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Students’ Union vows to tackle lack of female involvement

With persistent question marks over the lack of female involvement in student politics within UCC, the Students’ Union has announced that it plans to hold a series of workshops to tackle the issue head on.

Speaking at a Philosophical Society panel discussion on ‘Sexism within UCC’, Mark Stanton confirmed that the union has begun working with the group Women for Election (WFE). As part of the arrangement, the SU will join the group’s INFORM program, which seeks to highlight the potential and benefits of further political involvement for women, as well as for all groups. The INFORM program was trialled last year at UCD and St Patrick’s College.

The SU currently plans to begin holding the workshops before the end of October, with WFE’s website stating that the primary function of the workshops is to examine both the local and national political system. In addition the sessions also seek to encourage those who may be hesitant about running in any future elections to do so.

Two female SU Officers elected since 2010

Stanton highlighted that increasing student participation in next year’s student elections was a primary focus for this year’s SU: “We want to see numbers up across the board, both running for and voting in elections this year.” The current President added that the union “will be providing as much support and information about the job we do to any student who wants to run.”

In addition to the WFE workshops, the Students’ Union intends to open discussions with the staff of the UCC Department of Government on how the election process could be better run. Chief among these plans is the appointment of Dr. Theresa Reidy, who Stanton described as an international elections expert, as an external advisor to this year’s UCCSU Election Committee.

“I think it would be beneficial for us to tap into her knowledge,” said Stanton, “but also a great chance for her to test theories such as randomised ballots on an electorate with the same population and turnout as many local authority constituencies.”

Female involvement on the SU has been a persistent problem, with only two out of 26 paid positions being held by females in the past five years; Cat O’Driscoll and Annie Hoey being the only candidates successfully elected to sabbatical positions in that time.

However the pattern seemingly hasn’t carried over to part-time positions, with Equality Officer Rob O’Sullivan highlighting that of the six positions on the SU’s Equality Working Group, only one is held by someone who identifies as male.

Also discussed at the Philosophical Society meeting was the wider presence of sexism within UCC, including whether women in male dominated courses, or vice-versa, felt prejudiced against.

The panel, chaired by UCCSU Gender Equality Officer, Kelly Doherty, agreed that while sexism is still present within UCC, progression had been made this year, with Katie Quinlan highlighting increased student interest in the Feminist Society.

However Jerome Wholihane of the Societies’ Guild highlighted that while progression had been made, there is still a lot of sexism present under the surface and just because it’s no longer acceptable to say certain things in public, does not mean the problem has been eradicated.

Image by: Conor McCabe Photography.