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Gender Politics?! In my Guild?! A Short History of the Gender Preferendum

For many, the 2017 Guild Officer elections were as celebratory as they always were, reinstating the tried and tested and welcoming a new voice into Guild politics. However for a significant number of people, with the election came a crushing disappointment. The team was, for the first time since 1982, compiled only of men- something many hoped to stop happening again in the future. So what’s been the story between then and now?

The Aftermath

 Unsurprisingly, student media was deluged with writers looking to share their opinion on the controversy. Websites such as The Tab and The Sphinx featured pieces from all sides, including former SO candidate Rhiannon Farrell, who condemned the current system as having “undermined the whole inclusion of representatives for all kinds of people”.

Others were more dismissive, including Sphinx writer Michael Sonne, who posed the question “Why did women who voted in this election vote for candidates who happened to be male?”.

New officer Rory Hughes was quick to speak on the matter, calling the anger surrounding the results “justified”, but pointing out that the election had seen some obstacles in electing a gender equal team, including the fact that the three incumbent (and therefore easily re-elected) officers were all male. However, Hughes also vocalised his support for “some sort of quota” regarding women in future elections, going as far as calling it a “necessary” part of “[resetting] the inherent imbalances of our patriarchal society”.


The Proposal

In late April, outgoing officer Yasmin Gasimova gave the “Gender Balanced Representation” proposal on Student Voice, suggesting that 50% of the student officer team places should be reserved for women, transgender or non-binary people. “Unbalanced gender representation within the Officer team”, said Gasimova, “is based on deep-rooted patriarchal problems”. The proposal received 249 dislikes to 116 likes before voting closed, despite numerous comments of support. It was also countered by SO candidate Scott Johnston’s suggestion that volunteer students work as ‘liberation officers’ alongside the paid officers, although this was not taken further.

In spite of the initial vote, the proposal reached the Guild Summit on the 9th of May, led by SO candidate Beth Meadows (who lost out on a place by 26 votes) and Tor Smith. Enough vocal argument came from those for and against that consensus was unable to be reached. However, rumours continued to abound that the following semester a vote would take place.


The Final Say

What is a Preferendum? The Guild Website explains it as a referendum that instead of simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ votes, “people can vote on three or more possibilities”. In this case the options would have been to keep things as they are, reserve one place for women and transgender/nonbinary people, or reserve two. They have not, historically, held a massive sway on the student body. The most recent, which decided on the National Student Survey Boycott, saw a voting turnout of around 6%.

That said, it was probably not this that swayed the final decision- but rather a meeting on the 26th of October, consisting of the 4 Student Officers, and 8 trustees, 4 internal and 4 external. It was here that it was decided it was legally impossible to hold the referendum- the reason being that the student officer role does not have separate briefs, in which it could be specified that being a certain gender is a prerequisite (unlike, for example, NUS delegates). It is, as a result, not legally possible to hold the vote.


What now?

Speaking to the Sphinx, Guild President Sean Turner expressed feelings of disappointment at the decision, but acknowledged that the officer team were unable to challenge the law. Despite this, he insisted that “the issue of representation is at the top of our agenda”, although it is yet to be seen what actions are to be taken following the shock decision.

The News Hour (as of the 27th of October 2017) will be doing a Gender Representation special @6pm on LSRadio. Tune in for the latest updates on the issue, including discussion with the Guild President and FemSoc representatives.


Featured Image courtesy of getintothis.co.uk

Ally Dinning
Head of Online News

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