12 September 2011

Women at the Top: Women's leadership at the USU

Last Thursday night Verge Gallery was inhabited by some very talented and interesting women, brought together to talk about women’s leadership in C&S and the Union. For those of you playing at home, within the Union there is a Women’s Portfolio developed to promote the rights of women, women’s safety on campus and ensure women’s leadership within the organisation. These rather lofty aims are taken on by the Women’s Student Program Co-ordinator and an elected Board Director (this year, that’s me!) and reflect our historical roots of being an amalgamation of the Sydney University Women’s Union and the Sydney University Union (Men’s)  in 1972. The event was the start of a process of discussion and consultation as we endeavour to deliver an overarching Gender Policy for the Union this year. A guide, a best practice manual, a rule book aimed at increasing, maintaining and ensuring women’s continued involvement and opportunity in the Union. Within this overview we are hoping to find ways to support C&S encouraging women’s involvement and we are tackling AA and aiming to have a reviewed position for the beginning of 2012.

First up we wanna talk about AA. In 2005 Affirmative Action was brought in at Board level to ensure women’s representation on the Board and encourage more women to run. It also operates within a number of appointed positions within the Union– such as editorships of The Bull and Hermes. It’s a topic that gets peoples blood going and is regularly discussed around election time. This year we are changing that – we want to see real discussion, prior to elections, in an open forum free from candidate debacles and reaction. On October 4th, Tuesday Talks will be AA Themed – and we are seeking opinionated students to get involved and have their say. If you would like more information or to be a student speaker please contact me b.dixon@usu.usyd.edu.au

Standing in the gallery populated by women who hold various positions within the uni… (Union President, Board Directors, C&S Executives, SRC President, Verge Director and many more running for positions in the SRC and Honi)… it is clear that somethings already working when it comes to women and leadership at the University. By developing a Gender Strategy we want to capture that and harness it for the future of our organisation. In doing this we ensure a Union that is progressive and pro-active in gender issues. Furthermore by creating a foundation we allow ourselves to start tackling areas where issues still exist. Sexual harassment on university campuses remains high and understandings of sexual assault and safety are often obscured. It is all well and good to have women in leadership – whether they are presidents, High Court judges or politicians – but if a woman can’t feel safe walking across her campus at night then the job is far from done. 

Of course there’s always going to be someone who challenges the legitimacy of such endeavours – they are often the ones who also want a Men’s Edition of Honi, think that male nursing students should have their tuition comped and that Fernwood Gyms are an abomination.  To that I say, bring it on. If developing a gender strategy, implementing AA or arguing for a women’s autonomous space on campus makes you edgy, makes you wanna argue, talk about, work it out or question what the hell we’re doing than “By George I think she’s got it!”*

Brigid Dixon
Board Director

*My Fair Lady (get it?)


  1. Nice strawman. Opposing AA is not the same as saying we need a men's issue of Honi, and to claim as such cheapens the debate.

  2. Hey Justin, I think what Brigid meant was challenging the idea that the USU should have a Gender Strategy, not challenging AA. That is, the people that disagree that a Gender Strategy is needed are often the same people who think there should be a Men's Honi. We're all for people challenging AA, and that's why we're having a forum on October 4 so we can debate its merits.