International Women’s Day: Inspiring Women of SUSU

In Features

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As part of our celebrations for International Women’s Day, all this month we will be sharing stories from fantastic #WomenofSUSU on our Facebook page. You can also read through their stories below –  we will be adding new ones all throughout March.

This evening, our Postgraduate Committee are hosting a panel talk featuring inspiring women from the Union and the University, to speak about struggles they’ve faced and achievements they have accomplished. The panel will take place in The Bridge at 18:30; you can find out more on the Facebook event: IWD: Celebrating the amazing women from our University

Priya Shukla, Spaceflight Society President

“Before coming to University, I would never have thought I’d be in this position. I’ve gone from attending an all-girls school for most of my life, to suddenly being in lectures of almost 90% men, to joining a society where I was the only woman. And now, here I am, leading this same society. It makes sense then that I want to inspire more women to join us, but also inspire the next generation of female scientists. I want girls in schools now to feel like they can make the choice to do STEM subjects without it being considered controversial, or out of the ordinary like it was for me. That’s why we run workshops where school kids come build and launch model rockets which I still find super cool. And, of course, we run all kinds of space related projects for our members too.

In my time as President, I have seen some amazing projects start and, importantly, the number of female members triple, which sounds great, except this does translate as a grand total of three women – so we’re one short of a quiz team! It does say something though, that in all of Spaceflight Society’s history, there have been more female presidents than male. It’s nice to know that I follow in the footsteps of some brilliant women who helped me believe that I could do this role and do it well.”

Ros Frayard-Smith, NurSoc President

“I never saw myself as a leader when I was younger; making my voice heard and standing apart from the crowd was difficult for me. But in my time here at the University, I have grown in confidence thanks largely to the inspirational female leaders I have had the privilege of being surrounded by. Being elected the inaugural President of NurSoc is one of my proudest achievements, giving me a platform to show other young women you don’t always have to be the most self-assured and outgoing person to succeed in leadership.”

Kiana Mostaghimi, Mind Society President

“The Baha’i faith teaches that men and women are like the two wings of one bird, and to make progress in its flight, the bird needs both wings to be fully developed. The progress of women in societal positions has been incredible recently, and I feel that we have a duty in continuing to inspire the new generation of young women to carry on showing the world their potential!

In my role as president of Mind Society I have seen how much easier women find it to speak about their mental health, whereas many men unfortunately mistake this vulnerability for weakness. So they tend to shy away from the topic. I hope that this traditionally “feminine” characteristic of being emotional can envelop the hearts of everyone, so that we can all learn better coping and sharing strategies about our mental health and become closer as humans. Go forth sisters!”

Sophie Onn (Tap Dance President), Chloe Taylor (Contemporary Dance President) and Eleanor Ruck (Jazz Dance President)

“Women in leadership mark a positive change in society, which hopefully inspires and empowers others globally. We went for the roles of President in Contemporary, Jazz and Tap Dance because we wanted to become more involved in the societies we love and to work together with our committees to make our ideas become a reality. It is important in our roles to be adaptable, approachable and to have the ability to take control when needed. We are currently working towards our annual show, Pure Dance 2018! by perfecting our class routines, coordinating the costumes and managing payments.”

Leyla Elsey, Housing Officer

“Women in leadership roles is important to me because it shows we are finally moving towards more gender-equal work environments. It shows that women are making a stand in a previously male-dominated world, and that is something that will not only empower women of the future but it will make us feel more worthy as individuals. When I graduate from University, I want to work in an industry where people of all genders are paid the same; because of the work that they carry out, not because of their gender, and I believe that women in leadership roles is how we can move towards this type of equality in the workplace.”

Petra Jones, Humanities Faculty Officer

“Hi, I’m Petra and I am the Humanities Faculty Officer. I ran for this position because I wanted to better represent the students to the best of my abilities and to listen to their voices, this includes trying to help make the changes they want to see. I want the students to have the best experience possible, because it is there degree and they should have a say.”

Irene Maara, East African Society President

“I took on the role because I believed I could help with the development of the society. I wanted to make impact, even if it was just one person. I believed I could lead my team to unleash their fullest potential through this role.”

Nicola Scott, Zumba+ Society President

“Starting university can sometimes be scary and daunting. I have really worked hard this year to try and make sure that the Zumba+ Society is the most welcoming and caring as it possibly can be. We have worked hard for charity and SUSU including our ‘Bring a boy to Zumba’ event for Solent Mind, and doing various performances for: Women in Sport week, Movember, SCA week, You Make Change Summit and even dancing at a community street party!

But one thing that has been at the core of the society this year is mental health. Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year and Zumba+ Society want to do anything and everything we can to help! We know that exercise can be a great stress relief and mood booster so we try and make sure everyone feels comfortable in all of our classes and offer a ‘pay as you go’ system so people can pick when/if they’d like to come to a class. We have also done plenty of fundraising for Solent Mind, which is a fantastic mental health charity.”

Hadeeka Taj, Debating Union President and Student Trustee

“We are incredibly lucky that we have the right to freedom of speech and the ability to exercise this in our society, this is evident with the recent discussions addressing key challenges such as cultural prejudices, gender stereotypes, equality across societies and the increasing numbers of women assuming leadership roles. However, it is very easy to take this for granted and we still have progress to make. Sadly, freedom of speech is a privilege and not a right as not all women across the world have the freedom or opportunity to express themselves. Therefore, it is how we decide to utilise this freedom to help give women a voice and encourage them to speak up, in societies where they are not able to exercise this, which determines our progress towards making freedom of speech for women an inherent right. Freedom of speech and debate are instrumental in challenging the status quo and working towards equality for women worldwide. I am passionate about promoting freedom of speech across campus, I believe debating is a great way to facilitate discussion and discuss controversial issues that are important to women and the wider student population. It is key that we constantly challenge views through debate and in doing so raise awareness of a range of issues from student politics to mental health stigmatisation.

Something I have been working hard on this year has been widening the range of issues we address to encompass both localised and global topics, with our Freshers’ debate on Prostitution earlier in the year, inviting Sir Richard Shireff from NATO to discuss war with Russia, our Israeli Embassy debate and local hustings debate. We are working towards collaborating with the university to organise more high profile debates to stimulate greater discussion from experts in their field, so we can have more panel discussions on a wider range of topics. As a society, we have really worked hard to make debating open and encourage more women to get involved in the conversation about crucial issues. I feel that the wider scope of topics addressed this year has meant that there are a range of debates we have held which have appealed to a wider range of people and really engaged them.”

Rachel Garratt, President of our Ladies’ Football Team

“I love football and have done since a young age. The enjoyment, fitness, confidence and friends I have gained through football is invaluable to me. I want to share this with other women and girls in this male dominated sport. I would like those at all levels to feel involved and valued as well as raise the profile of women’s football in positive ways through inclusive leadership.”

Christy, Macau Society President

“Eight years ago I arrived in this country for the purpose of pursuing my education; it has been a long but incredibly inspiring journey. Meeting many people that came from different countries with different cultures or backgrounds taught me how to appreciate that every individual can be different in their own way.

When I was younger, I found it difficult to meet friends who have the same cultural background as me since I was the only pupil from Macau, China. As I started my degree – Adult Nursing at the University of Southampton, I met people who share similar background as me. They inspired me to form a platform for students from Macau to meet friends and explore their university life. With the support of these inspiring people, a group of passionate committee members and I successfully founded Macau Society within the Students’ Union in 2017.

In our first event, we gathered around 35 students together and today we have around 100 members in our society. Later in the year, we will organise an event for students to exchange their study experience in the UK to pupils at high schools in Macau.

I believe no matter what gender, colour or age you are, it is never too late to start living the life you’ve imagined. Equality in women is the normality of this new era. Women should not be afraid to strive for equal rights.”

Tess Voysey, Halls Officer

“I really enjoyed getting involved in student volunteer roles in first and second year, so for third year I decided to go for a Student Leader position in an area I was really passionate about… Halls! Leading large teams of Halls Committees and Reps has been such a rewarding experience and I would encourage anyone thinking about applying for a role to just do it – it’s been the best decision I’ve made whilst at uni. I’ve met so many amazing people, made friends for life and have the best memories to take away with me – not to mention all the skills and confidence I have gained along the way!”

Niamh Ward, Social Sciences Society President

“I’m inspired by Malala Yousafzai. Her courage and determination drives me to maximise my opportunities. Now I strive to influence others and contribute to the global efforts for liberty, equality, and empowerment”

Thrinayani Ramakrishnan, Actuarial Society President

“Women in leadership positions is important to me so that inequalities within our communities can be challenged with the contribution of diverse thoughts and ideas by both women and men. This is also important as young women will have female role models to look up to and believe that they can achieve anything with their talents and hard work. After being fortunate enough to be elected as the President of Southampton University’s Actuarial Society, I have had the privilege of connecting students with employers, organising the Actuarial Careers Fair and engaging with many young women within Mathematical Sciences who are learning the technical and professional skills needed to do well within the actuarial field, which has typically been a male-dominated profession. The women working to create a positive change within our Students’ Union are inspiring role models, who are breaking down barriers that young women face at university. The hard work and compassion of the women and men behind the running of Southampton University’s Students’ Union is incredible.”

Isabella Camilleri, Wellbeing Officer

“Seeing the previous years IWD campaigns, with images of (just a handful) of women leaders that we have at our University is so inspirational to me. It makes me feel empowered knowing that it is possible to become a female leader, who can make real positive changes to our community. It’s refreshing to see women portrayed as strong and powerful, instead of passive objects, as we are too often portrayed as. I also think it’s great to celebrate female leaders as it shows that SUSU fully supports, respects and celebrates the development of strong women.

Women who are inspirational to me are women who are unapologetically themselves – who aren’t worried about the stigma that’s attached to them for being strong or a feminist. Women who put themselves and their interests on the line to work towards the greater good of others. Women who see the bigger picture and spend their life working to make other peoples lives positive ones.”

Freya Millard, Wessex Scene Editor

“The rates of women as editors and heads of media corporations in the world is disappointingly low and without women in the media our voices are not to be heard. In all industries we face much harder scrutiny than our male counterparts and we are not expected to perform at their level, we’re expected to perform higher just to be counted as their equals.

At this University, Wessex Scene has been run by strong women for at least the last four/five years. I felt honoured to be following in their footsteps and to be given the opportunity to take on this leadership role and develop the student newspaper even further. As Editor my goal was to give a voice to all students and make sure that they felt welcome to use Wessex Scene as a platform to express themselves. This year I also changed the format of the magazines to focus entirely on topics that concerned and interested our student body, such as; sustainable living, sexual consent awareness, diversity and of course, equality. I firmly believe that without talking about the topics that matter to us, we won’t make any change in this world.

Although I have had the most rewarding and incredible year in this role, I have to admit that being a woman in leadership is tough. What our Union President, Flora Noble said in her video for International Women’s Day resonated with me completely. Women leaders have to keep up external appearances constantly and are never allowed weakness to be seen. But I think that the strongest women leaders don’t deny the existence of their weaknesses and pretend they are superhuman. They face their challenges head on, get the help necessary to overcome them and they find a way to turn their weaknesses into their strengths and not their downfall.”

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