By Nicole Gismondo:
You probably don’t know that Western Sydney Uni has women’s rooms, so you probably also don’t know that it has two rooms in multi-faith centres. These rooms are autonomous safe spaces for female-identifying students to use.
I recently visited the Penrith room, it’s right outside the male Islamic prayer rooms. While there I was extensively quizzed on why I was there, despite the sign on the door saying women’s room. While this was an experience that I was able to move beyond, it was an experience that should not have happened, and given the location, was probably waiting to happen. The mere fact that the female prayer room is accessed through the other side of the building exemplifies the concerns here, it does seem entirely odd that I would feel the need to be anywhere near the male Islamic prayer rooms, as I am neither Islamic nor a man. Alas, the room is where it is, so I get quizzed on being there, and unintentionally interrupt someone simply trying to practice their religion. This should not be ok on either front.
Penrith is not the only campus, it is joined by Campbelltown with slightly different issues in that is is used but seemingly exclusively by religious students, with rubbish being left in the room daily. Clearly this is also a conflict of interest for the room to be located here, as it alienates non-religious women.
Most interestingly, the Board of Trustees minutes from 2011 when the rooms were implemented, state that the executive would “pursue suitable accommodation” for these rooms. I would suggest that this clearly has not been done when such conflicts exist. The university needs to step up to fulfil its dream of being distinctively student centred.
It’s simple; if they are to be true ‘safe spaces’ these rooms need to be moved OUT of the multi-faith centres.
President | Western Sydney Women’s Collective
Winnie Dunn, Penrith Women’s Officer:
“Why won’t our university talk about these things? Promote these “safe” spaces? Engage and empower students to run our own student clubs instead of the other way around? Why is it that most clubs are micromanaged to the point of infantilisation? Why are these safe spaces put in places with inherent conflict? These are the questions we need to start asking ourselves in order to transform our campus spaces to something prosperous to every individual student’s needs.”
Christine Cardona, Campbelltown Women’s Officer:
“While the women’s room is open to all women identified women regardless of race, religion and sexual orientation, the women’s room at Campbelltown is currently not welcoming for those who are not Islamic. I believe it’s because there is confusion to its purpose as a result of the Women’s Room located in the multi-faith room, which is difficult for students to find it also.”
 “Recognising the importance of providing an inclusive and supportive environment for LBTIQ and female-identified students, the Board of Trustees resolved to endorse the allocation of spaces for Queer Spaces and Women’s Rooms on all UWS campuses and the Board requested that the University Executive pursue suitable accommodation.” Board of Trustees Open Session Minutes 8 June 2011 (Public record)