s something everyone’s thinking about.

On the other side of that is consent. Sexual violence and sexual safety is so important and I was working as a consent champion last year and I think we have a really good system in place but we can push it to be even better. So I don’t think it should just be focused just on first years but it should be a university wide experience. We could do university wide lectures at the start of each year so that everyone is having these consent conversations in their degree.

Opening up this conversation means hopefully people feel more comfortable talking about sexual assault and comfortable helping others who have been through sexual assault, and we need to be vocal as that’s a really important way to de-stigmatise it.

What have you got involved in during your time at uni?

I’ve worked as a consent champion which gave me a really good insight into our students’ understanding thus far of consent, so I got to meet a lot of first years and discuss their ideas about consent and in general I was quite shocked actually at the level of understanding so that’s something I feel has impacted my want to get into this role. And it also gave me the training of knowing how to discuss consent with people and knowing what actually needs to be done.

Also I am a member of the burlesque committee and I think this has massively shown me how important it is to be sex positive and even the consent issue I’ve found with burlesque. People are so quick to judge, to say it’s a sexual form of work and it shouldn’t be appreciated, but actually it’s a different platform to express ourselves and explore our sexuality. And I’ve faced many derogatory comments as a burlesque performer but I’ve stood up to that by continuing to do burlesque.

I did a burlesque routine around consent and sexual violence so I think they’re very interlinked and I learn a lot about different people’s experiences. After the performance I did, I found out about so many people’s experiences of sexual assault, and it just reinforced that it’s so important as an issue.

What do you think the SU needs to do more of to protect women?

Obviously about consent and things like that, but I think the sexual assault disclosure form specifically needs to be made more visible to students so people know exactly where to turn if they’re in a difficult situation. The services there aren’t known about and if it was put somewhere easier to access that would really help.

Only 6% of sexual crimes on campus on average across the UK are reported, which is very low. And we also need to work with societies like FemSoc and also societies that aren’t directly to do with women to get the conversation out there.

Also similarly on that point along with the consent conversations it’s really important that students who aren’t female who identify as any other gender are made to feel more comfortable coming forward about sexual violence. There’s this myth that it’s only females who experience sexual assault but it’s people from all walks of life, and there’s no shame in having been a victim of sexual violence.

Anything else?

One thing that I would like to say is that my campaign is very sex focused but the other thing I want to implemented if elected is women in STEM subjects. I am a STEM student and I have 26 contact hours a week. It’s a very male dominated field and I sometimes feel like we need inspiration from academics in our own university to make us feel like we are as strong as we are and it can be as difficult to have that work/life balance but I think there should be a really tight knit support group for women in STEM.

Hopefully I can reach out to academics in the university, female researchers in my department for example, and hopefully they can inspire female STEM students so they can be successful.