February 18, 2006

Positive Gender Discrimination

Writing about web page http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/colinpaterson/entry/referenda_time/trackback/

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

This was originally supposed to be a comment to the linked post, but grew to long and become a post of its own:

Indeed! I've just found your post, and I'm the one who wrote the original Positive Gender Discrimination motion. Composite, which I was present for all six hours of, has altered the motion quite a bit, but if you want to understand the original motion, as per your earlier questions a little history is required.

At Union Council, term 2 week 3, we were informed that Exec had taken the powers of council earlier in the term so that they could agree with a document prepared by the Warwick Anti Sexism Society (WASS). This document was a response to a government consultation on gender equality in the public sector. The document prepared by WASS made some good points and on the whole I agreed with it, however it contained a line stating that they would like positive gender discrimination available as a tool to public sector employers. Council was given the chance to reject this part of WASS's response, but didn't. So the Student's Union full weight was swung behind the document, and sixteen thousand people said they agreed with it, when perhaps no more than a hundred had read it.

Over the next few days, being troubled by this motion, I asked my fellow students what they thought. Most we outraged, they didn't think the same way as Council and thought that their views were being misrepresented. I asked a question at the AGM, which effectively was "Does the president agree with the use of positive gender discrimination?" Our president replied:

This Union already uses positive discrimination as a tool. Our Equal Opportunities Appendix commits to equality to individuals. Equality of opportunity does not mean treating everybody the same.

Slightly outraged by this I drafted a motion and sent it to Council, after some changes Council discussed the one that was eventually submitted to referenda, and that you read. I'll admit it was the most well written policy ever, but it was going to council so it didn't matter that much. At Council however, it was met with so much opposition, and when asked if council would like it put to referenda, they declined, I felt that Council was so unrepresentative of the student body that this motion just had to got to referenda. So in the space of three hours, I went around halls of residences and campus, collecting 80 signatures to get the motion put to referenda. I didn't have time to write the policy in a referenda friendly manner, but I knew I could do that at Composite.

If you've made it this far, then I'll try to address some of your questions about this.
Firstly why? why does the SU need a policy on this? Well some people seemingly forget that when you throw the weight of sixteen thousand people behind something, you need to make sure that you're actually representing the views of all those people. Referenda is the best tool to get a large number of students aware of this issue. Is it not however, and I freely admit this, the best tool to have a debate on this issue.

You mention that the policy is watered down, and you're unsure of its position, the resolves are what its all about. 2 and 3 basically say this Union will not use, and not encourage the use of positive gender discrimination. I feel that's pretty clear.

The biggest problem with this issue is education, you raise the point of not knowing what positive action and positive discrimination is. This was added in by composite in the final motion, but a major part of our campaign is going to be dedicated to educating the electorate, not trying to sway their vote. Positive action is some action taken to attempt to address the imbalance, without disadvantaging any other group. I know that's massively ambiguous, but basically what that means is flexible working hours, provision of child care, gender specific training courses (for all genders). Positive discrimination takes the whole thing a step further, it will, no matter what others will say, disadvantage hard working men and women, The University of Warwick Student's Union supports the idea that employers should be able to differentiate candidates on the basis of a purely ascribed characteristic, gender, something which the candidate has no control over. (EDIT:) To make it clear, the SU supports:

Positive [gender] discrimination should be a proportionate tool available to public institutions.

Exceptional Circumstances, what do I mean? Imagine a support group for female rape victims, if that group felt that only employing females was appropriate, then that would be fine with me. Exceptional circumstances are not when there are more of one gender employed than another in a particular sector.

Why does this matter to you, the average student?
The Union is a pressure group, sixteen thousand strong, representing your views! Are these your views? This is a very contentious issue and I just wanted to make student aware of what the Union, and particularly Union Council, is doing.

I would like to point out that I fully recognise that the is a gender gap, and that needs to be addressed but using any form of discrimination is wrong.

I'm sure there are numerous spelling errors, please tell me if you spot one.


- 17 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. I have always been a strong believer that true equality means you select the best person for the job. I originally wanted to go into design and was advised of several institutes who would immediately except me if i applied – predominately because ive female. I specifically chose not to apply to them as i felt i deserved a place on merit, not gender. Therefore I do not agree with positive gender discrimination, or positive discrimination of any kind – just as i disagree with negative discrimination.

    18 Feb 2006, 09:32

  2. I'll be voting for the motion. Positive discrimination has its place, in institutions where discrimination has been rife. But can anyone honestly say that the Union has in the past discriminated against women as employees? Is there a structural bias in favour of male employees?

    Is there heck. If positive discrimination has been used in the Union's employment policies, it sounds to me as if someone is imposing an agenda on the Union because they want to see more women employed there. Which is blatant discrimination and, moreover, hypocrisy.

    18 Feb 2006, 09:55

  3. I admire your work and your determination to get this stupidity resolved.

    However, wouldn't another method be to simply let the Union get on with its silly little games? Most people, both here and in the outside world, know that it's an inward-looking organisation and its views don't represent students'. And it's not as if the Cabinet or Parliament is going to suddenly sit up and take notice of what it says.

    I used to get annoyed by its silly pronouncements too, but I'm increasingly ignoring it. If it goes on as it is now then I doubt it'll be around in its present form in ten years' time.

    18 Feb 2006, 10:24

  4. With the background and explanation it makes more sense. I guess my reservations stemed from the mistrust I have with the Union 'machine' in that I knew what the policy said but I was cautious that there might be some hidden motives in it.

    18 Feb 2006, 11:05

  5. Describing the current situation of Union policy Steven said,

    The University of Warwick Student's Union supports the idea that employers should be able to differentiate candidates on the basis of a purely ascribed characteristic, gender, something which the candidate has no control over.

    That isn't really true, UWSU gave it's support to a document (available here) which supported the idea of positive discrimination on the basis of gender only in public institutions and only in certain cases identified as needing such "special temporary measures". That just isn't the same as saying we support positive gener discrimination in the general case. I understand that many people may disagree with what the Union has actually done, but be clear what that is.

    18 Feb 2006, 11:08

  6. Ah – good. A student willing to use the democratic tools available to secure what he believes is right.

    The better arguments against positive discrimination have already been made. All I have to say is hear hear!

    18 Feb 2006, 11:18

  7. Nich, apologies for being unclear, and possibly inacurate in my post, but there is a problem with the line from the WASS document. It asks for PGD to be avaliable as a tool, now if at the moment, your problem is that basically men employ men, then why if they had PGD avaliable as a tool would they actually use it? It will need to be forced, and some sort of loose quota system set up, this is really, really bad.

    19 Feb 2006, 09:33

  8. You say:

    your problem is that basically men employ men

    which is nice to know, because I had never realised that was the extent of my thinking on the issue.

    19 Feb 2006, 11:42

  9. On reflection that was a little too sarcastic. However, whilst I don't really want to spend half an hour or more explaining exactly what I do think about gender discrimination and positive discrimination, summarising my views as (to paraphrase) "men employ men so lets let men discriminate in favour of women" is definitely misleading.

    20 Feb 2006, 09:39

  10. Yes, you're right, that is massively misleading, my comment is phrased very badly, I only meant to address you specifically with the first sentence, the rest was meant for a wider audience. And I wasn't trying to make it seem that that was your only view on the issue, but when I spoke to you that seemed to be one of your main concerns.

    20 Feb 2006, 15:57

  11. Does anyone else hate beaurocracy?

    20 Feb 2006, 16:27

  12. Just noticed that if you go to Google and type:
    'Positive Gender Discrimination' and click 'I'm Feeling Lucky' then…

    24 Feb 2006, 00:30

  13. wicked.
    did they make the term up or what?

    28 Feb 2006, 01:47

  14. No, I did.

    28 Feb 2006, 08:32

  15. What he means is positive discrimination on the grounds of gender. We should really have changed that at composite as I've just realised that the motion refers to something that doesn't really make sense. Ignoring the "positive", "gender discrimination" sounds like an ability to determine what gener someone is, so "positive gender discrimination" would be an ability to be sure you know what someone's gender is. As a result a strict reading of the motion implies that the Union doesn't think any institution should know for sure what gender anyone is.

    However, (sadly) I think sanity will probably prevail and the motion will be taken in the sense it was intended.

    28 Feb 2006, 14:33

  16. "Gender discrimination is any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on gender, which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise of human rights and freedoms in all spheres of society under equal terms."

    I think there is a case for calling it Positive Sex Discrimination, or whatever you want, but the intent of the motion is clear I think, and it isn't the only thing with more than one name.

    28 Feb 2006, 17:27

  17. I was kind of joking.

    01 Mar 2006, 21:12


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