Woweee! It’s hard to believe that it has been almost an entire year since I decided to run to be the SU Women’s Officer. Nominations may be open today, but I certainly didn’t make the full decision to run until a number of days after nominations had opened (last minute campaigns can work!). I remember how intimidating the role seemed because of the incredible history of the Women’s Campaign and the amazing work of feminist organising at Cambridge. However, I have found that the support provided by the amazing staff at the SU, members of my campaign and the other sabbatical officers have made my working days enjoyable and fulfilling.
Working from home means that I always have time for a nice breakfast and a strong coffee before I start the working day. I try to do something small to wake me up before work - even if it’s to go round the house opening all the curtains or some short stretches before sitting at my desk for the morning. The time that I start work is often quite flexible, and days when I have campaign events or WomCam Forum I like to start work around 11am so I can keep the morning to myself.
The first thing that I like to do with my day is to log on and check my emails and facebook inbox - lots of women and non-binary students will get in contact with me for a whole variety of reasons, and responding to them is a key part of my role. I will often get messages from college women’s officers or student societies asking for advice about issues in their own college’s - from menstrual product provisions, to advice on running a college feminist society. One of my favourite parts of being SU Women’s Officer is supporting the amazing work that happens in the different college’s and helping JCR/MCR Officer’s make the University a more comfortable place for the students I represent.
Most of my standing meetings take place in the morning, and by 10am I’ve normally had enough caffeine to mean I’m wide awake and ready for my Zoom meetings. Towards the beginning of the week the SU sabbatical officers have our weekly catch-up to strategise and discuss the main issues impacting students at the University. These meetings are a really great opportunity to feed in to discussions that are taking place on University committees and ensure that the needs of women and non-binary students are being heard at all levels. One of the hidden parts of this role is working as part of the Cambridge SU sabb team and feeding into group projects.
Some of the main issues we’ve been discussing over the last few weeks have been support for private renters, flexibility in students return policies and setting up an SU Gender Expression Fund.
Usually my meetings will last until lunch time, but if not I tend to use the late morning to work on planning events and ongoing projects. This is so I can leave the afternoon free for writing resources and papers. One of my big projects at the moment is planning for this year’s Reclaim the Night event, which is being co-hosted by members of the Women’s Campaign and FLY. Today I start drafting some emails to be sent to potential speakers for the vigil on Friday March 12th. This year we wanted to use the pandemic to reflect on the principles of Reclaim the Night and think about ways to make the physical march more accessible. Reclaim the Night is an annual SU project on which the Women’s Officer takes the lead, and is a really great opportunity to work with collectives from across the University and the Cambridge community.
Much of my project planning is supported by the amazing staff at Cambridge SU. For example, I will often have catch-ups with Sam, the Campaigns and Societies Co-ordinator about my ideas and progress on campaigns like Reclaim the Night. If there is ever an issue on which I’m unsure about something or need a second opinion, then both the SU staff and the other sabbatical officers are always willing to provide support.
Lunchtime means time away from the screen. I always make sure that I leave the house during this hour to go for a nice walk along the river with one of my housemates. A couple of times a week I’ll treat myself to a nice hot chocolate from our local cafe (a welcome break from the caffeine). In a normal year the sabbatical officers will spend their day moving between different locations across the University to meet different members of the University - so leaving the house wouldn’t usually be on your to-do list.
After Coffee #3 (yes, really) my brain is usually ready to focus on more resource-based tasks. Currently the majority of my afternoons are spent working on resources to support our work with the Cambridge Period Project on campaigning against period poverty on campus. Today, after meeting to discuss the response to our open letter, I started working on the SU bid to include single-use menstrual products in the Sexual Health Scheme. After research by the Project identified that 51.6% of menstruating students struggle to afford menstrual products, we realised that this is an issue that impacts students across the university. We are hoping that setting up a central scheme and writing papers for University committees on improving provisions in departmental buildings will help support students struggling with the costs of menstrual products.
My afternoons can vary greatly depending what projects I’m working on. Alongside writing papers for University committees I may also spend them writing council motions, or working on collaborative resources amongst the sabbatical officers. For example, I am working with Howard on a resource to support college liberation officers in campaigning for changes to the complaints procedures within their college.
My favourite part of being the Women’s Officer is my work with the SU Women’s Campaign - a collective of women and non-binary students from across the University who work to advocate and build networks of solidarity amongst our members. I have regular catch-ups with different members of the committee to help support them in running events and activities. Today I have a meeting with Billie and Ben, who are the campaigns LGBT+ and Non-Binary representatives. We discuss our exciting plans for an anti-heteronormativity party and an upcoming workshop on trans-liberation with Harry Josie Giles. Working with other students on their campaign priorities is a key part of my role, as the feminist movement at Cambridge has been sustained through passing on skills to new students each year.
On a normal weekday I will finish the working day around 5pm. However, as one of the liberation officers I will often have a Women’s Campaign Forum or social event in the evening. The highlight of my week is Women’s Forum; the main organising meeting and decision-making body of the Women’s Campaign where we will often discuss the campaigns activities and priorities. Forum isn’t just a space for decision-making but a chance for the campaign to engage in collective care; every forum starts with Allison, the Chair of the campaign asking everyone to share something positive that has happened to them this week. After this we will discuss a range of different topics; support for care-giving students, college-based femsocs or the issue of rent and housing.
Other evenings may be spent at SU Council where I’ve proposed motions on issues like period poverty, college discipline procedures and the rights of trans students on campus. I always make sure that the hours spent at forum or SU Council are taken out of other parts of my working week. The SU staff are really great at making sure we don’t overwork and ensuring that we maintain a healthy balance between our roles and personal lives.