The motion stated that “All delegations to [NUS] National Conference must include at least 50% women, rounded down. Where a union is only entitled to send one delegate and this delegate is not a woman, the union’s free observer place must be taken by a woman.”
In a straw poll taken after the discussion 17 voted in favour, 44 were against, and 11 abstained. The poll is non-binding, meaning that OUSU’s seven NUS delegates can vote according to their own will on this motion when it is brought before NUS’ April 2013 conference.
OUSU currently sends seven delegates to NUS’ annual conference.Five delegates are elected in Michaelmas, and the OUSU President and President-elect are ex officio selected as the final two delegates. The motion would mandate that of Oxford’s five elected delegates, at least three would have to be female, in order to ensure that three of the seven total delegates are female.
The 2013 OUSU delegation to NUS conference consists of three elected women, two elected men, President David Townsend and President-elect Tom Rutland.
The motion was opposed by OUSU Vice President for Women Suzanne Holsomback, who described the motion as “insulting and patronising.” She told Cherwell that whilst the motion “address[es] symptoms of gender inequality and imbalance, it does not tackle the root of the problem.
“The roots lie at the individual student union level and it needs to be addressed at that level. We need to examine what barriers block women running for high level position or seeing themselves in positions of power. Exploring this will create the interventions that will address the root problem. We all want the best delegates go to the NUS Conference and not just the women near by that can fill quotas.”
Wadhamite Emily Cousens supported the motion, pointing to the results of Scandinavian countries with similar ‘top down’ approaches. She added that it is patronizing to women to say that good quality candidates would not emerge from a quota system. An opponent of the motion countered that OUSU should not seek seven good quality delegates, but the best seven available.
OUSU President-elect Tom Rutland supported the motion, saying that female representation was vital when the NUS considered issues such as abortion rights.
40% of delegates at the last NUS conference were female. Jack Matthews, a student at University College, said that the number “not good enough, but it hardly constitutes a chronic failure.”
A Somervillian stated that she was “not opposed to positive discrimination itself but to the restrictions this motion would place on a democratic vote”. She remarked that “it flies in the face of democracy to use quotas to restrict a popular vote”.