Uni Life

Exclusivity in Women’s Empowerment Groups on Campus

Many of the women’s empowerment clubs and societies at UON are aimed at women in areas such as Engineering and Business. Hannah Simmons sat down with members from the Women’s Collective and the Empowerment Network to find out what these groups are doing in terms of women’s empowerment at UON.

Feminism, at its core, is about fighting for women’s equality.

From the valiant Suffragettes who fought for women’s right to vote, to Hilary Clinton breaking the glass ceiling as the first female presidential candidate and to Tarana Burke initiating the #MeToo movement, these are the women of the 20th and 21st century who are flagging the way for gender equality, the definition of feminism.

Today, women’s empowerment and the feminist movement is more diverse than it’s ever been. Identifying as a “feminist” has become more attentive to the wider range of those subjugated by gender norms and stereotypes.

It’s agreed, there’s a greater awareness of the way prejudices such as racism, anti-religious hatred, disablism or homophobia cause multifaceted forms of discrimination and subjugation. Feminism hasn’t moved “beyond” sexism as such, rather it now encompasses a wider range of voices.

Women’s empowerment is more powerful than ever. So, what is the University of Newcastle doing to support empowerment? And how can you get involved?

The University of Newcastle currently has a number of women’s empowerment groups that students can get involved in. However, depending on your degree some of these groups can be quite exclusive.

On campus, the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment supports its female students and has a range of support networks to communicate through, such as the Newcastle University Women in Engineering network (NUWiE). NUWiE is a student-run society which was founded in 2014 by several female students in the Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment.

Much like NUWiE, the Faculty of Business and Law also have their own women’s empowerment group, the Empowerment Network.

However, if you don’t fall into one of these faculties and still want to be involved, the University offers an all-inclusive women’s empowerment group, the Women’s Collective.

The Women’s Collective

The University of Newcastle Women’s Collective is an autonomous group of UON students who campaign around women’s issues on campus.

The Collective is currently lead by their convenor, Tori Thew, who is studying a Bachelor of Environmental Science and Management with the help of secretary Emmalee Ford, a PhD student in the field of Medical Biochemistry.

Emmalee described the group as, “a network for women students and basically non-cis males. We have social events and do activism on behalf of our members, so if anyone has any issues we can campaign for that or talk to the university about it. Because we’re part of the student union we can use them behind us to get things done.

“We want to be known for being a safe space for people,” Emmalee said.

The definition of ‘Empowerment’

The group runs multiple conferences and events that allow students to interact and converse about topical issues.

Tori highlighted how the University currently hosted the recent Network of Women’s Students Australia Conference and said something she learned from a lot of women is that “we’re very resilient.”

Emmalee added, “I think empowerment for women is about facing situations of adversity and overcoming those, that’s what empowerment is.”

When asked if they thought if specific fields experienced more prejudice towards women than others both Tori and Emmalee’s immediate response was laughter.

“We’re both science students,” Emmalee said.

“I study geology specifically and there’s one other girl in my year. I’ve had to drop out of my major specifically from facing that kind of stuff from men,” Tori said.

“I think even in the women heavy degrees like speech pathology and nursing, women receive students and people projecting their own opinions like “that’s a women’s degree” or “that’s easy” … so it doesn’t matter which way you go, women still face something,” Emmalee said.

Tori mentioned if she could give one piece of advice to women trying to succeed in a male-dominated field it would be, “find your crowd. Find people that are going to support you… because they’re there, it’s just, you have to look for them.”

The importance of women’s empowerment here at UON

Both Tori and Emmalee agreed that women’s empowerment, “shouldn’t be such a big deal”.

“I think the final frontier we’re approaching now for empowerment and women’s rights is that most of the things we encounter are not outright sexism… A lot of the things we do and say now, people don’t recognise it… So, it’s just really hard fighting things and calling out people’s behaviours that they don’t even realise they’re doing,” Emmalee said.

While the University has introduced measures such as the Consent Matters Modules and encouragement for networks such as The Women’s Collective, both Tori and Emmalee were definite in their response that the University could be doing more for the promotion of women’s empowerment.

“In my experience, Uni is saying they’re putting money and committees and they’re discussing but firstly, they’re preaching to the converted because anyone who attends is already interested. Putting money into a problem is not solving the structures that are actually causing the problem… it just looks really nice to put on the Uni website,” Emmalee said.

Tori was quick to add, “especially regarding the consent matters modules they put in. We have about 40,000 students at the University of Newcastle. Consent matters cost $10,000. So, if you break, how much is that per student are they actually willing to spend on educating students about these issues?”

Empowerment Network

Kate O’Brien is currently in the final year of her Business degree at the University of Newcastle and is on the committee for the Empowerment Network.

Unlike the Women’s Collective, the Empowerment Network is an exclusive women’s empowerment group at the University, catered specifically for students studying Law and Business.

The Empowerment Network provides a three-way connection between university students, industry professionals and high school students and is designed to empower, create opportunities and provide face to face events to inspire all those involved.

While the Network is currently exclusive to those in the faculty of Business and Law, Kate says she would definitely be in agreeance to opening the network up to other degrees, “as it caters to business-related speakers and networking it would be suitable for other degrees such as Communication and IT.”

Much like Tori and Emmalee, Kate recognises the importance of empowerment networks, specifically for male-dominated fields such as law and business.

“It is more important now than ever to make sure women are empowered and to create equal opportunities in the workplace. The Empower Network allows a vast range of ages to connect which in turn, creates an exchange of experiences, knowledge and advice to empower women heading into the workforce.

“As these women are soon to be in the workforce, it is vital that they have the confidence and ability to create a successful career in an industry that is so competitive,” Kate said.

If you would like to know more about the contents of this article and find out about upcoming events, or you would like to become involved in one of these empowerment networks, simply contact either the Women’s Collective, Empowerment Network, or the Newcastle University Women in Engineering (NUWiE).

Feature image: Katherine Hanlon via Unsplash, no changes made.

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