Sorana Vieru, NUS VP for Higher Education and Kerry Abel, Chair of Abortion rights, came together to discuss the disproportionate impact on women and other minority communities that the government’s austerity measures have. We heavily stressed the importance of linking your campus anti-cuts group to local liberation campaigns, such as the Feminist Society or the LGBT group, to create a network of supportive and open people who can really work together to combat both social inequality and the injustice of these cuts.
Sorana pointed out that a shockingly high number of Black postgraduate and PHD students drop out of their course before its completion, and considered the possible causes of this, including the ignorance of academic staff in terms of meeting their students’ needs. Students from marginalised or poorer backgrounds are often neglected by university staff who fail to understand the difficulties they experience. Our current education system is limited and exclusive to a specific kind of lifestyle that privileges white people, particularly white males. Sorana also discussed how the academic work of some Black women is, outrageously, not taken seriously and is dismissed as ‘the kind of writing you would find on a blog’. This attitude, deeply engrained in the world of academia, cannot be allowed to continue unaddressed, and as the country’s leading student activists we should ensure that we are connecting with communities suffering from discrimination in the academic and political world to make education accessible for everyone.
Kerry reminded us that single parents are among those hit the hardest by austerity, suffering from a 7% average drop in income per year; of these single parents, approximately 90% are women. Children in single-parent families are twice as likely to be living in poverty as those in couple families. Furthermore, government cuts to vital NHS services include the closure of large numbers of sexual health and abortion clinics, which is an ideological move as much as a practical one; Kerry informed us that for every £1 spent on contraception, the NHS saves £6, so it is completely illogical to impede access to these services in an effort to ‘cut the deficit’ because cutting these services will lead to bigger spending in the long term.
Preventing women from accessing safe and legitimate terminations is illegal, and Kerry asked that we support the movement to pressure our government into criminalising those who protest outside abortion clinics and physically prevent women from being able to enter the clinic. It is not ours to question their decisions, but to facilitate whatever choices they make, respecting women as independent and freethinking humans instead of cutting access to health services to pay off big bankers and ignoring the needs of half of the population.
There is clearly a fault in the logic of our bigoted government and society, and we discussed the statistics of women in high-earning positions that mirror this; the one that resonated with me the most was that only 28% of newspaper editors are female and only 25% of women are in top managerial positions. The media is such a controlling force for public opinion that such an underrepresentation is truly appalling. Once again, we reiterated that it is our responsibility to communicate with unrepresented groups and to show our solidarity with them in the face of ruthless government cuts and their disregard for social equality.
This society, and the racism and sexism within it, are not necessary; nor is this outdated discrimination. Not only is there an alternative to austerity, but there is an alternative to bigotry and inequality. This isn’t the way it has to be – we all know there is an alternative. Now let’s make it happen.