Priority Campaigns 2011-12

Women’s Forum, the democratic body made up of College Women’s Officers and the CUSU Women’s Campaign Executive Committee*, voted in Michaelmas of 2011 for the following priority campaigns for this year:

  • Zero tolerance to sexual harassment
  • The gender attainment gap
  • Myths around consent and rape
  • Women & political representation

*all self-defining women are welcome to attend; only College Women’s Officers, the CUSU Women’s Campaign Exec and the CUSU Women’s Officer have voting rights

Below is a brief description of the campaigns and what work we are doing at present. For more information, please email womens@cusu.cam.ac.uk

Zero tolerance to sexual harassment

The NUS Hidden Marks report published in March 2012 demonstrated that 68% of female students have been a victim of sexual harassment on university property. A workshop in Women’s Forum in Michaelmas 2011 showed that an overwhelming number of female students had experienced at least several incidents of sexual harassment whilst at University. At the workshop women anonymously wrote words to describe how these incidents made them feel. Here are a few: ‘angry’; ’embarrassed’; ‘intimidated’; ‘enraged’; ‘scared’; ‘flabbergasted’; ‘disgusted’; ‘very uncomfortable’; ‘ashamed’, ‘very scared’. Women’s Forum and CUSU Council have voted to make it CUSU policy to campaign to change the culture which normalises this behaviour, and the policy at college and department level (to see the policy, read here: http://www.cusu.cam.ac.uk/campaigns/sexualharassment/). So far the CUSU Women’s Officer is supporting students in Selwyn, Robinson, Pembroke, Clare, Queens, Peterhouse, Girton, Christ’s, Fitzwilliam and Newnham to challenge these norms and improve their harassment policies. If you want to work on this issue in your college, don’t hesitate to get in touch by emailing womens@cusu.ac.uk.

The gender attainment gap

The overall national gender attainment gap has virtually disappeared: men and women nationally perform equally in Maths, Physics, Engineering, Law, Modern Languages, and so on. The gender attainment gap only persists overall in a small number of institutions: Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, Warwick, Bristol and LSE. The gaps are largest at Oxford and Cambridge, though all are liable to fluctuate from year to year. Clearly the problem is institutional rather than as a result of the women at these institutions. On average across all subjects, 27% of men studying at Cambridge achieve Firsts in Tripos, compared with only around 17.5% of women. Some subjects do not have a gender attainment gap, such as MML. The University set up a Working Group on performance by gender, and that Working Group resulted in a set of recommendations to tackle the problem: from improving training for supervisors, to promoting greater awareness of learning styles, to making course expectations and marking criteria clearer. The Education Committee has also set up an Equality and Diversity Standing Committee that will monitor the progress made on this annually. Women’s Forum has voted to make it a priority for the CUSU Women’s Officer to pressurise the University to implement the necessary changes as soon as possible, working with the rest of the sabbatical team and consulting with students through the representative body of Women’s Forum.

Myths around consent and rape

An Amnesty International survey showed that:

1 in 4 people think a woman is partially or totally responsible for being raped if she’s wearing revealing clothing

1 in 3 people think a woman is partially or totally responsible for being raped if she’s drunk

1 in 3 people think a woman is partially or totally responsible for being raped if she has “behaved flirtatiously

Over the past three years, during discussions about tackling these issues, women at Women’s Forum have often brought up the issue of a culture of expectation in certain scenarios (whether at a swap, having been walked home, in a relationship, or any other) that result in pressure to take part in sexual activity that is unwanted. Women’s Forum voted to make this a priority campaign to challenge these views: both the survivor-blaming concepts that are so widespread, and the idea that certain scenarios mean that sexual activity is expected and therefore it is not a comfortable situation in which to say no

Women & political representation

72% of JCR Presidents (as of October 2011) are men. 90% of CUSU Presidents (in the last ten years) are men. 78% of MPs in the UK are men. Clearly there is a problem both at a local and a national level with under-representation of women. The CUSU Women’s Campaign is running an awareness campaign on this issue, through twitter (follow us @CUSUwomen), and in the student press (look out for TCS this week). We have also started running workshops to support women who are thinking of standing in an election. The first workshop took place in January, and included

  • a workshop on public speaking and debating
  • a presentation and workshop on how to run an election campaign
  • a networking lunch
  • a Q&A question with talks from successful women holding a number of powerful positions in Cambridge, from May Ball President, to JCR President, to Society President, to CUSU Sabbatical Officer, and so on

Although these are our priority campaigns, they are by no means the only areas that we work on, so please browse other areas if you don’t find what you’re interested in here.

This page was last updated on 21/02/2012