It's Monday morning and I've woken up beaming. Why, you might ask?
This week women’s hard won rights have been thoroughly attacked, with abortion debates dominating the mainstream media. It's left me asking, "who gets to speak for women?" A quick search on the BBC News site shows an entire page of retroactive comments and opinion from men, including Alex Neil, David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt, before a short video from Clare Murphy of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service rears its informed head. Still beaming?
I have also been made aware of just how much women students have been subject to harassment on campus and in their halls since Welcome Week. Social Junkies, a club promoter, have been judging women students and marking them on their perceived 'sexiness', and Carnage are promoting a 'Pimps and Hoes' pub crawl, reducing women to little more than objects to be purchased for sex. A quick glance at the pictures from the events that have already happened around the country gives an idea of how the evening works. One picture shows a women student with "mouth slut" scrawled over her back, while a man with her has "virgin slayer" in the same handwriting. These activities combine to reinforce the message to women students, many of whom who are in halls and have moved away from their home and their families for the first time in their lives, that their only worth is as sexual objects for men. Furthermore, it plays on the vulnerability of young men too, by attempting to reinforce that their social value comes from treating women this way, and that the only way to garner any respect is by being a LAD.
Lets not romanticise pimps. They are men who threaten the lives of the women they force to work for them, and they use a variety of methods, including threats, coercion, sexual and physical violence, to maintain control over prostituted women to ensure they continue to provide sexual acts for clients for their own financial gain. Are these messages that commercial promoters keep reinforcing to us so that we'll keep attending their events and making them money really ones that we believe in and that we should be getting behind?
The list goes on. George Osborne has announced £10bn cut backs to the welfare state, cuts which the Fawcett Society has proven disproportionately affect women. George Galloway is allegedly suing the National Union of Students for passing policy not allowing him to speak at their events because of his comments about rape. Open up any newspaper and you will see a slew of articles about how women's rights are being eroded, or their voices ignored with dire consequences. If you've picked well, you'll see a naked woman on Page 3 instead. Who needs to listen to our voices when you can just look at our breasts instead?
But the reason I'm beaming is that, in the face of this, women at the University of Manchester are insisting that our voices are heard. Thanks to our Zero Tolerance to Sexual Harassment policy which was passed last year, a number of contract workers have been removed off site for sexually harassing women students. While it is never a good thing that this is going on, the changing attitudes of site managers and other workers towards this is really heartening and shows how the Students’ Union can work in partnership with outside organisations to effect change on campus. In conjunction with this, the Exec Team are currently working on developing a consent campaign. We know you talk about sex, but we want more people to start talking about consent too, and how to have healthier and safer sexual interactions. We'll be starting by coming out to halls, but if you're an at home student or live elsewhere and would like to take part in the sessions, let us know.
All of this is driven by student-led campaigning and activity, and that's the other reason I'm beaming. Next Monday, on the 15th October at 5.30pm in Club Academy, we're having a Creative Planning Session for the Women's Campaign. There is such an exciting buzz around the Campaign, and the great things we can achieve this year, so I'm bringing everyone together to have their say, blast out ideas and get creative! You don’t need to bring anything except yourselves, and your ideas. There will be refreshments, creative activity, and at the end of the session, we will have a clear idea of what the Women’s Campaign will look like this year. You’ll have made some new friends and contacts whilst being amazingly productive too!
After this, The Women's Campaign is heading to London on the 24th October to join other women's groups, and awesome speakers, such as Shami Chakrabarti (director of civil rights lobbying group, Liberty) and Frances O'Grady (incoming General Secretary of the TUC) in a feminist lobby of Parliament. I'd really like as many of you to come and join on the day, so if you're interested, vsit the facebook group here or just drop me an e-mail.
So, of course I'm feeling positive. The Women’s Campaign at Manchester Students’ Union is buzzing this year – we’ve got 40+ people turning up to each event - men and women, new faces and old. We have 6 dedicated societies and a whole load more delivering events and campaigns related to women's issues. As the well-known phrase goes, ‘Through adversity, comes opportunity'. Students at Manchester care about equality, and in rallying against on-campus and media misogyny, comes a strong, vibrant and really active Campaign, ready to come together and fight back against these attacks on our rights and our safety. Every day in the Union, I meet amazing women who are doing inspiring things within their societies, the University and the local community. I'm really proud of the brilliant events and campaigns that you're all leading and I'm so excited about the coming year!