The Risk of the Asterisk

16 May 2016

The UMSU Wom*n’s Department have proposed several constitutional changes that they are hoping to implement before the next election cycle. The changes, including affirmative action policies, endeavour to make the Department more inclusive and accessible to women of colour and transgender women.

The proposed changes were determined by constitutional working groups within the Wom*n’s Department and the Wom*n’s Collective. They proposed the constitutional changes with the intention of making the Wom*n’s Department more representative of the student population.

“We hope these changes will better reflect what our department encompasses by enabling all women students to access and be represented by the Wom*n’s Department” said Wom*n’s Officers Adriana Mells and Hien Nguyen.

The first proposed constitutional change recommends affirmative action to increase the number of women involved in the University of Melbourne Student Union as Office Bearers, student councillors and committee members. Affirmative action and quotas have been used to create equal opportunities for women by UMSU in the past.

The Wom*n’s Department has suggested implementing a quota upon how many women should be elected as Office Bearers in UMSU Departments. The changes involve requiring at least one Office Bearer to be a woman in any department with more than one officer. This change is aimed at establishing a student union in which women are represented across all departments.

Additionally, the proposed changes also involve increasing the number of women required to be elected on the Students’ Council and on Committees. Women make up 55 per cent of University enrolments and the changes seek to make the Students’ Council and UMSU committees more representative of that student population. The current policy requires 50 per cent of members rounded down to be women. The proposed policy would amend this to be 50 per cent rounded up. If passed, the changes would require women to make up at least eight of fifteen general representatives in Students’ Council and at least four of seven voting representatives in committees.

The proposed changes to the definition of ‘woman’ and the removal of the asterisk in the UMSU constitution endeavour to make the Wom*n’s Department more inclusive of transgender women. The current definition risks excluding transgender women by specifying that the woman’s gender must be evidenced in University enrolment records.

The proposed definition, ‘a person who identifies as a woman regardless of gender assigned at birth, including but not limited to trans women, cis women and intersex women’, will allow women whose enrolment records are not reflective of their gender to vote for Wom*n’s Officer and run for positions within the Department.

Additionally, the constitutional changes also involve the removal of the asterisk which has long been associated with trans exclusionary second wave feminism. The Wom*n’s Department emphasise that this change is intended to disassociate the Department from the highly politicised and exclusionary second wave women’s movement.

“I think it’s extremely important that trans women are able to vote for positions in the [Wom*n’s] Department” said one trans woman at the University.

“And moving away from the asterisk is a positive step because, as a trans woman, I associate the asterisk with the radical feminist movement and especially with trans women exclusionary events like the Michigan Womyn’s Festival.”

The Wom*n’s Department is also proposing changes aimed to increase the number of women of colour in leadership positions in the Department in order to represent the large number of women of colour on campus. This will involve requiring at least one of the Wom*n’s Officers to be a woman of colour and requiring at least half of the Wom*n’s Committee to be women of colour.

Historically, the Wom*n’s Department has been dominated by white women in leadership positions and women of colour have been neglected. The primary concern is that this is not representative of the University population. Furthermore, women of colour face multifaceted challenges that white women in leadership positions cannot speak for, address or comprehend.

The proposed constitutional changes will be voted on at a Special General Meeting later this semester. The Wom*n’s Department and Wom*n’s Officers encourage women at the University to come and support these changes.

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