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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.


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