With all the recent controversy surrounding elections there seems to have been one important issue which has received significantly less attention; the lack of female representation within the SU’s newly elected full-time officers.
It is important to mention that despite a heavy increase in the number of female candidates putting themselves forward this year, only one out of the seven elected candidates was female. Claire Blakeway, the new VP Heath Park, was uncontested in her campaign for the role, yet she succeeded in receiving 3398 votes from Cardiff students. Overall, 6786 people voted over the course of the week during the elections, which is one in every four students. And with the votes split 50/50 between males and females, we’ve got to ask…why it is that the elected body does not reflect, or match, this equal distribution of voters?
Unquestionably, the equal number of votes cast by men and women is telling us that both genders are equally concerned with the future of their Students’ Union. So, this leads us to ask ourselves, should we be more concerned with a more equal distribution of the sexes within our elected student body? Is it possible that we have taken a step backwards within the world of student politics?
The hardest thing to consider is that perhaps the group of newly elected officers cannot boast of the same balance it encompassed over the past academic year. This year, Cardiff students have seen major developments in the Students Union take place under the management of Cari Davies, current president of the SU.
Cari successfully challenged the association of the role with a male candidate (Astoundingly, it had been 10 years since the Students’ Union last had a female president), and was also previously elected Sports and AU President, another category that this year seemed to be vastly dominated by male candidates. This past year has also seen female students take great steps forward in the roles of both VP Welfare and VP Health Park.
However, it wouldn’t be fair to assume that since 50% of the votes this year were from female voters, 50% of the student body should be female. Students are, of course, looking for the candidates who will best support their interests, whether this is longer opening hours at the gym or additional funding for societies.
Although at first it may appear to be a less equal platform than last year, more and more female students are nominating themselves for roles within the SU. When outlining her aims and motivations earlier this year, Cari Davies mentioned plans to create a greater diversity within the union, “diversifying the Movement, encouraging a more diverse range of people to run in our elections, particularly more women”. And in many ways this has been hugely successful.
Looking beyond the positions of full-time elected officers, three female students succeeded in gaining part-time positions: Laura Carter as Women’s officer, Vidya Brainerd as Students with Disabilities officer, and Taslima Alam as Black and Ethnic Minorities’ officer (a newly established part-time position that was created after Taslima’s motion was passed at the AMM).
Furthermore, even before running for the position of Black and Ethnic Minorities’ officer, Taslima Alam spoke out at the recent Cardiff Annual Members Meeting (AMM) for greater representation of Muslim students within the SU, including proposals for provisions for a women-only gym session.
For anyone who may need further proof that female students are taking more political initiative, this year three women ran for the position of VP Education, two for the role of VP Media and Marketing, and four for the role of VP Welfare. Cardiff’s Ladies’ Hockey Club was also revealed to be the sports club who cast the most total votes throughout the elections. It is impossible to ignore the strong female presence within the Union, especially considering the array of strong candidates nominating themselves for women’s officer, a position which has grown more significant this year alongside the NUS’ attempts to tackle lad culture at universities.
So, rather than viewing the results as a step backwards for gender equality within the union, we should be celebrating the achievements of women at this University involved in student politics. More female students have felt inclined to put themselves forward this year, despite some positions appearing to be slightly overrun by male candidates.
With all this to consider, is it really a bad time to be a woman within Cardiff student elections? While the results may not appear to reflect equality, actually looking back at the past year a lot of the female activity within the Students’ Union has come from more behind the scenes or part time roles, so although there is only one female VP this does not mean that female political activity will not happen this year.