Ella Holmes – Events Coordinator of Women In Politics Society
The SU should help not hinder the campaign for women’s rights
Given the current state of the Student Union (SU) it may be controversial to begin this piece with words of praise. However, I think it is important to address the SU’s achievements in promoting gender equality this year. They have agreed to provide free menstrual products in the Saw Swee Hock building and mandate face-to-face consent training. These two major changes would not have been possible without strong-minded women raising their voices and the SU responding to their requests. However, whilst we can celebrate these victories it is also important to critique how much credit the SU as an institution deserves, and consider whether this credit should go instead to the few SU officers who take their roles seriously.
Both of these policy changes were the result of campaigns led by our wonderful Women’s Officer Katie Tesseyman, who has worked tirelessly throughout the year to implement real change for female students. Whilst she does represent the SU, the institutional framework in which she fought for these issues has been unsympathetic to say the least. When levelling criticism against the SU we should remember that there are dedicated individuals, like Katie, trying their best within a system that is unresponsive to students’ concerns. But this also means that we should not readily praise the SU for these individuals’ achievements, which have been actualised in spite of, rather than because of this establishment.
The biggest flaw hindering progress on women’s issues is imbedded in the current election system. Emphasis on short-term, sketchy policies condensed into manifesto slogans or simplistically laid out in hustings speeches, means that complex issues remain either untouched or skated over. Female inclusion and safety is an issue that spans across different positions but has been largely absent from candidates’ campaigns this year. Once election fever (if you can describe any activity at LSE as feverous) dies down, students will quickly forget who got elected and any shallow promises made can be abandoned. However if we use this election season to amass vigorous student support for essential reforms we will take the first step towards influencing tangible change at LSE.
There are several policies Women in Politics would like to see the SU take on. To start with, the lack of research into student welfare is shocking. This is not the same as shoddy attempts to uncover student satisfaction. The Beaver’s exposé on high rates of loneliness at LSE should lead the way for more investigations into student wellbeing. For example, no statistics exist on how many students at LSE have been sexually harassed or raped, which made it difficult for us to petition LSE management for mandatory consent training as we could not prove how widespread the issue was. With this information, we can begin to lobby for trained harassment officers who are better equipped to support victims of assault than LSE counsellors. This information, if gathered, can also be used to launch campaigns to raise awareness of these issues, similar to the University of Liverpool’s ‘Call It Out’ movement. We want the SU as an institution to become better informed and equipped to support students who have faced sexual harassment and discrimination, rather than crossing our fingers for more Katies to come along.