By Alastair Sledge
Free Speech Since 1842 is not just a tagline for us, we want no-one to feel like they are unwelcome in our chamber. As a society, issues of gender have been overlooked in the past but together, we have been working to make the Union a home for everyone to make their voice heard. Our competitive debating programme is world famous for being the home of the ‘matriarchy’, with a long history of celebrating outstanding women. The Union has the best all-female team in the world (ranked third overall at the World Championships) and over half of the debaters who have represented Durham this year have been women.
In the management of our society, 47% of our current officers are women, equal to the proportion of women in our membership. Unfortunately, representation in the term card has been poor in past years. It has been too easy to blame our shortcomings on the existing gender bias in academia, politics and the media so Standing Committee has put down a target at least 30%, approximately the current makeup of Parliament. The proportion of women has increased over the year and we are proud to have achieved our goal this term.
We also have had no all male debates this term and none are anticipated next year, as Standing reviews raising that target. The number of women addressing the union has also been increasing, notably with Nicky Morgan MP and Dr. Helen Pankhurst recently discussing the history and future of women in politics. The most powerful thing individuals can do, they said, is to speak out when there’s an injustice. That’s what drove the society to vote for female suffrage in 1914 and why we continue to host people who challenge the established ways of thinking, always considering new ideas. In that spirit, if you want to talk to us about any of the issues raised in this article please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I will respond to every email.
Photograph: The Durham Union Society