Interviewer: Nahum Gale
Interviewees: Shubhangi Chauhan (President) and Shivangi Singh (Treasurer)
What is the Women’s Collective and what is your purpose?
The Women’s Collective is a community of women studying at UniSA. This club was crafted as a safe space with the key objectives of fostering equality, equity across all women issues, providing a safe environment for its members to share their experiences and cultivating a culture of inclusion and a nurturing women’s environment.
Being a fairly new club, how has the Women’s Collective experienced their first semester at university?
We have had a great run. We were fortunate enough to get in on the Mawson Lakes Campus Fair and got to interact with so many lovely people from the university, which kind of set the pace for us. It was absolutely heart-warming to see people respond positively to our initiative and they were so ready to be involved.
We have had a few bumps along the way, but that is only to be expected when you have a new group of people with such strong views and values working together who haven’t found their groove yet. But they are absolutely amazing girls and we are so lucky to have them and a supportive system behind us in the form of USASA Clubs and everyone else who’s cheering us on from the side.
We have not quite had the same challenges the University of Adelaide Women’s Collective has been facing. There’s been a lot of back and forth with their union, and they have actually had to fight for a place to be considered a club because they were told their initiative is just not important enough or exclusive enough and there were many groups on campus that were kind of vouching for the same thing. So they have had to find their way in the world, but those girls have absolutely smashed it out of the park.
“Our aim is to foster a community-feeling so that we can have a support system…”
What events do you promote with your club?
We’re still in the planning stages of things. We’re aiming to have our first picnic with another club, so it can be an informal event for people to be able to meet everyone without the pressure of a formal setting. But, in the future, we are looking to establish a Saturday morning brunch club. Our aim is to foster a community-feeling so that we can have a support system in the group and then we can probably go on to organising nights out on the town and stuff that everyone else would want to do.
Was there a purpose behind building the club initially? Was there something to trigger this group coming together now or has it been something you have been working on for a while?
I think it started off as one of those things that kind of stemmed from another thing where people would try and do something and then they would realise, ‘oh there is no support system in place’. So, Lex, who’s our co-founder, was working with the university on a project called Respectful and Safe Spaces for Women. From there it kind of stemmed and they were like, ‘why don’t we have a club that does the support bit of it?’. So, we kind of brainstormed and came up with the Women’s Collective and the absence of a support system was basically how it all started.
It is absolutely difficult to have these conversations, and if it becomes a bureaucratic process of [women] reporting stuff and the support is absent from the whole system there are women that are unlikely to come forward with their problems. That is one of the major things that we recognised.
The onset of a pandemic also brought with itself many challenges to already vulnerable groups of women. I have heard harrowing tales of domestic abuse and new international students undergoing sexual grooming, sexual harassment and exploitation at work […] it is just the tip of the iceberg. Many girls have come to us and told us tales of how they were pushed into sex work to pay off their lodgings and fees at university during the pandemic.
We also want to advocate for women’s illnesses to be taken more seriously, like drawing attention to problems such as endometriosis and how it is a debilitating disease, but the university absolutely makes no adjustments for endo patients. So, starting up these conversations is kind of where we are at and also the absence of a safe unstimulated place for women to come and talk about these feelings are also what we are looking at now.
What can people do to tackle these issues women face on campus?
We need to start having open, honest conversations with the university and the people responsible for these things. We will start there and we will by actively fighting and vouching for female student representation on committees that make these decisions such as the sexual harassment, sexual abuse committees so that their opinions can be formed by lived experiences and narratives, rather than what people in a room think is happening. Sometimes the reality does kind of shock people, but ignorance in this case is not the best course of action. We need to go out there and really tell people about what it is people are facing. That is what we are going to start with and we will build from.
Feminism can sometimes, sadly, be thrown around as a bit of a negative word, but what would you define real feminism to be?
Feminism is an intersectional thing. We kind of imbibe everyone in it. Also, with what you said [how] feminism is almost taken as a negative term sometimes, feminism can be accepted in all of its pluralities, like we can still support men and still be there for them whilst also vouching for ourselves. It does not have to be a competition where in people are going, ‘but I like equality better’. We will get to equality when we get to that equal position. An imbalance of power is still out there, [so] for you to get to an equal space first is what matters. That is what feminism is to me. It is intersectional. It is amazing. And it is for everyone.
What is your biggest goal in creating the club? What do you want to get out of this the most?
The cases of domestic violence, harassment and mental breakdowns are increasing. So, it can happen that a woman who is a stranger sitting right beside you, she might be feeling demotivated or downhearted and we are not aware of that. She may be needing someone, but with this club we hope to create a confident environment in which each woman can share whatever they want, support each other, empower each other, gather together and start up initiatives for the advancement of women in safety, health and wellbeing.
Like what you’re reading? Find out more about UniSA Women’s Collective at USASA.sa.edu.au/Clubs/Women
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