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Ritchie to resign or be disqualified as Women's Officer. TUU to safeguard women's representation for women. TUU SRC North to apologise to women students for their conduct.

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The purpose of the role of Women’s Officer in the Tasmanian University Union (TUU) is primarily to represent women-identifying students as a group at the university. This involves being an advocate for women’s welfare issues in the university context and beyond - ensuring women students’ rights, needs, interests and concerns are brought to the attention of the TUU, the Student Representative Council, the State Council and Board of Management where necessary.

The key duties of the Women’s Officer are to:

·      Be familiar with the current women’s welfare issues at the University of Tasmania and the wider community.
·      Be available to UTAS Students in the relevant region to discuss women’s welfare issues and bring these issues to the attention of the TUU.
·      To ensure that there is an active Women’s Collective at the university.
·      To liaise with the Women’s Collective to inform Women’s Department initiatives and involved students in the TUU.
·      Coordinate events and campaigns to raise awareness around a wide range of women’s welfare issues
·      Attend the annual Network of Women Students Australia (NOWSA) conference and/or organise funds for other women students to attend.
·      Refer women to an appropriate staff member or support services where a serious issue arises.

As is evident from these duties pertaining to the role of Women’s Officer, many of the services provided by this role are done so on a ‘to women, for women, by women’ basis – fostering autonomous (women only) support and networking opportunities for women students at the University of Tasmania.

Furthermore, the role of Women’s Officer is more that just about ‘doing things’ for women students, it is also about representation. In what have historically been male-dominated institutions, with a persistently patriarchal culture, it is important that women’s rights, needs, interests and concerns in the university context are voiced through someone elected to directly represent them. In light of persisting social issues of gender inequality, discrimination and under-representation of women in positions of influence and power at university and beyond, we believe it is not much to ask that women students are ensured a dedicated student representative to not only represent their specific concerns as a student body, but also to simply carve out and ensure space for women in the Tasmanian University Union Student Representative Council.

During the recent by-elections for the Tasmanian University Union Student Representative Council in the North, a candidate who does not identify or currently experience oppression as a woman has successfully stood for the role of Women’s Officer, despite the correct position description (the position description used in the advertising of this role was incorrect) specifically stating that in order to be eligible for this position the incumbent must sign a statutory declaration confirming that they identify as a woman (for the reasons discussed above).

In 2000, the Anti-Discrimination Officer issued a ruling that the Women’s Officer must identify as a woman on the grounds that the role exists to advocate for women as a group who experience oppression in relation to men. This is supported by the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998:

25. Disadvantaged groups and special needs

A person may discriminate against another person in any area if it is for the purpose of carrying out a scheme for the benefit of a group which is disadvantaged or has a special need because of a prescribed attribute.

26. Equal opportunities

A person may discriminate against another person in any program, plan or arrangement designed to promote equal opportunity for a group of people who are disadvantaged or have a special need because of a prescribed attribute.

27. Gender

(1) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of gender –
(d) in employment, if it is based on a genuine occupational qualification or requirement in relation to a particular position.

Thus this male candidate was elected to the role of Women’s Officer unconstitutionally and unethically and yet the TUU staff refuses to disqualify his candidacy.

The UTAS Women’s Collective, as a society whose key objectives are to represent women-identifying students at university, to promote gender equality at UTAS and to do so by working closely with TUU Women’s Officers and holding them to account, views this as a serious issue for women students, especially those based at the northern campuses.

We believe the fact that a man was allowed to run against a woman for the position of Women’s Officer disadvantaged the woman and that allowing a man to hold this role defeats its purpose.

We call for the newly elected TUU SRC Women’s Officer North, James Ritchie, to either resign or be disqualified due to an unconstitutional appointment and for checks and balances be put in place for this to never become an issue again in the future.

Our recommendations for this are for all official position descriptions for the Women’s Officer to clearly and specifically state that the officer bearer must identify as a woman and for this to be supported further again by the Anti-Discrimination Commission.

We believe that a man being elected (unconstitutionally) over a woman for a role that focuses on women’s welfare, empowerment and equality is absurd and offensive to women students. The role of the Women’s Officer is not an easy addition to a resume to us. Our representation is not a ‘minority issue’ to us. Women’s welfare at university is not a joke to us.

Please sign our petition in order to show your solidarity, if you too believe that women students' representation is not a joke. That gender equity matters. That women's voices matter. 

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