In the past year, the Women’s Network has gone from strength to strength. With a multitude of events appealing to a wide range of female students, there has been an encouraging expansion of student awareness of the Women’s Network, the role of Women’s Officer, and the importance of recognising and representing women’s issues within the SU as a whole. So what does the future hold for the Women’s Network, and, more specifically, for the role of Women’s Officer? Impact spoke to Women’s Officer candidates Rose Bonner and Jennifer Ingram, and current Women’s Officer Rosie Tressler, to find out. Unfortunately, Aimee Bailey, the third and final Women’s Officer Candidate this year, was not available for interview.
Rose Bonner claims that the Women’s Network has played a significant part in inspiring her to run for the position of Women’s Officer. Not only have some committee members been “instrumental” in encouraging her to run for the position but she believes the Network has also provided her with the “essential experience” needed to be successful in the role of Women’s Officer.
Rose believes that the Student’s Union has represented women well this year, particularly in the support given by the SU Exec for a video encouraging women to stand for positions in the SU elections, created by current Women’s Officer Rosie Tressler. However, Rose comments, “progress still needs to be made, because ultimately the current SU Exec is dominated by men.”
Furthermore, although the representation of women has substantially improved, Rose still feels that as a whole, the majority of students do not know enough about the role of the Women’s Officer, the activities of the Women’s Network or women’s issues. She believes that some students still have negative pre-conceived ideas about the Women’s Network as well as the role of Women’s Officer. From her own experiences promoting the Network at the Refreshers Fair, she found that students were initially sceptical, “some students even laughed when I suggested joining the Network”, she claims. It is interesting to note however that once she informed them of the great events, campaigns and workshops that the Network organises, students became significantly more interested.
Rose ultimately hopes to broaden the awareness and representation of women’s issues by running more campaigns and using the contacts offered by the National Union of Students (NUS) to organise more workshops. Rose also hopes to continue to increase the number of talks given by inspirational women, if elected.
Fellow Women’s Officer Candidate Jennifer Ingram claims that her interest in women’s issues began long before University in the form of strong female role models whilst growing up. This demonstrates a key issue surrounding the Women’s Network and other female support groups as well: students most likely to join are those who already have an appreciation for the issues in question, and would probably already consider themselves feminists. Ingram wants to change all this and make the Women’s Network more available to all, creating a “real network” of women around campus who are aware of, and can relate to, each other. “We need more people involved”, she claims, bolstering this ambition with manifesto pledges to establish one-to-one coffee meetings and more group events. She wants these events to be interactive as much as possible, so that women can get to know each other while learning. This year, outreach events, such as all-female self-defence classes, allowed a new group of women to be introduced to the Network and visits from professional women outside the university, like Lilian Greenwood MP, gave a wider context to many Women’s Network issues.
Ingram feels that women’s issues are generally well represented by the SU and believes that the women of the campus feel empowered but that this empowerment “does not always translate into representation” within SU politics. The number of women running for positions needs to increase and Ingram plans to aid this with more events and workshops, citing the success of public speaking events this year in empowering women.
Ingram is also keen to focus on networking with other societies, and is particularly proud of the upcoming Women of Faith debate, involving various female member of other university groups. She also plans to continue the work the Network has done this year on domestic violence, claiming “women need to be educated before they leave into the big world”. In the past the Network has made donations to ‘rapecrisis’, and Ingram is considering sending volunteers to help out in the future.
Current Women’s Officer Rosie Tressler feels proud of her achievements as Women’s Officer, and is optimistic for the future of the Women’s Network. Tressler has particularly appreciated the “diversity” of the audiences that have attended the numerous events she has organised throughout the academic year, which included careers events, focusing on women working within the media and in academia, a ‘Women in Politics’ speaker event, featuring local Labour MP Lilian Greenwood, and ‘V Day’, an event in support of the struggle to prevent violence against women, which raised an impressive £500.
In terms of student awareness of the Women’s Network and Women’s Officer, Rosie feels that students on University Park campus in particular have certainly displayed greater awareness. “People on campus have actually heard of the events we have held”, she notes, and feels that the breadth with which she and the Women’s Network have publicised events, for example through various societies, through the academic departments relevant to each event, and through poster campaigns, has helped to develop this increase in awareness. Tressler does, however, regret being unable to spend more time visiting satellite campuses to engage with female students due to the time restraints imposed by the final year of her degree, and hopes that the Women’s Network and the next Women’s Officer will be able to reach out to satellite campuses more extensively.
The biggest challenge as Women’s Officer, Rosie feels, has been changing the stereotype that many students hold of the Women’s Network. “I wanted students to see that the Women’s Network is accessible, and is there to include and support everyone”, she notes, and added her hope that these efforts will provide a foundation for future progress in appealing to more students.
For any students interested in getting involved in future schemes and events held by the Women’s Network, contact Rosie at: [email protected].
Kateryna Rolle, Laura Curtis and Natasha Smith