Two interpretations of the Leadership and Representation policy are being considered by SUSU, including only being allowed to vote for people of your own gender.
The policy, passed at the AGM, was a divisive issue within the Union at the time, with three newly elected sabbatical officers speaking against the gender balancing as drafted by two outgoing sabbs.
I don’t agree with this policy, because if the type of genitals you have or how you choose to define yourself is a bigger factor than simply capability to do a role, this goes against the entire principle of elections. The real question is would anyone want to be elected to their position over a better and more popular candidate simply because they were the opposite gender? Since the policy came through the AGM, it’s here to stay – barring another general meeting or a referendum.
I spoke to Femsoc vice–president and vocal supporter of the gender balancing policy, Tom Coole, who believes the AGM did the right thing:
I’m really pleased that this proposal did pass and is being implemented, and I think it has the potential to be a big step forward for gender equality and the position of women in SUSU. Obviously, in an ideal world, there shouldn’t be a need for this policy, but I think this policy being in place in the present will encourage more women to come forward, make them feel that they really can influence things, and eventually there won’t be any need for gender balancing in the future.
A document sent to democracy zone members, seen by the Soton Tab, sets out two possible interpretations of the policy, one of which would prevent SUSU members voting for representatives of the opposite gender.
The document also considers the issue of gender identity, warning that candidates would be required to “explicitly define as either a man or woman” and that “electors [could] represent themselves as defining into a gender with the […] purpose of disrupting an election.”
This will obviously have implications for candidates and voters who may not wish to – or feel able to – identify as one gender. Okay, it’s a small minority, but not one anyone would wish to alienate from the democratic processes of the union. Tom is also concerned about this aspect:
What bothers me most particularly is the need for people to self identify as either male or female, and I think that is particularly problematic because it does reinforce the gender binary and, as noted, could make things difficult for people of other genders. I think this is a weakness that perhaps should have been considered when the proposal was written, and I think it’s going to be difficult to iron out.
Tom also raised concerns about the idea of only electing candidates of your declared gender:
I’m not sure I like the idea of running distinct elections with certain positions just for women and men, I think that could just reinforce the idea that women aren’t good enough to compete with men.
While this is true, I think a more significant issue is that it would suggest that people of one gender can’t and shouldn’t be expected to represent the views and needs of people of the other gender. This is the true heart of the issue for me. There would be minimal change to the actual candidates elected (if these rules had been in place last year, only one faculty position would have changed hands, for example) but it will do damage to the mandates of those elected under the new SUSU system.
Tom, on the other hand, feels that the positive outweighs the negative.
This whole gender balancing thing certainly isn’t perfect, but I’m sure, like all good policies, it will be organic and evolve, and it is certainly a step in the right direction.
What do you think of these changes to SUSU elections? Let us know in the comments.