Monday 03-10-2016 - 15:24
In just four days’ time, Goldsmith Students’ Union – admittedly, one of my favourite unions – will host the first of this term’s Regional Activist Networks. Here’s why I believe it’s important for anyone organising around issues affecting Women students’ needs to sign up and be part of our united movement for change.
These spaces will be an opportunity for student activists throughout the country to engage with the campaigns orchestrated by NUS, network with fellow FTOs, elected officers and the wider student body, and act as a profound learning experience for all those involved.
I’m going to speak to my membership directly and encourage all self-defining women to see their presence and participation in these workshops (and activist spaces as a whole) as a fundamental need.
Firstly, it’s no secret that sexism and sexual violence permeate all aspects of our society – including universities and FE colleges. In spite of the media vitriol concerning “safe spaces”, the unfortunate truth is that universities are far from being “safe” (or even accessible) for vast majority of women staff and students.
The bleak reality is that we live in a country where domestic violence has increased by 10 per cent over the last year; a country where one in three women students will experience some form of harassment during their time at university; and one in seven women students will experience serious sexual and physical violence (rape).
Universities are also failing to provide specific guidance on cases of racialised sexism and violence. Since the Brexit vote in June 2016 there has been a sharp increase in the number of hate crimes recorded against BME communities.
Islamophobic attacks, for instance, have increased by some 326 per cent, and unsurprisingly, it is Muslim women who have had to deal with the brunt of these horrific attacks.
Now, you are probably wondering why this information is relevant to the context of NUS’ Regional Networks. The answer is simple: universities and the government are failing women students every single day, and we must hold them to account for it.
Many British universities and colleges lack basic protocol on how to respond to cases of sexual assault – let alone, more complex incidents of racialised sexism and gendered Islamophobia.
Indeed, most universities are hesitant to conduct internal investigations pertaining to matters of sexual assault and gendered violence. Instead, they are likely to signpost women's organisations and shelters specific to their locality. This isn't a bad approach, per se. Rather, it only makes sense to refer women students to those best qualified to support them.
However, this policy becomes slightly disingenuous and unprincipled when local women's are being cut in the hundreds. In the context of increased closures, women survivors are left out in the cold: they cannot access services at their university or their local shelter.
Instead, those dealing with the aftermath violence and significant mental trauma are completely abandoned; forced to fend for themselves.
Thus, the responsibility falls on us to campaign and lobby our particular institutions to take women’s safety and concerns seriously, to centre the concerns of survivors and marginalised groups in anti-harassment strategies and initiatives, and to push management to come out against the out-dated Zellick report or the draconian and racist Prevent agenda.
Certainly, at a time when some of the most elite Russell Groups fail to consider gendered violence as plausible examples of “mitigating circumstances” - local networks are desperately required as they enable us to campaign effectively around the issue.
NUS’ Regional Activist Networks will allow feminist groups on campus to meet with representatives of the Women's Campaign directly and allow for us to develop strategies specific to their local context. The networks will be an opportunity for all attendees to learn about best practice; developing intersectional anti-harassment campaigns and strategies; and learn how to engage with NUS as effectively as possible.
The regional networks will also allow for activists to self-mobilise in women only spaces (caucuses) and build feminist networks throughout the country. I wholeheartedly believe that the Regional Activist Networks are essential to attaining a greater vision of feminism.
Ultimately, we must always force ourselves to remember that universities were not built for women - or any minority group for that matter.
The onus is on us to continuously fight for our rights, for our safety and for our identities to be respected and protected.
You can register for the networks below!