Women’s Campaign

What is the women’s campaign?

The NUS-USI Women’s Campaign was created as a direct result of work done by women students in colleges who wanted the student movement to address women’s issues and tackle sexism seriously.  The Women’s Campaign exists to defend and extend the rights of women students – as students and as people in the wider sense. From childcare, to representation, to the pay gap in work, to sexual and domestic violence women’s rights need addressing in colleges, universities and society

The NUS-USI Women’s Campaign has become one of the most active, diverse and outward looking sections of NUS-USI.

Today women are in a much better position than ever before. However, we still have a long way to go and we have not won equality yet. As the statistics show, women can still expect to earn less, face violence and sexual assault, miss out on job opportunities, and be burdened with loads more student debt, and we are still massively under-represented in government. In Northern Ireland particularly, Women are significantly under-represented in elected office, for example, women are 23.4% of MLAs, 23.5% of local councillors and 22.2% of MPs, although two of the three MEPs are women. It is thanks to all the women who campaigned before us that we are where we are today, but there are still plenty of battles to be won, both within the student movement and outside of it.

Students’ unions and colleges don’t exist in a vacuum and sexism exists everywhere.

– There may well be more women at undergraduate level at university, but beyond that they are massively under-represented at Masters, PHD and Professorship level. SUs should represent all their students, not just undergraduate ones.

– In recent years, many women’s officers have been set up at further education colleges, specifically as a result of many closures of childcare facilities. No childcare can mean the difference between women studying or not!

– Who is going to speak for all the women graduates? Women can expect to earn 18% less than men on average, and they will be paying back their student debt for years longer.

– Women are generally underrepresented in areas like science, engineering (e.g. STEM subjects) and many practical subjects.

– Only 11% of university vice-chancellors, and 27% of college principals, are women!

– Less than 20% of MPs are women – and they make decisions about our education all the time.

– Women experience sexual harassment, assault and violence in every walk of life. And this includes in halls and at college.

– Reproductive rights are a student issue; too many women drop out of college or university because of pregnancy – either a lack of support or social stigma means that they cannot continue to study. In Northern Ireland many women students also face the barrier of accessing abortion. Many have to travel to England but finance and lack of support are a major barrier.

Sexism does exist in every single college and university, and women everywhere need and deserve specific representation.

Discrimination – the facts

  1. Women are significantly under-represented in elected office, for example, women are 23.4% of MLAs, 23.5% of local councillors and 22.2% of MPs, although two of the three MEPs are women
  2. Women are significantly under-represented on public bodies, 33% of all public appointments being women, but only 19% of chairs of public bodies
  3. There is segregation in the workforce by gender, in some areas extremely segregated:
    • Horizontally certain occupations are overwhelmingly undertaken by men (such as skilled trades) or by women (such as caring, leisure and other service occupations)
    • Vertically women only comprise 37% of managers, directors and senior officials
    • By work pattern 80% of part time workers are women, but only 24% of self-employed are women
  4. There remains a gender pay gap in favour of men, but this varies according to how it is calculated
  5. There remains a lack of access to affordable quality childcare, which impacts primarily on women’s access to employment
  6. Budget cuts due to the economic downturn have impacted differentially on women, as women are more likely to rely on welfare benefits than men
  7. Certain major capital spending programmes for women have been down-graded or delayed, such as the women and children’s hospital or the women’s prison
  8. Abortion remains a contentious issue, although there have been suggestions that a consultation on changes to the law may be published in 2014
  9. The policy direction for maternity services has been for greater emphasis on midwife-led units, rather than consultant-led care
  10. Awareness is very low of certain health issues specific to women, such as ovarian cancer and endometriosi
  11. The police recorded 2025 sexual offences in the least year, of which 510 were rape, one in four women experience domestic violence in their lives and police attend 60 domestic-related incidents per day; the first Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Northern Ireland opened in 2013
    • The older an age group, the more women are represented, so that age-related issues increasingly become gender issues
    • Many female migrants are exposed to particular gender-related vulnerabilities, such as reliance on a male partner for residency status, uncertainties regarding access to health care, racism compounded by gender discrimination, labour exploitation or human trafficking
    • While very few women are in prison, a greater proportion of these than men are not a danger to the public and therefore alternative remedies could be sougt
    • No high court judges, only 17.5% of county court judges and 22% of district court judges are wome
  12. Women are under-represented across all major positions of political, economic, social and judicial power. This demonstrates a gender-related systemic impediment to access to decision-making. Certain policy decisions, such as budget reductions, appear to differentially impact on women more than men.
  13. Updates to the Gender Equality Strategy have not demonstrated significant change in the position of women in Northern Ireland over time. Certain remedies have been suggested for increasing women’s representation or for making decision-making more gender-sensitive:
    • Quotas are a fast-track method of increasing women’s representation and have been used elsewhere for political office and company boards, but could equally be applied to public appointments and areas of employment
    • Programmes for women to increase participation in management or non-traditional occupations, for example, have been used on a limited, time-bound or project-related basis, but could be mainstreamed
    • Organisational change processes have been used to imbed more inclusive practices or ethos into workplaces and could equally be applied to other bodies, such as legislatures
    • Childcare provision is more accessible and affordable in other contexts and a major potential contributor to women’s participation
    • Education and career advice and guidance can potentially give girls and boys a greater range of options, rather than gender-specific determination

Useful contacts

Women’s resource and development agency (WRDA)

The Women’s Resource and Development Agency (WRDA) provides support for women’s groups and networks across Northern Ireland. Established in 1983 (and formerly known as the Women’s Education Project), they are a regional organisation with a mission to advance women’s equality and participation in society. They work with women to achieve social, economic, political and cultural transformation, engaging with women’s groups from disadvantaged urban and rural areas across Northern Ireland.


Women’s Resource and Development Agency 6 Mount Charles Belfast Co. Antrim BT7 1NZ Tel No: 028 9023 0212 Fax No: 028 9024 4363 Email: info@wrda.net

Reclaim the agenda

Reclaim the Agenda is a collective of women sector representatives, grassroots feminist activists, trade union activists and interested individuals who campaign on 6 key themes; 1. To live free from poverty 2. To live free from discrimination 3. To have healthcare services that meet our particular needs 4. To live our lives free from domestic and sexual violence and abuse 5. To live in a society where women are equally represented as decision maker 6. To have access to good, affordable and flexible childcare provision


Belfast feminist network

Belfast Feminist Network began organising in 2010 following a series of discussion groups that revealed a growing desire for a space for open feminist community and opportunities for activism. Since that time the group has grown in number to encompass over 1000 online members and a dynamic and fluid group of event organisers and attendees, activists, protestors, marchers, workshop participants, debaters, creators, performers, crafters, and people who want to meet together to challenge sexism, to change outcomes for women and to indulge in a bit of patriarchy smashing whenever the opportunity arises.