This year’s University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU) elections have resulted in four out of the six sabbatical positions being filled by women. This is at the same time that Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork have also elected female-dominated sabbatical teams, with five out of six positions going to women.
There is a stark contrast between the result at UCD and those at TCD and UCC, however, namely the fact that only one race in the UCDSU elections was contested. The results in the other two female-dominated elections shows a clear win for feminism in those constituencies, as not only were the majority of those positions contested, but there was a woman running for each sabbatical position in UCC, meaning that, with the exception of UCC Entertainment Officer race, female candidates ran successful campaigns against men or other women to be elected on their merit.
Similarly, the TCD elections saw every female winner beat a male candidate, with the only exception being Aoife Cronin, who ran unopposed for the position of Communications and Marketing Officer. Again, the only position taken by a male candidate in the TCD SU elections was that of the Entertainments Officer. Without an in-depth analysis of each candidate’s policies, these results can definitely be seen as a major win for feminism in their respective colleges.
Where the UCD results differ, however, is that not a single woman ran against any other opposition to be elected. Not a single woman ran for the presidency, and two of the unopposed positions won by women were re-elections. While this clearly proves that there is a severe lack of engagement and interest in the UCDSU, there is a worrying, underlying lack of female empowerment represented by these results and the SU race in general.
The lack of female candidates running for the presidency echoes the trend started by corporations of gender quotas, wherein many lower-level positions are filled with women, while the higher up positions remain held by men. This is not to say that any of the women were elected as a quota, or in any way do not deserve their position, but merely speaks to a similarity with the trend of powerful positions being held by men.
The current SU is a long way away from their last female president, Joanna Siewierska, although after the Katie Ascough controversy the SU have a lot to do to improve the image of female presidents as well.
The UCDSU results show signs of hope
While there are concerning aspects of the UCDSU elections as a whole, there is also a clear sign of hope for feminism and female student politics in UCD. The number of female representatives on the sabbatical team for the new year, as well as their respective routes to their current roles, can prove to promote more female engagement in the SU. The College Officer positions are also dominated by women, most of whom were successful against male candidates.
The likes of Molly Greenough has worked her way through the SU’s structures from grassroots level as a class rep all the way to Welfare Officer, with potential for her to continue rising through the ranks if her previous success is anything to go by. Similarly, Sarah Michalek and Carla Gummerson have been part of the SU for a while and will be looking to increase not only the visibility of the SU, but women in the SU as well.
As the 20×20 movement made clear in the world of sport in 2020, ‘if she can’t see it she can’t be it’. While this was mainly aimed at promoting media reportage of female sports, the message can easily be translated to the world of politics, as the more female students see other female students in the world of politics, the more likely they are to see themselves in the same positions.
It is finally up to Ruairi Power as UCDSU President to champion feminism by consulting with his female-dominated team, as well as other women and non-binary students to champion women’s rights, and encourage more women to get involved with student politics. Time will tell whether this sabbatical team and the SU as a whole can promote feminism and equality, but there is hope for the future of student politics that there is a big win for feminism on the horizon.