**Article by Cristina Rice**
Meet Sally, Chair of Bristol University’s Women’s Network
Sally Patterson is a 3rd year Politics and Sociology student at Bristol University. She is currently Chair of the Women’s Network for Bristol Student’s Union and one of the delegates representing the university at the NUS Conference for the second year running. I caught up with her to find out more about the Network, her role and how others can get involved.
Tell me a bit about the Women’s Network
The Women’s Network is a platform within the SU, open to any students who self-define as women. It is designed to represent women and ensure that their voices are heard and their specific interests are provided for.
What exactly is your role?
This year I’m the chair, which is basically the head of the Network. I’m working with a fantastic committee, who we elected a couple of weeks ago, to try and reach out to as many women on campus as possible. Our aim is to make sure that women have the best experience they can whilst at Bristol University. Whether it’s by making sure that they’re safer, making sure that they’re being represented or making sure that they have access to all areas of student life. We are also working towards making sure that there are no women-specific hurdles we may face that are not being addressed by the SU.
What are some of the issues you think are yet to be addressed?
I think that the Union has been working on women’s issues very effectively for the last few years and it’s definitely been moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, there are still too many cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence on university campuses and around universities. This is certainly not a Bristol-specific problem and is something that students around the country, and indeed around the world, face far too often. It’s something that the NUS have picked up on in campaigns over the last few years and something that we’re continuing to work on this year. Something that hasn’t yet been addressed is women’s sexual health. This is a campaign that I’m planning on bringing to the Women’s Network after the Christmas holidays. This will focus on sexual health, contraception options and ensuring that women’s sexual health is just as catered for as their physical and mental health at university.
You mentioned the NUS picking up on women’s issues in recent years, can you describe your involvement there?
Last year, I was very lucky to be sent by Bristol to represent the university and their SU in the NUS conference and I am one of the 7 delegates returning this year. I’m very excited to go back and continue to advocate for women’s issues and rights on a national level because we can do so much more with the extra support, resources and publicity that this gives us.
How did you get involved in all this?
I’ve always been very engaged with women’s issues. Growing up with two brothers definitely taught me how to fight for myself from a young age and my mother is incredible within the sphere of fighting for women’s representation, especially within Judaism and through bringing women from different faiths together. Being around that my whole life has been a huge inspiration. I also went to an all boys’ school that only accepted a handful of girls at sixth form. The lad culture I witnessed and the casual sexism constantly being thrown around was an eye opener and really got to me. As I noticed this more, I started picking up on the way women wouldn’t put their hand up in the classroom or volunteer themselves for leadership roles. I started questioning why this was and thinking about all the ways this sort of culture affects women in every stage of their life, from gender stereotypes to the casual acceptance of sexual assault and harassment. Then when I started university, I expected everything to be different as everyone was that much older, but if anything I was even more shocked by what I saw. Halls’ culture in particular is especially dangerous for women in terms of safety and I really just wanted to make everything better for the women around me and make a change at Bristol.
This sounds like a pretty big task to take on. How do you balance your involvement in the Women’s Network and the NUS with your university work and social life?
I’ve always liked to be busy and whenever something arises that I’m interested in I can’t help but get involved. Balancing everything is definitely a challenge but it’s such a passion of mine that it genuinely doesn’t feel like work, because it’s what I’m doing all the time anyway. In my private life I’m calling out everyday sexism and we’ve recently launched the ‘Everyday Sexism’ style Facebook page ‘Spotted: Sexism in Bristol’, which is a great way you can call out the unacceptable behaviour you see around you every day. I’m the person who’s always counting the number of women who are interviewed on TV or how many women ask questions at events. I’m always looking out for it and always ready to defend these issues as and when I see them. I think these sorts of networks are so important because I believe there’s so much more I can learn from all the other women doing incredible things around me, which I see everyday in Bristol and in the wider world. I think the more that we can meet and engage with one another and learn from one another, the further we can go and the greater the impact we can have on those around us.
Tell me a bit about your upcoming campaign
Our first big campaign of the year is called Reclaim and starts on 6th November. Reclaim is divided into three weeks: Reclaim our Bodies, Reclaim our Power and Reclaim the Night. Reclaim the Night has actually been going on for a number of years at Bristol and is already a national campaign. It involves a huge march with women from across the city, through the streets of Bristol, in order to raise awareness of sexual harassment, sexual violence and domestic violence. It has become an incredible campaign over the last few years, but I really wanted to turn it into something with a wider scope that could educate people even further. Reclaim our Bodies will specifically target the verbal and online harassment that everyone, but women in particular, face everyday about the way we look, societal pressures regarding the way we ought to look and what happens when we don’t reach these unrealistic standards. Reclaim our Power is about reclaiming our voice and reminding women that they are not alone and that these problems are institutional and no individual’s fault. It’s also aiming to educate women about the things that we can do when we see injustice happening around us, whether its using a reporting tool, or taking a self defence class and joining forces with other women in order to feel more confident speaking out.
How can people get involved?
The Women’s Network is the easiest way to get involved with representation and campaign on gender issues at Bristol University. Our Reclaim the Night march will take place on 25th November and will end with an event in the Anson Rooms in the SU, where we’ll be hearing from speakers and displaying music and art all inspired by women around Bristol and at Bristol University. To get involved simply join our Facebook group ‘Women’s Network Bristol SU’ and keep an eye out for our upcoming events or follow our Instagram and Twitter accounts and get in touch. I’d love to hear from any women at Bristol University about your experiences. It’s so easy to keep up to date with the projects we’re working on, including our radio show ‘Wonder Women’, which you can listen to at 10am every Monday on Bristol’s Burst Radio Station. The most important thing is that women at Bristol do feel they’re represented, are part of a community and that they have a place to go – and that place is the Women’s Network.
Women’s Network Facebook
Reclaim Bristol 2017 Event
Spotted: Sexism at Bristol
Burst Radio Station