Gender Minimum: A Concealed Concession

Written by: David

Edited by: Chris

Visual by: Summer

Amidst an all-male ISSBA council for school year 2019-2020 and “growing concerns over the last 3 years,” ISM rolled out new election reforms to “ensure that a diverse and inclusive range of candidates feel empowered to apply.” For the 2020-2021 election cycle, a gender minimum policy was established for ISSBA, Class Council president and vice president positions. In essence, when the elected president is male, the vice president must be female and vice versa, ensuring that there will always be one member of the opposite biological sex in every elected council.

The policy has been in effect for 2 years now, so the Bamboo Telegraph interviewed members of the administration and student leaders to gage thoughts on the policy’s effects. Mr. Woods, the CAS & Activities Coordinator, has been in charge of overseeing the election process since 2006. When asked about who initially spoke up about the gender issue, Mr. Woods said that multiple parties were involved and while several other methods were discussed, Admin was not able to prevent the problem entirely. Mr. Woods added that the administration strives to keep their involvement to a minimum, adopting a “your club, your rules” policy for all non-elected council positions. Clubs are given the freedom to conduct the application process and select new council members as they wish. He recognized that their intervention in ISSBA and Class Council elections is intrusive, but it is Admin’s duty to ensure that there is ample representation for all parties in HS. Regardless of policy, however, Mr. Woods affirmed that in the case that students have any questions about the election process, everything will be kept transparent and he’ll check the records if need be.

Student leaders from across the grade levels were also asked how they felt about the policy. All officers were aware of the reform when they ran, but there were mixed feelings when asked whether they thought the policy was effective. Sarah, the senior class council president, said that “I think the representation improved, but I don’t necessarily think gender reform had much to do with it.” She thinks that the lockdown situation because of COVID and the new election procedure during distance-learning has changed who gets elected. On the other hand, Raina, the ISSBA president, said that “it did improve gender representation, because in the past years, it was almost completely boys in ISSBA and in a lot of the councils.” Furthermore, she added that “it started a good conversation, but now we’ve established ourselves and it’s not as necessary.”

There are issues on the inclusivity of the policy specifically for members of the LGBTQ+ community, because by splitting positions between two genders it implies that there are only two genders. Student leaders achieved consensus regarding this point. Phoebe, the sophomore class secretary, said that, “If a non-binary person were to run for office in ISM, they would be forced to choose one group. I think that’s very unfair to them. It kind of steps on their identity.” Marijn, the freshman class president, shared a similar view, sharing that she thinks they should rethink the policy because it’s disclusive to non-binary people running. She added that, “I do appreciate the effort that they’re doing so that there’s equality […] but I think they’re just forgetting about another group that’s maybe discluded because of this policy.”

Furthermore, some have pointed out that the election system is unfair, as a candidate of a different gender would automatically assume the vice president role, regardless of the percentage of votes they had. Raina and Junior Treasurer Poorna had shared their sentiments on this topic, with Raina saying that people already understand that girls make good leaders, so the rule isn’t necessary. Likewise, Poorna said that, “We’re not in elementary school anymore where people go ‘I’m a girl I have to vote for a girl’ or ‘I don’t want to be associated with the other gender.’ We’re mature enough to make our own choices depending on who we think is going to be best for the grade.”

Finally, when asked what they would change with the policy if given the chance, student leaders provided varied solutions. Sarah said that the best person should get the job, citing concerns with the legitimacy of the current election process. “I was looked down upon by a lot of students because they didn’t think I deserved the position. They thought that ‘oh it’s just because I’m a girl’ and not because I had votes, so it’s kind of counter productive.” Poorna said that while she understands why the policy was rolled out so quickly, councils now have better representation and she prefers the majority based system. While not being specific, Marijn advocated for finding “more effective ways to ensure diversity among councils,” while Raina mentioned that the dynamic between voters and female candidates have changed, hence the increase in the number of female student leaders. While the old voting system isn’t perfect, student leaders think that the problems created by the new system outweigh the benefits and that revision should be in order.

Mr. Woods was asked whether he thought the reform had worked. Mr. Woods was not entirely sure, stating that “we’ll only know when we run it in normal school for a couple of years to say with a little bit of confidence. I don’t think it’s had a fair run. None of this is a fair representation of what an election cycle looks like pre-pandemic. It’s just different.” Given how COVID has adversely affected all school activities, it’s likely that other factors are at play that may not be due to the reform.

Whatever the community decides is the best step moving forward, it’s unlikely that it will come without discussions from all parties involved. Especially in matters such as these, students need to work together with administrators to ensure that the community as a whole is willing to adopt a major reform. Keeping elections fair and ensuring everyone is represented is a goal we all need to work towards.