Women’s Liberation candidate: Martha Reilly

The Student contacted Women’s Liberation candidate Martha regarding her campaign and manifesto. To read Martha’s manifesto, click here.

 

What motivated you to run for this position?

The simplest answer is that I saw this is as the best platform right now for me to achieve the goals I have for women’s liberation on campus. I have been working for women’s causes, the incredibly broad and diverse category that that is, throughout my time here and seen firsthand the severity of the systemic issues women are facing as well as, crucially, the fantastic work that women are already doing. As the co-founder and Director of Sanitree, an organisation tackling period poverty and stigma internationally, I’ve had the opportunity to collab with lots of other women’s and feminist societies on some really fun events and projects, and then being on the Committee for the Women’s Liberation Campaign this year I’ve been able to work more directly with the university body on women’s issues. I want to bring together these two worlds.

I love the idea of the Women’s Liberation Campaign being a space to lift up women’s achievements, as well as being a more capital ‘P’ Political platform to advocate for and demand their most basic needs. Supporting women’s achievements also doesn’t have to be in the capitalist sense of celebrating only what we see as ‘productive’; especially for LGBT+, disabled and trans women and women of colour, navigating this patriarchal institution without absolutely losing our minds is an achievement in itself. I think all of these things deserve proper advocacy and recognition.

What are your thoughts on the mandatory interruptions policy?

As one of the first signatories against the policy, I’m obviously not its biggest fan. Whilst I understand its intention, to protect vulnerable students from disciplinary measures that they may unfairly be subjected to should they continue their studies whilst mentally or physically unwell, I think the university has absolutely missed the mark with this policy.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on why this is a gendered issue. Women systematically have their health problems go misdiagnosed, or their symptoms outright ignored, because of health professionals who don’t take their lived experiences seriously. Any policy that may further disincentive women to disclose these health problems is not a policy that can claim to support women’s welfare. As a disabled student who had to defer matriculation on medical grounds, this issue is particularly important to me. Women, like all students, deserve to retain the autonomy to decide what is the best course of action for their student career and personal wellbeing.

What is the most ambitious point on your manifesto and how do you plan to tackle it?

The overall project of the Women’s Liberation Campaign is obviously a slog in itself because it turns out the patriarchy isn’t just gonna let up, but the most challenging individual point of my manifesto is probably the ‘Community Building’ aspect. Making the Women’s Campaign a space that all feel safe to partake in is going to require a lot of sensitivity to intersecting oppressions that historically have prevented lots of women from actively engaging in political projects such as this. I am really keen to maintain the integrity of the wonderful community we’ve fostered here, whilst also expanding the opportunity to the thousands of women on campus that don’t currently engage. My plans to tackle this include firstly prioritising a drive at the beginning of the academic year to raise awareness of the self-definition system that the Liberation Campaigns require participation in, and encouraging more women to sign up to the Women’s Campaign social media platforms. Secondly, I will hold accessible consultations on all major campuses of the university to raise awareness of the Campaign and gather feedback on how it can serve to better advocate for all women at the university. And lastly, working closely with the other Liberation Campaigns, and making our events as fun and engaging as possible, will also be crucial in meeting this goal.

Antisemitic graffiti was found in the toilets of the Old Medical School on Thursday. Transphobic graffiti has also been found in university bathrooms. How should the university be tackling hate crime and does our university have a hate problem?

The morning after the discovery of the antisemitic graffiti, a friend of mine responded immediately with his own posters on university buildings, pointing out the absurdity of the statements made and starting his own call to action on campus antisemitism. Brief, hateful words scrawled hurriedly on bathroom doors, however, are the absolute tip of the iceberg. Once that graffiti is up, it is merely a reflection of what is already a deeply embedded and sinister problem, and plenty of Jewish students at this university could have told you that already. The university needs to listen to Jewish students and create a culture of tolerance, backed by robust policy, that tackles antisemitism at the root long before these traumatic incidents happen. We should not be waiting for ‘proof’.

Again and again, members of targeted communities are themselves mobilising in response to hate crime. My friend has since had his strategy queried by university staff, when he was merely offering an immediate, proactive response to hate which was delivered at the appropriate degree that the situation demanded for. The university has not been able to provide this same level of response against either antisemitism or transphobia, and much more can be done to tackle these issues before they manifest in more ‘visible’ ways.

You are running unopposed. Why do you think this might be?

This is definitely something I’ve thought about a lot and I think there are a lot of things at play here. Anecdotally, some women have told me that the visibility of the role and potential for criticism has put them off running. I personally don’t agree with the Sheryl Sandberg notion that women should be ‘leaning in’ more to roles like this; rather, we should be questioning what it is about public platforms in general that is inhospitable to women leaders. Women already have everything within themselves to be brilliant and impactful leaders, but there seems to be a threshold beyond which putting yourself out there, especially in a competitive environment, just isn’t worth the personal toll it takes on potential candidates.

How would you ensure that all women’s experiences are incorporated into your campaign?

Being an advocate for all people that identify with femmehood and the label of woman is as much about operationalizing intersectionality as it is about knowing when to just pass the mic. Intersectionality as a tool for activism is a key element of my manifesto and something that I am very conscious of as involving constant feedback from and engagement with women of colour, LGBT+ and disabled women. Working closely with the other Liberation Campaigns is obviously crucial, but it’s also important that their autonomy as individual groups remains respected. I would also work to ensure that every project or event idea I propose is inclusive and celebrates the talents of all women, so that the Women’s Liberation Campaign can remain a space that all can feel comfortable contributing to, and all serve to benefit from.

What do you think is the most pressing issue for women?

I don’t feel that it is my place to rank all the issues that women at this university are facing. I can only say that we must remain mindful of all issues that have the potential to become gendered in nature, and be vigilant against them long before they ‘flare up’ more publicly or visibly.

Finally, is there anything in particular about your manifesto/campaign that you want to draw students’ attention to? What is your favourite policy?

As part of my aim to make the Women’s Liberation Campaign a celebratory space, I want to run a series of events on the theme of ‘Loving Women’. Building on the depoliticised (and wholesome as heck) Women’s Brunches that the Campaign held last year, this series will allow an opportunity for women to sit down, have some nice free food, and chat to each other about how we’re all doing, what we’ve been achieving and how we can better lift each other up. The Loving Women series would also invite in speakers to educate us on how we can better love women from marginalised backgrounds, as well as speakers on other themes such as ‘Loving Women on Campus’, ‘Loving Women in Edinburgh’ and ‘Loving Women Internationally’. I am really excited by the concept of what these events could bring, and the connections we can continue to foster between the wonderful women at this university and beyond.

 


 

The following is a transcription of Martha’s responses during the Liberation Candidate’s Question Time which took place on Friday 1 March 2019.

Some answers may have been edited for clarity.

 

How do you see yourself working alongside the other Liberation Campaigns?

As I was saying earlier, the women’s liberation officer has to represent the largest cohort of students within the liberation campaigns, so it’s even more crucial that I’m mindful of representing people that come from intersecting identities. For me it’s about knowing when it’s appropriate for me to occupy space and when it’s appropriate for me to pass on the mic, take a back seat and respect these autonomous groups.

I’m obviously really excited about the new trans and non-binary role and so something that I really want to prioritise this year is working closely with the new Campaign in order to redress the historical silencing of trans women’s experiences, and also to make sure the women’s campaign is a platform where trans women feel included. I also really want to maintain a really close relationship with our officers and know when it’s appropriate for me to actively campaign alongside them and when it’s appropriate for me to be a non-vocal support system.

So co-ordinating International Women’s Day tends to be a big part of the role, what events and activities would you like to see to that in 2020?

So a big part of my campaign is obviously about celebrating and creating wholesome nice spaces throughout the year to be like “you’re doing great sweetie.” But for International Women’s Day, I want to get more real. There’s so much shit that women are putting up with and International Women’s day is when women are most visible, so we might as well use that to be like okay we’re gonna educate you. It’s not the time to put on pretty pink pussy hats and be like ‘ehhh.’ I wanna save my budget for International Women’s day and use it to get in external speakers and make it more high profile. I wanna be able to pay women, to pay women of colour, to come in and run a lecture series and really make this an engaging and educational time and set a precedent for how this can run throughout the year.

How do you plan to work with societies and student groups to get more people included in your Women’s Campaign?

I want to do a lot of collaborative events. So in the past work I’ve done, this has been one of the biggest area’s [of success]. I’ve run lots of successful fundraisers in the past and I think it’s a really good way of working alongside other women’s groups like Sexpression, Girl Up and Girl Against and Femsoc. So I think collaboration is a really good way of working together and also using it as an opportunity to engage the wider Edinburgh community. There are also lots of women’s charities that I care about in Edinburgh, like Shakti Women’s Aid and Edinburgh Rape Crisis. I think it would be really sick to use this platform and the resources and time I would have as women’s officer, to collaborate with other societies to do some big fundraisers to engage the wider community of women in Edinburgh.

So role specific questions First how would you continue and advance the Student Association’s work on tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence on campus?

First of all, they’re doing great. I partly helped with revamping the No Excuse campaign and I’m so proud of everything it’s doing to advocate for survivors of sexual assault. However, just anecdotally from consulting with lots of women students at university, there seems to be a big demand for more continual throughout-the-year support for survivors. Therefore I wanna set up a network of survivors of sexual assault, with anonymous sign ups, to provide the support for women throughout the year. It’s still so hard having to go through the university systems to report rape and sexual assault. A lot of people [don’t] trust a lot of the more corporate bodies of the university and so that’s why I think it’s important to build a safer [more personal] community. [I also just want to] keep No Excuse going. No Excuse is at a really exciting moment and it’s just so visible. There’s been some fantastic collaboration. It’s a fantastic example of how loads of different societies can come together and work on [one campaign] and I just really wanna keep going with that and make sure we don’t let that slip anytime soon.

How will you ensure that the Women’s Campaign continues to be a space where trans women and students for whom woman is part of a more complex gender identity, feel welcome?

So that would probably come under the second part of my manifesto which is about community healing. So I spoke briefly about the loving women series that I want to run, which is kind of building of those women’s brunches that Esme, Anna and I were running this year. I think [the brunches] are really good times to get together as a network and a community. So this year I wanna do that again but make it bigger. So we’d have thematic sessions on, ‘loving women on campus’ and ‘loving women internationally,’ but I’d prioritise more specific sessions on topics like ‘loving trans women.’ It would be an opportunity where I’d like to establish from the get go that the women’s campaign is still for trans women – obviously. There’s also still gonna be non-binary students that have some sort of relationship with femmehood that will continue to come and associate with the women’s campaign. So yeah, I wanna create those deeper spaces where we can just uplift each other and celebrate our successes, across the spectrum of women.

But by ‘specific’ about what we’re saying, we’re not just saying ‘loving women’ as a monolithic group. We’re having a specific focus on what the specific issues that trans women want us to be discussing in this community, and when we say we support all women, what does that mean? You know, what does that mean for trans women?

So given that over 60 per cent of the university students are women why do you feel that it’s still important to have a women’s officer in the campaign?

Oh my days! So so many people have come up to me this week and asked ‘sooooo is there a men’s officer then?’, and I know that it was a whole thing with the student council, but obviously it’s still important to have one. I don’t really know where to start. I don’t think we should have to wait until there are massive flair ups of gendered issues. There’s obviously unique issues that we still need to advocate for and address and women still need representation for gender specific things that are affecting them. There’s still like horrible sexist group chats going around and lecturers making offhand jokes about the me too movement. There needs to be a go-to person who women can go to for help, [who can] signpost the different resources and be that person who is continually fighting for victims of sexual assault, continually fighting for all other gendered issues on campus. Yeah it’s really important guys.  

Image: Andrew Perry

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