Current Affairs

UNWomen Oxford disbanded over Rudd controversy

UN Women UK have severed ties with UNWomen Oxford following controversy over the invitation of former Home Secretary Amber Rudd. UN Women UK will entirely disassociate themselves with the student society formerly known as UNWomen Oxford, which has come after a late decision was made to prevent her from speaking thirty minutes before she was due to speak at an event commemorating International Women’s Day.

UN Women UK have requested permanent removal of the UN’s name and logo “from all platforms and materials with immediate effect”. UN Women UK regard both the decision to invite Rudd to speak, as well as the decision to disinvite her at late notice as creating an ‘untenable and unsustainable’ situation.

UN Women UK objected to inviting Rudd, a well-known UK politician, to speak in the first place, without prior consultation, as something they cannot condone due to the close funding and strategic partnership the central body have with the UK Government. The close media scrutiny now being ‘mistakenly’ focussed on UN Women UK following the no-platforming also makes this decision one which the national organisation is keen to wash their hands of.

Rudd had been invited to speak at an event celebrating International Women’s Day, sparking dissatisfaction from many on social media, including some members of the Oxford African and Caribbean Society, citing Rudd’s use of racist language in the past and her involvement in the Windrush scandal. Members of the UNWomen Oxford committee were also uneasy about the event.

Eventually, half an hour before the event was due to take place, the committee and former members of committee (including the founder and ex-presidents) met – without the then incumbent president Felicity Graham – to vote to withdraw the invitation to speak. This  decision was made despite the society’s president voting for Rudd’s appearance to go ahead. Ms Graham decided to cancel the event due to the pressure from the committee. The president has since made the decision to resign from the society. This came prior to the damning rejection by UN Women UK.

The former president told The Oxford Blue that she resigned because she “could not stand by their decision to no-platform Ms Rudd.” Ms Graham went further to say she is “entirely opposed to no-platforming, unless the speaker puts others at risk of serious offence. I did not believe Amber Rudd fell into this category. As such, my beliefs did not reflect that of my committee, so I chose to resign.”

In a recent statement given by the now named ‘United Women’ society, they have claimed that “a majority of the society’s committee felt it could not stand by the invitation and remarks of our, now former, President.”

Ms Graham has responded to this, saying: “I would like to clarify that I never invited Ms Rudd myself; this was an invitation confirmed and endorsed by the whole committee, known about since January and mentioned in every meeting. I also never made any problematic ‘remarks’ that they could not stand by.”

Reaction to the incident has been mixed. Oxford Feminist Society pulled out of their collaborative arrangement to host another event with UNWomen Oxford, and, in a statement made on their own Facebook page, they criticised the outgoing president of UN Women Oxford whilst writing that ‘feminism without intersectionality is useless’. Oxford African and Caribbean Society have also issued a statement in which they explain that they had no intention of boycotting the event Rudd had been invited to and that any suggestion that there had been plans or discussions to do such a thing were false.

UN Women UK also claim that they have received no funds from UN Women Oxford’s fundraising of their campaigns, and asks that the student society make it clear to members that their disaffiliation is due to the Oxford University student society’s “refusal to comply with brand-related requests.”

Ms Graham replied that “a large proportion of our funds were to be given back following the Amber Rudd event, were it to have gone ahead. I myself was planning a much larger donation than had been given in recent terms.”

The Oxford society has spoken out on the decision made by UN Women UK, saying ‘as a result of any confusion caused, we are pausing any formal connection with @UNWomenUK – the absolute priority of whom is the progress of a positive and inclusive women’s movement, and we do not want any statement to distract from that important work.’ 

Ms Graham refutes the claim that UN Women UK were opposed to the initial invitation, saying that “UN Women UK’s Development Director Simon Gallow, alongside other members of the National Committee, regularly expressed their endorsement and indeed excitement for the Amber Rudd event. It is only following the controversy on Friday that they first expressed their disappointment.I myself am baffled that UN Women UK are now suggesting they directed me to cancel the event on Monday and Tuesday when I never received any such email or phone call to direct me as such. I am also baffled that they would agree with the no-platforming of an individual who supported their work in government. Amber really helped UN Women UK in movements such as Draw A Line gain respect within parliament so I am shocked they would disaffiliate themselves in this way.”

There have also been a number of reactions to the controversy on Twitter. Oxford University itself has expressed strong disapproval of the eventual no-platforming and has promised steps to make sure that such things do not happen in future. Meanwhile, Rudd’s daughter has issued a strong statement regarding the decision to no-platform to be ‘f*cking rude’.

Oxford ACS, Oxford Feminist Society, UN Women UK, and the society formally known as UN Women Oxford have been contacted for comment.