Where are all the women? Confessions of a disgruntled (woman) student union president/proud feminist

By Clare Keyes-Liley

Here are some confessions of a proud feminist:

I am in the fourth generation to attend university in my family.

Of these four generations we are all women (my great grandmother was the first woman to study Geology at the University of Queensland in the 1920s, my grandmothers both studied education in the 1950s and my mother studied law in the 1980s).

I am the first of these generations to not complete my degree at the University of Queensland. I chose to go to La Trobe University in Victoria. A big part of my decision to come to La Trobe was because they are one of the few universities that have a Gender Studies major available in Australia.

You’d think an institution that still funds the Gender Studies major would value women in positions of power?

La Trobe has consistently been ranked a top workplace for women. An accolade the University pulls out whenever and wherever possible. Well here are some more confessions of a disgruntled (woman) student union president.

I sit on various decision making committees across the University in my role as president of the La Trobe University Student Union. One of these is considered an advisory board to the Vice Chancellor. There are approximately 16 members on this committee. Have a wild guess how many are women? Five. That includes me. And the president of the LTSU is not always a woman. La Trobe has approximately 60% women enrolled as students. Yet when it comes to the crucial decision making groups in the University, it is still predominately men that make up these bodies.

Do you think that when my great grandmother started at UQ in the 1920s as the only woman in the room she even considered the fact that her great granddaughter would be one of the only women in the room in 2012? Probably bloody not, Enid Noela Harris (whose mother and grandmother were active in the suffrage movement at the turn of the last century) might have thought, “This is it, I’m in! We’ll have majority before you know it!”

I have had many discussions with various members of senior staff around the severe underrepresentation of women at this University (and ultimately in society) and the need to empower and train and create the kind of environment and workplace that celebrates and promotes women. After all, if there were no students there would be no university. And what would happen if 60% of students decided not to contribute financially, socially and academically to an institution that fails to actively promote their own gender within the institution?

I had thought that this was an internal struggle for women at La Trobe, but apparently not. On the 30th of April La Trobe University tweeted: “POWER : Demetriou, Flannery, Weaven and Manne. Which other @latrobe alumni feature? http://tiny.cc/s5dkdw”. The link is to a list of famous La Trobe graduates. I hope you’ll notice that the top four POWERful graduates are all men.

Is anyone else picking up on a little discourse (note sarcasm: FLASHING, SKY WRITING B I G FUCKING DISCOURSE): Silence Women, Celebrate Men.

Hold up.

Silence? We have the majority, why should we be silenced? 60% isn’t a number to be sniffed at. Numbers speak volumes. This is not good enough, the University knows it. The women in my family didn’t work twice hard as their male classmates for half the recognition for me and my peers to be silenced in our education. No woman in the history of the struggle for equality ever did or ever will.

If La Trobe University wants to continue to be considered a grouse place for women to work then perhaps they should stop with the navel gazing and window dressing gender equality initiatives and actually create an institution that celebrates women and the achievements of the women students, women staff members and women graduates. It would be a start anyway

Thanks for reading

Clare Keyes-Liley.

 

Clare is the president of the La Trobe Student Union in Victoria. You can follow her on twitter at @ltsu_president 

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