Culture

The University Of Tasmania Has Elected A Man As Women’s Officer And People Are Very Angry

This is awkward.

[Update April 9]: James Ritchie resigned from his role as women’s officer yesterday, posting a two-page statement on the TUU website.

“Contrary to what people may say, I do this with a heavy heart and believe there are no winners from this situation,” he wrote. “I am genuinely saddened that some people can spend so much time and effort arguing about who should hold a certain position, yet fail to recognise the ability of that person to break down barriers and use solidarity to enact positive change.”

“Of course we need female leaders and female representation but if men are unwilling to show leadership and support women in the challenges they face, how can we really expect to address these issues holistically.”

“Whether or not James had good intentions, he could not adequately represent women as a male student,” TUU President Heidi La Pagila told Togatus in response.

Last week, The University of Tasmania’s student union held a small by-election to fill some vacant positions. People were appointed as Welfare Officer, Education Officer and Regional Secretary and — because this is usually an issue most students actively avoid, frantically blocking their ears and sprinting in the opposite direction of anyone wearing a coloured shirt — no one cared.

But now, the candidate who landed the job of Women’s Officer has made national headlines. This is because the incumbent, James Ritchie, is very definitely not a woman.

This may sound odd, but it’s weirdly legit. While most Australian universities have specific stipulations that both candidates and voters must identify as a wom*n, in this case Tasmania University Union did not. Because of this, Ritchie was able to be elected 112 votes to 88 against a female opponent.

“It’s not a publicity stunt,” he told The Examiner. “I’m genuinely interested in helping women whatever issues or feedback they give me, I want to help them do that and I think that’s good for women and good for men and that’s good for the community.”

For some reason, this hasn’t gone down very well with the larger student community.

The UTAS Women’s Collective have since launched a Change.org petition calling for Ritchie’s resignation or disqualification, and it’s amassed more than 800 signatures in a little over a day.

“The role of Women’s Officer is more that just about ‘doing things’ for women students. It is also about representation,” the petition reads. “In what have historically been male-dominated institutions, with a persistently patriarchal culture, it is important that women’s rights, needs, interests and concerns in the university context are voiced through someone elected to directly represent them.”

It then goes on to explain that the omission of a gender stipulation in the position’s original description was an oversight. Additionally, the Collective claim the election was “unconstitutional” due to an overarching ruling from the Anti-Discrimination Officer in 2000.

“The Women’s Officer must identify as a woman on the grounds that the role exists to advocate for women as a group who experience oppression in relation to men,” they state.

“The role of the Women’s Officer is not an easy addition to a resume to us. Our representation is not a ‘minority issue’ to us. Women’s welfare at university is not a joke to us.”

Though she also expressed some concerns with the appointment, Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Robin Banks told ABC Radio this morning that there was no legal reason why Ritchie couldn’t take up the role.

And, regardless of the way he was appointed, everybody should probably just chill. History has told us time and time again that there’s no reason to worry about stuff like this. No reason at all.

Feature image: Tony Abbott/Facebook.

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