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First contested Union election in 5 terms

The Oxford Union presidential election is contested for the first time in five terms, but candidates remain disproportionately male and privately educated.

More than 60 per cent of candidates running at all levels have been privately educated, whilst more than 70 per cent are male.

Members go to the polls to choose between Molly Greenwood, leading the ‘Reform’ slate, and Stephen Horvath, presidential candidate for the ‘Ignite’ group.

Almost 79 per cent of Horvath’s slate are privately educated, while 64 per cent of ‘Reform’ candidates have received private education. In total, 20 of the 41 candidates are privately-educated men.

Only 50 per cent of the eight candidates not attached to either slate have been privately educated, significantly lower than the ‘Reform’ or ‘Ignite’ percentages.

Just over 46 per cent of all candidates are BME. However, 75 per cent of candidates who are not attached to a slate are BME people.

In addition, only three of the 19 candidates for Standing Committee level and higher are female.

In ‘Ignite’, 63.2 per cent of members are male, while 71.4 per cent of ‘Reform’ candidates are male. 87.5 per cent of unattached candidates are male.

‘Reform’ presidential candidate Molly Greenwood told Cherwell: “The gender disparity in the Union and especially among the slates is very concerning to me, and I have attempted to combat it at every stage by trying to get women involved with this election.

“I was conscious that the candidates were majority male, and it is a difficult issue to address in practice due to the restriction that the women I was able to approach decided not to run when it was discussed with them on this occasion.

“I do hope, however, that this election will spark a greater culture of contestation and as a result, more women will feel that it is their time to get involved. I would really like to see that come out of this election.”

Speaking about access at the Union, Greenwood noted: “To the best of my knowledge, only six of the fourteen members of the slate were fully privately educated, one of whom was on a bursary at the school they attended.

“In regard to schooling, I believe a large part of an access problem in the Union comes down to perception – the perception that everyone else went to old and famous schools and therefore will already know everyone else.

“I hope the fact that people on my slate do not fall into this category will go some way to changing that belief.”

The other candidate for president, Stephen Horvath, told Cherwell: “Five out of our eleven candidates for secretary’s committee are female, and that reflects our commitment to recruiting more women to get involved in the Union, and our hope that more women will be able to run for senior positions in future terms.

“When selecting candidates for the senior positions, the fact that the junior roles on this term’s committee were primarily occupied by men was a significant factor.

“Despite having three sitting female officers, there were very few female members of secretary’s committee – which creates a sort of funneling problem for those looking to build a team.”

Horvath also noted that he has analysed “the inequality of invitations sent over summer” and enforced a “gender invitation quota” this term.

He added that the ‘Ignite’ candidate for Librarian, Genevieve Athis, organised the panel on abortion rights.

Speaking about access, Horvath told Cherwell: “We’ve got a record of doing access work: I’ve done more access workshops than any other presidential candidate, Genevieve is the Christ Church Access Rep, and Shanuk is a law access mentor.

“We absolutely believe the Union needs to expand its access programmes: we want to lower nomination fees for candidates to stand in elections, and we want to introduce discounted tickets to socials for access members – ensuring that access members can get the most out of their membership.”

Emily Charley, a candidate for Secretaries Committee and the only woman not attached to ‘Ignite’ or ‘Reform’ told Cherwell: “Feminism is often misinterpreted, and our society in turn ridicules female independence. I think it is this issue which regretfully discourages women from standing in Union elections in general and particularly off-slate.

“Running for Union can be a stressful experience for everyone and the lack of support can be daunting; I should know, I’m running with only one other person. Women lacking
confidence to stand is not unique to the Union, and I would suggest that all societies should rally more to support female independence.”

Some candidates have come together in a third group, ‘Unafraid’. This includes Musty Kamal, who is running for standing committee.

He told Cherwell: “‘Unafraid’ is a slogan because we are unafraid to stand up for diversity and inclusivity, but also because members of our team have come under quite a lot of pressure to be against the two main slates.

“[We] wanted to show that the Union and Oxford can represent people from a variety of backgrounds and we are unafraid to do that. I’m hoping for a fair and well fought

Last term, Cherwell revealed that just one of the senior positions within the Union, defined as Standing Committee level or higher, attended a state comprehensive school.

All officer positions for the Union are contested in Friday’s election. There are 22 candidates for the eleven positions on the Secretary’s Committee, the most junior elected positions at the Union.

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