College Women's Officers
Women's Officers are the unsung heroines of Cambridge University, putting in some truly impressive work in support of women despite often facing antagonism from their student unions and college authorities. It is largely because of the work of Women's Officers that Cambridge has progressed as far as it has towards gender equality. Nearly every college has a Women's Officer, an Equal Opportunities Officer or a Women's Welfare Officer who sit on the college student union, and attend Women's Council.
The role of a Women's Officer (WO) is varied; the woman in the position can decide what she wants to do with it. However, it's meant to cover three basic elements: welfare, representation and campaigning.
The welfare role is often focussed on gender-related welfare issues, such as sexual health, pregnancy, assault/harassment, body image and anything that the women of a college feels affects them. The WO will often work closely with the college Welfare Officer to make sure that condoms, pregnancy tests, personal alarms, etc are available either for free or at a subsidised price. It is also the WO's responsibility to ensure that welfare information is available to students, through email bulletins, the student union webpage, or a pin board in college. Female student's who are looking for support, or a listening ear, can go to the WO for this.
The WO is also meant to represent the women of her college, both on the college student union and at Women's Council. The college union
can be a male-dominated organisation (although things are definitely changing!) and it is the WO's responsibility to make sure that women's concerns are voiced, and to raise issues pertinent to women. For example, many WOs raise concerns about lack of sanitation facilities, inappropriate ents or inadequate provision for women with specific accomodation/facility needs. At Women's Council, WOs from every college come together to vote on Cambridge University Students' Union policy, to pass Women's Union policy, and to discuss issues pertinent to women in the University. Each WO will vote on behalf of women in her college, just as college union presidents vote on behalf of their college at CUSU Council.
Another essential element of the WO position is campaigning: the Women's Union is actively involved in challenging inequality where it exists, encouraging good practice on the part of colleges, and working to create an informed and engaged student body. This means that WOs will confront their colleges about any unfair practice, and hold events/initiatives to raise awareness or funds for specific causes. This includes comedy and acoustic nights, cocktail evenings, film showings, self-defence classes, petition drives and speaker events.
The work undertaken by a college women's officer is specific to the college and its environment. If your college has a poor record on female admissions or if academic performance varies according to gender your college officer should be working with the college to find the origins of the problem and work towards a solution.
You can communicate anonymously or directly with her, whether you want more information, make a suggestion or discuss a problem.
Training for Women's Officers is available.
Check out the Resources Page for useful info on running events, giving welfare support and some great organisations out there.