Sunday, 21 April 2013

Gender balancing will not tackle issues of inequality

During the NUS National Conference 2013 earlier this week, a controversial topic was brought up and deliberated by delegates from universities across the UK. The issue was on ‘Gender Balancing’, and whether the NUS should adopt a policy where at least 50% of its executive and 50% of its student delegates are made up by women.

Motion 701 was being whispered around conference like a dirty word, one which was not spoken aloud for fear of debate and outcry. The debate itself lasted nearly an hour, with the delegates voting on the controversial motion to be decided by a secret ballot. In a narrow victory, delegates decided to vote against the motion.

There was no applause by the audience, in fact the situation in Sheffield City Hall was so hostile you felt like you were sitting in the middle of a Coalition cabinet meeting. People moaned about the result, others complained that the result was bad for women and female students.

If anything, I think the result was a good thing. The problem with gender balancing is that it does not solve anything. It just coats over the problem of gender inequality with a whitewash.

For those that don’t understand what gender balancing means, it’s the idea that we should set a quota for the number of women in an executive panel like the NUS, to make it more equal and fair for women. The subject has cropped up in the world of business, where efforts have been made to increase the number of women in company boardrooms.

Although I do believe that in this society, the hegemonic views of men in society have oppressed women for far too long, gender balancing in my view just isn’t the answer. We seem to be content on using women as a number, objectifying females to boost a figure on a spreadsheet in the name of equality.

The idea that selecting female candidates for roles such as the NUS on the basis that they’re a woman and not for their ideas is degrading. It doesn’t represent anything, it just proves that people are na├»ve about the benefits of gender balancing.

The arguments for motion 701 were that “discrimination and oppression in society often means women students are underrepresented”. This argument seems slightly ambiguous. If the argument is that society is oppressing women, surely we should be attacking society and the government to do more, rather than focus on putting more women in the boardroom. You need to get to the core of the problem to resolve it; voting for at least 50% of candidates to be women will only exacerbate the issue.

20th century society has often put the man at the top of the food chain. But that is changing, the 21st century is becoming more equal. Think about education results; more girls are consistently achieving higher marks then boys at school and college. During the Olympics, it was thefor their sporting triumphs and presenting styles. Over the last decade, women in politics have had a much bigger voice – Harriet Harman, Theresa May etc; all showing how women can achieve through their hard work and determination alone.

Even the NUS proved that their concerns about gender inequality are unfounded, a union where more than 50% of students are women. 3 out of the 6 executive members from the NUS elected by students this week were women, including our new NUS president Toni Pearce. They were picked for their policies and pledges, not to meet a quota. They were elected on merit, not sex.

Inequality is still apparent in our society, I certainly don’t deny that, but voting to elect people on their gender and not their policies is unequal. Voting for gender balancing by the NUS would have been a case of ‘ten steps back’ for women.

Lets look at raising the profile of women in society by working with businesses, in government and in education together, but also focusing on minority groups; ethnic minorities, disabled groups and the LGBT community. Positive change and campaigning will always prove more pivotal than a token woman sitting at the boardroom table.


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  2. No worries Daniel, glad you found it useful!