Hiding in plain sight: WomCam’s ideological discrimination

Will Bennett 23 May 2018

I recently read an article about WomCam’s allocation of funding, in line with the NUS initiative, for those wishing to vote in the Irish abortion referendum. At first, I thought it admirable that, in the absence of a postal vote, those whose finances would otherwise have barred them from voting now had a chance to vote in this crucial referendum. However, when I discovered that this funding was being offered to those intending to vote “yes” in the upcoming referendum, I was appalled. Whilst I myself am staunchly pro choice and would love to see the 8th amendment repealed, I believe it is wrong for WomCam to only advertise money to students who plan to vote in accord with an official stance.

The WomCam website states that WomCam “work[s] to eliminate all forms of oppression and discrimination faced by women and non-binary people in the University at an institutional, social, and cultural level.” If this is the case, why do I feel that diversity of opinion outside of hate speech is something deemed worth punishment by the organisation? Even though I am a pro-choice woman, who you would expect to feel represented in this situation, I can’t say I feel represented by WomCam’s attempts to shame pro-lifers and those who wish to vote “no” in the upcoming elections into silence.

On the face of it, it is admirable for WomCam to raise the funds to enable Irish students to vote in the referendum whose finances might otherwise have barred them from doing so. However, this does not give WomCam the right to manipulate students’ voting intentions, as if their vote were purchasable.  Those who wish to vote “no” should be treated with the same respect as those voting “yes” by an organisation which stands to represent the diversity of women and non-binary students at Cambridge. If the group cannot afford to consider all applications for referendum funding then they are unable to justify it, as they have a responsibility to treat all female and non-binary students equally.

It is of the utmost importance that those affected by the issue of abortion are offered support by WomCam – I myself took part in WomCam's protest against Abort67’s insensitively graphic and obtrusive pro life demonstration on King’s Parade in May 2017. I completely agree with WomCam that abortion is a triggering issue for some and that it’s wrong to bombard vulnerable people with graphic images in such a public place, or near an abortion clinic.  However, I felt increasingly uncomfortable as the WomCam group started to chant incendiary things such as: “you don’t care if people die,” ironically turning to intimidation tactics of their own in order to protest against exactly that. Those who hold minority opinions that, whilst unpopular, do not officially constitute hate speech are often among the most vulnerable on campus. 

This is also shown by WomCam’s current use of peer pressure in their campaign against the class lists. Rather than informing students about their choice in the matter, senior members are trying to persuade students to adopt their cover photo on the subject that includes the phrase: “If enough of us opt out, then we will end Class Lists for good.” The implication of this is that those who do not wish to opt out – I myself believe people should have the choice, but I’m unfazed by my own name appearing on the class lists – are supportive of an elitist agenda represented by the class lists and that they are not doing their duty by keeping their names on the class lists. In short, it appears that WomCam are attempting to influence students’ opinions regarding issues on which everyone has a right to their own opinion. I believe that WomCam has a duty to show students in a minority opinion greater understanding if it is to continue claiming such a wide representation.

In conclusion, it is inappropriate for a group that claims to represent all female and non-binary students on campus to pursue one side of an issue and treat its opponents with disdain. It is hurtful for students who disagree with WomCam’s (inappropriately) official stance on a complex political issue when WomCam’s “condemnations” imply that they are somehow an enemy to female and non-binary students in Cambridge and beyond. Debate is absolutely necessary to education – it stunts students’ potential development if they are told what to think and not taught how to challenge. I was originally apprehensive to publish this article under my name, but I feel that I have the right to offer a respectfully-expressed counter argument on a political issue without fear of intimidation and that I am passionate enough about this issue to wish to exercise that right.

Given that the majority of students are pro choice, I think it is futile and insensitive to attack respectful pro life students. No student organisation which claims to represent a diverse group should take the opinion of the majority and attempt to silence any counter arguments. If WomCam wishes to pursue a strongly pro-choice agenda, it should no longer claim that it represents all female and non-binary students at the University of Cambridge.

WomCam have not said that they would not support a bursary application for someone voting pro life, but the offer is to those who wish to vote "YES to REPEAL".