Martha Reilly is the newly elected Women’s Officer for 2019/20. The Student was able to discuss her ideas with her for the upcoming year.
When talking about her decision to run for the position of Women’s Officer, Martha spoke of her experiences with the liberation campaigns throughout her time at university. She had started at Edinburgh with the mind to get involved with liberation politics and through her involvement with campaigns such as ‘Fight for the Night’ and her position on the Women’s Liberation Committee, she saw the role of Women’s Officer as way of uplifting the women students on campus and a way to celebrate all the societies that work for their benefit.
Like the BME Officer, Martha ran for Women’s Officer unopposed. She agreed that the process of campaigning and running for public office can be off-putting for many women, especially as she believes that many women students do not trust the Edinburgh University Students’ Association. This disconnect is something she strives to be mindful of, as she wants all woman-identifying students to feel represented and heard in her upcoming campaigns.
‘Fight for the Night’ is a campaign that Martha is very fond of, having kickstarted her involvement with liberation politics at Edinburgh. However, she spoke of her desire to make the campaign more survivor focused. Through the creation of an anonymous sign-up group, the hope is that this would provide a community for those having to endure the often “traumatising” and “isolating” experience of reporting their claims of sexual harassment and assault and to create a network of support that would be active throughout the year. While she would not explicitly encourage students to report their claims of sexual abuse to the Students’ Association, as this is something she believes is at a person’s discretion, Martha does aim to create a community of survivors that would show students that they are not alone in their experiences.
Martha spoke of the necessity of having her role being one based on collaboration, especially with the other liberation campaigns. She aims to create a ‘Loving Women’ series which will be a space for women to come together and recuperate, as activism also involves “being there in the quiet moments to lift each other up and keep each other going.” Martha was clear in her desire to have these spaces be welcoming to women of colour, disabled women and trans women and in her priority to represent all women students on campus.
When considering the changes needed to be made regarding the Students’ Association approach to her role as Women’s Officer and the university’s approach to women students, Martha spoke passionately of her wish to see all committee roles be paid. This would not only encourage more students to apply for positions on the Liberation Committee, but would show these roles to be properly established and valued. She also mentioned how in her tenure as Women’s Officer, Martha will hope to pay the creatives and educators who come into university to speak about their experiences. These people’s effort and time need to be respected and reimbursed and this will show further how displays of activism are valued on the university campus.
The political engagement of Edinburgh students was a hot topic during the election campaign. Despite the hard push by the Students’ Association to increase the number of students voting, a recent editorial by The Student discussed how only 5, 400 students voted in the election, out of around 40,000 students currently enrolled at Edinburgh. To try and tackle this problem, Martha talked about holding a participation drive at the beginning of her campaign to reach out to first-years along with those established students who previously had not engaged in student politics. She noted how these numbers represent a wider disengagement with student politics but believes that having accountable leaders is the foundation to moving forward and bucking this trend.
At the top of Martha’s agenda is community building. Sexual harassment and period poverty are two issues that Martha is particularly passionate about, and she is eager to use her new position to raise more awareness around these specific problems. She endeavours to get more students involved with activism through creative measures and exciting fundraisers, such as ‘I Rise: An Evening of Performance’ that is taking place before ‘Fight for the Night’ and is in support of Shakti Women’s Aid. She is looking forward to building networks with trans students, especially after the trauma of the transphobic stickers that were found on campus, and aims to strengthen trust between trans students and the university body.
In closing, Martha remarked how she is excited to take on the role of Women’s Officer. Despite limited resources and limited time, she is excited to dive straight in, be open to criticism, and “just do the best I can do.”
Image: Hannah Robinson