I’d been in the job of National Women’s Officer for about five weeks the first time that I thought there was no way that I was built to stand it.
I was on a university campus and these brave women walked up to me and handed me a piece of paper. It was O-Week and they had approached the Women’s Collective table to talk to me. On the piece of paper was a dossier of sexual harassment, assault and degradation that had happened to them, their friends and classmates, during their time at uni.
Reading it, I had to walk away and control myself from crying. To think that in 2012, when women make up the majority of students at every public university in the country, I would be handed something like that was astounding to me. I thought for a moment that the task was too large for me, and it was, but it’s no too large for the department, the collectives and the activists all put together.
It was the same feeling I had the first time I read the results of Talk About It in 2011. The survey, created by Keelia Fitzpatrick and released by Courtney Sloane, detailed huge numbers of women harassed and assaulted during their time at university.
The results are not uncommon among like countries with like universities. Similar results were found in the RU Ok? Report from NUS New Zealand and in the Hidden Marks Report from NUS UK. The backlash against women truly begins at university.
What makes NUS a powerful organisation is that we can take the experience of women on campus and use it to take action to improve the lives of women students. The treatment of women during their time at university is a nation wide problem, it requires a national plan of action.
The Safety Blueprint that came out of Talk About It in 2011 was a plan of action, a call to arms for universities. The blueprint was endorsed by University Australia, most universities promised to take action, and then their drive largely went away.
We have seen some action from universities but we have not seen enough.
The Safe Events Respectful Clubs and Societies framework to be released in July will be another plan of action. Widely publicized instances of appalling treatment of women at student organisation and clubs events are only the tip of the iceberg. More needs to be done to ensure that women are able to fully participate in the events and culture of student organisations.
Talk About It will be run again in August of this year. We need to ensure that once those results are released and the outrage and endorsement and promises are over we have something real to show for it. This is not a time to sit back and wait, we need to fight. I don’t want next years women’s officer to get a letter like I did.
We need to keep talking about it.
Talk About It will be launched on the 17th of August 2012. If you’re interested in having an opportunity to give feedback on the survey and you are a student in Australia you can register for one of the sessions here there will be an opportunity for non students from the women’s sector to give feedback at a later date.