An investigation by The Oxford Student has revealed a large disparity in the gender balance of speakers invited to Oxford’s three main student political societies.
Whilst the Oxford University Labour Club has an equal number of male and female speakers, no women are coming to Oxford to address the University Conservative Association this term.
Despite featuring no female speakers on their Freshers’ Fair termcard, the Oxford University Liberal Democrats have since announced the visit of one female parliamentary candidate to compliment their two male visitors.
In response to these figures, OUCA President Robert Greig stated:
“OUCA always invites a diverse range of speakers representing the full breadth of Conservative views and talent, but not everyone we invite can accept.”
OULC Co-Chair Helena Dollimore said she was pleased to have reversed last term’s gender imbalance of the club’s visitors, when over two-thirds of the speakers were men :
“It’s fair to say that for a long time OULC has had a problem with the under-representation of women and other minorities, much like other political societies (and the whole of politics). Tackling the under-representation of women in OULC was a priority for us, and whilst planning Michaelmas term we ensured that our termcard was gender balanced.
“We firmly believe that OULC is at its best when we’re a truly open and welcoming club which represents the society we exist in.”
Although an OUCA audience with Theresa May had been organised, the visit fell through and members had to visit Westminster to hear the Home Secretary speak. Speaking of his pride that she had addressed the Association’s members, Greig said of May:
“She is a formidable stateswoman and it was a privilege to hear her speak and answer questions.”
Greig also stressed the role that OUCA plays in local campaigns:
“[We] regularly spend time campaigning and exchanging views with local MP Nicola Blackwood, one of many great Conservative women in Parliament.”
The gender disparity between the different societies is largely reflected in the parliamentary parties that they are affiliated with. More than a third of the Labour MPs currently sitting in the House of Commons are women, with 11 out of 27 members of the shadow cabinet being female.
The cabinet features only 4 women out of 27 ministers. All of these women are Conservative MPs. Under 16 per cent of Conservative MPs are female, with the Lib Dems coming in last at 12 per cent.
OULD Co-Chair Alex Cibulskis pointed to these national statistics, saying they showed the society’s gender imbalance was “caused largely by a wider trend of too few female MPs in both the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats – something I know that we are keen is addressed, and we intend to make a theme of one of our discussions as a society this term.”
Dollimore recognised that this national proportion of MPs may make it easier for some societies to have a balanced speaker list:
“Since there are so many great women in the Labour movement, from former home secretary Jacqui Smith to Labour Lords Leader Jan Royall, it was an easy task.”
Certain politicians who have already agreed to attend political events in Oxford this term have commented on this issue, including the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles. A spokesperson for Pickles’ ministry stated:
“We would hope that both organisations will be inviting and holding meetings with a diverse range of interesting speakers over the course of the academic year. There are many female Conservative Parliamentarians, all of whom would make excellent guest speakers over the coming terms.”
Dollimore further stated that the proportion of female speakers in the other two societies was “appalling”:“With women footing £11 billion of George Osborne’s £15 billion cuts and 4 women out of 27 in the Cabinet; perhaps it is to be expected. Maybe they should start by getting a women’s officer.”