Open letter to the Cambridge Union

Why the CUSU Women’s Campaign is no longer participating in the Cambridge Union’s discussion on sexism

It is with disappointment that the CUSU Women’s Campaign is pulling out of the public forum intended to discuss institutional sexism and the Cambridge Union Society. As the CUSU Women’s Officer, I have made this decision in consultation with the Women’s Campaign Committee, because I am no longer confident that the event will serve the original purpose of discussing the concerns that have been raised about the Cambridge Union Society, such as why there are so few female speakers, are pole dancing classes good exercise or objectification, and whether the Union takes sexism and feminism seriously. Ironically, we are pulling out of the event because the Union entirely failed to take the event seriously.

The CUSU Women’s Campaign voted to hold the discussion in conjunction with the Union on the understanding that it was willing to critically examine and discuss ways in which it could improve. This was seen as a meaningful and constructive way in which the Union could engage with issues of sexism and the Women’s Campaign could feed in concrete suggestions and ideas. However, the way that the Union participated in the organisation of the event suggests that the Union is unwilling to engage with these issues. The diversity of views within both the Women’s Campaign and the Cambridge Union Society would have made this event not only useful, but also dynamic and exciting event, and it is a shame that due to the actions of the Union, I feel it is no longer appropriate for the Women’s Campaign to participate.

Representatives from the CUSU Women’s Campaign and the Cambridge Union had devoted effort towards planning the event, including meticulously drafting a description of the event which was acceptable to both parties. However, the Union’s reluctance to publicise the event meant that it never appeared on the online Union termcard or any emails. The Facebook group, set up by the Union, used intentionally misleading information which described the event as “a discussion on women, sexism and society”, and not about the Cambridge Union specifically.

Although it is a step in the right direction that the Cambridge Union is holding a discussion on issues of sexism in wider society, this ignores the original subject of the event. Despite being willing to address institutional sexism in wider society and in Cambridge University (through the vastly popular “Is Cambridge University institutionally sexist” debate last academic year), the Union is unwilling to subject its own practices to such scrutiny.  The CUSU Women’s Campaign is still committed to proactively tackling institutional sexism within the Cambridge Union, and we will be holding a public discussion, “Is the Cambridge Union Society institutionally sexist?”, on Wednesday 12th May 8:30-9:30pm in Keynes Hall, King’s College.

All are welcome to what promises to be an engaging and productive forum on gender equality at the Cambridge Union.