Student leader writes to MLAs to call for equality

NUS-USI President Olivia Potter-Hughes, NUS-USI Women’s officer Hannah Rooney, NUS-USI LGBT officer Conor Loughran and NUS-USI Disabled student’s officer Richard Moorhead and NUS-USI Regional Council have written to MLAs and political parties calling on them to deliver equality in Northern Ireland. Following the letter, Olivia is in the process of holding meetings with politicians to discuss the student movement’s objectives around equality in Northern Ireland.

NUS-USI President Olivia Potter-Hughes said “Equality should be a basic right for people, and NUS-USI has written to Assembly Members to put on the agenda the need for urgent progress on delivering equality.

“The fact that there is no marriage equality in Northern Ireland bring shame upon the place we call home. I fail to see how it is acceptable that people who mostly do not define as LGB, can make a decision to actively deny equal marriage rights for people who are LGB. There is something very wrong about this, and it makes me extremely uncomfortable to see how eager some people are to deny rights to others. How can an Assembly, so unrepresentative of the demographics of wider society deny women their reproductive right to free, safe and legal abortions?

“Equality is the absolute least that people should expect from government. The current situation here regarding the impact of welfare reform on people with disabilities, womens’ rights around choice, and LGBT rights is simply unacceptable.

“We are currently holding meetings with politicians on the back of this letter. We know not everyone will agree with us; however, we welcome all positive engagement on these vitally important matters.”

ENDS

Text of letter to MLAs and parties

Dear MLAs

NUS-USI is a confederation of students’ unions in Northern Ireland and our agreed mission is to promote, defend and extend the rights of students. More than 18 years on from the Belfast Agreement, and still little progress has been made to deliver equality and build good relations. We need an Executive which demonstrates respect and equality for all to return urgently.

Uncertainty caused by Brexit matters and lack of a government, mean students and young people may feel they need to move away to gain the rights, academic and work opportunities that may be denied to them here because of these circumstances. Devolved government is essential to give us a clear voice to address potential negative impacts of Brexit.

There is still very little diversity within political representation here. NUS-USI is working to tackle gender inequalities by challenging narratives which could create barriers to women becoming involved in politics, eg attitudes to abortion. Women in the North need to have both equal rights and choice to continue to feel supported. There is a lack of women within politics and leadership positons. Barriers stopping women from entering these positions need to be addressed and tackled at the highest level.

Women still do not have choice on abortion. The lack of choice and women’s bodily autonomy in Northern Ireland disadvantages the 59,614 women who have been forced to travel to access reproductive healthcare. With seven in ten people in NI supporting reform on abortion access, change needs to happen, it is time to Trust Women and make free, safe, legal and local abortion reform in Northern Ireland.

Currently disabled students face a serious level of hardship regardless of their personal backgrounds. Cuts to the disabled students’ allowance negatively impact education leading many students to suffer with ill-health, terminate their ambitions and education, and believe in the stigma that having a disability lowers their status in society. DSA reduces the disabled students’ attainment gap. NUSUK research shows that those who do not receive support are at greater risk of dropping out, suffering from poorer mental health, self-harm, stress or suicide.

The introduction of the Personal Independent Payment Scheme has been deemed by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights. Disabled people should not have to be judged or evaluated under this flawed and unjust system. PIP needs to be reformed immediately.

Trans, non-binary and intersex students are some of the least supported and most discriminated against in all of society. They need and deserve urgent support in the form of legal gender recognition reform. It is time for people to stand in solidarity, educate themselves and commit to bringing about the societal change needed to end the suffering of the transgender community.

The campaign for civil marriage equality is about more than just marriage. It is about tackling centuries of discrimination and combatting the LGBT mental health crisis. It is a necessity that we join the rest of Ireland and Western Europe by legislating same-sex marriage, and that we progress with the rest of the UK by ending the one year blood ban and moving to a three month deferral period at the very most.

Further progress is urgently needed on delivering a shared future in Northern Ireland, through prioritising increased integration in both our communities and classrooms. We can foster through the introduction of an Irish Language Act to create a better sense of community and cohesion. As well as becoming integrated, we need NI Relationship and sexuality education (RSE) reforms in our schools. Our education system has a duty to responsibly educate our young people in areas such as the importance of consent, same-sex relationships and safe sex.

Students and student officers continue to provide a clear and positive vision for the future, and we will continue to support them to help deliver on that vision – we hope that you will do the same!

We look forward to hearing from you about how we can work together to make NI a better and fairer place for students,

Faithfully,

NUS-USI and its membership.

NUS-USI membership consists of: Ulster University, Stranmillis University, St. Mary’s University College, Southern Regional College, North West Regional College, South West College, South Eastern Regional College, Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Regional College, College of Agriculture, food and rural enterprise and Belfast Metropolitan College.

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