Friday, 14 December 2007

The Men's Officer Referendum

First of all I think I need to explain why a referendum is happening. In the recently revised Constitution for Hull University Union, it states that Referenda decide union policy and the Open Policy Forums (that any student can attend) decide what goes to a referendum. A number of these happen throughout the academic year. Any policy decided by referenda lapses after three years (this means that it stops being a piece of union policy).

Now for the subject of one of the votes - the abolition of the Men's Officer. The minutes of the Open Policy Forum where this was originally proposed can be found here(November 19th) and the relevant section is below:
  1. There is no need for a Men’s Officer as this diminished the effectiveness of all the other liberation campaigns.
  2. Men are unfairly over-represented in both society and the structure of the Student’s Union.
  3. Issues in the Men’s Officer remit can be easily dealt with by the Health Officer and HUSAC.
  1. Men are discriminated against in society, for example, job quota filling and higher unemployment rates.
  2. If there is no Men’s Officer position then there is no support for men who are victims."
It's also important to note that the National Union of Students doesn't have a Men's Officer and a lot of people within the NUS don't believe one should ever exist (I know this from my time as a sabbatical officer at HUU and the fact that the NUS Women's Officer - Kat Stark - is signed up to the Facebook group approving the abolition of the position).

Now I'll address the points raised in the Open Policy Forum.

"...diminished the effectiveness of all the other liberation campaigns."

I'm not entirely sure how this could happen. The other liberation groups are Women, LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender), Disabled Students and Black Students (those four are the NUS Liberation campaigns too). All committees/officers have clearly defined job descriptions in the student union standing orders. The Men's Offer does not represent women. That person does not represent men on issues covered by other campaigns either.

"Men are unfairly over-represented in both society and the structure of the Student’s Union."

Was the second part of that point made because the current Union Executive Committee has eight men and two women? That didn't happen because women were oppressed. In some of the previous executive committees there have been equal numbers or more women than men. For instance, in 2004/2005, there were four men and four women. In 2005/2006 there were five women and three men. The executive teams were elected because the voters felt that they had the necessary skills and experience to do the job well.

The student union also has a long-standing equal opportunities policy which states everyone can join any clubs and societies. This means that there are no instances of women being prevented from joining. Both men and women can go for executive positions in clubs and societies too . For example, the current President of the Drama Society is a Woman. The current President of the Labour club is a woman.

So, what about society? Well, first of all, the positions that are being talked about in this post do not have a responsibility for the whole of society in England (or any other country). Those positions have a responsibility to represent the relevant group(s) of students at the University of Hull. Secondly, there are plenty of examples of women in high ranking positions all over the world. For example, there is a female member of the University's Senior Management Team and there are several university departments that have senior members of staff who are female.

Outside the university, there are even more examples. Angela Merkel is the Chancellor of Germany, the Queen is our sovereign, Hillary Clinton is a potential future President of the United States. Condoleezza Rice is the US Secretary of State and Nancy Pelosi is the current speaker in the United States Congress. You might also remember Margaret Thatcher - one of our former Prime Ministers.

Remember the 'Blair Babes' from 1997 when Tony Blair was elected as the Prime Minister? There were celebrations about how many women were in positions of power. That doesn't seem like an example of women being oppressed to me.

"Issues in the Men’s Officer remit can be easily dealt with by the Health Officer and HUSAC."

Interesting point. I agree that it's logical for men's health issues to be managed by the Health Officer. However, they've defeated themselves by mentioning the Student Advice Centre (HUSAC). This is because they could also deal with some women's issues and some matters that are covered by other liberation groups. Surely this means that there is no need for a Women's Officer too!

"Men are discriminated against in society, for example, job quota filling and higher unemployment rates."

This is definitely true. In a Guardian article from 2005, it was reported that the Hansard Society felt that all-women shortlists are the only way to increase the number of women in the House of Commons. However, using all-women shortlists means that men are prevented from going for a particular position, which is a form of positive discrimination.

There are plenty of examples of women being strategically positioned around the PM during Prime Minister's Question Time to highlight the fact that Labour includes a number of women. However, preventing some men from sitting where they want because they are a man is a form of positive discrimination.

A Men's Officer is required within Hull University Union to ensure that there are no examples of positive discrimination.

"If there is no Men’s Officer position then there is no support for men who are victims."

True. What about men who are abused by women? The Women's Officer doesn't deal with that. There needs to be representation for men.

As you can tell, I believe that there should be a Men's Officer. You couldn't have one officer represented both genders so it's sensible to have one for each and then both genders feel that they have representation.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Equality, Liberation, Representation, Democracy


Thief of Time said...

Solid argument.

If I can respond:

The liberation officers are there to deal with issues of wider discrimination in society faced by the members of their groups, NOT to represent those groups on issues such as health or safety, although this has been the case in the past.

Men's officer, health officer and so on are there to deal with specific ISSUES. Perhaps a better title would be Men's Issues Officer/Women's Liberation Officer. Men do have major issues which an active men's officer could assist in solving (mental health, suicide, physical health, relationships, peer pressure) and would in addition be a more comfortable setting for men to discuss than to a random councillor or a member of another gender group. However, they do not need protecting from discrimination (Legal "positive" discrimination being something they can lobby against but can hardly be expected to change).

Thanks for the intelligent support David, to often this line of argument is either pushed aside or hi-jacked by sexists.


Bobbylad said...

Surely if you were to have a Mens Issues Officer and a Womens Liberation Officer you would also need a Womens Issues officer?