Pro-life groups have no place at Cambridge Freshers' Festival
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Last week, at CUSU Freshers’ Festival, controversy broke out between pro-life student group Cambridge Students For Life (CSFL) and CUSU Women’s Campaign, the ‘student voice for gender equality in the University.’ Without having been present at the event to see for myself, the problem seems to have been that the Women’s Campaign members posted up a warning outside the event that a “student anti-choice group” had set up a stall, and then claimed to have heard reports of ‘aggressive’ and ‘homophobic’ behaviour from the CSFL members, who apparently also displayed pictures of foetuses. Countering these claims in a piece written for The Tab, CSFL Co-president Xavier Bisits said that there is ‘the very reasonable expectation that we be sensitive in the presentation of our views, particularly not presenting any literature that harms post-abortive women.’ He assures that his group ‘deliberately chose material for our stall that was respectful and tried to ensure that all our volunteers were sensitive and friendly to all the freshers who spoke to us’, and that the Women’s Campaign’s claims of homophobia were just plain untrue. But, regardless of personal stance on the issue of abortion, and irrespective of who said or did what during the Freshers’ Festival, the crux of the clash seems to have been this – should CSFL, a group whose sole purpose is to promote a pro-life message (granted, they also campaign on issues such as euthanasia and cloning, but the desire to help students ‘facing crisis pregnancies’ is evidently its primary cause), have been given a stall at the event at all? True, by the same token, you could say, ‘Well, if CSFL weren’t to be allowed a stall, why should the Women’s Campaign be given one?’ But the crucial difference between these two groups is that, while CSFL stand purely for the promotion of pro-life messages, the Women’s Campaign is concerned with a far greater number of pressing issues that, despite the growth of feminism and recognition of an increasing number of women’s rights, continue to affect women in modern society. They actively raise awareness of enduring gender inequality across a range of areas, from employment justice and academia to domestic abuse and sexual consent. Engaging young women, and men, with the feminist movement and working towards positive changes for women is to be encouraged; promoting a single-minded message, that ultimately deprives women of their own autonomy, is not. In the UK, we are incredibly lucky to find ourselves afforded the liberty of free speech, and having the freedom to voice our own opinions does not mean that we should impinge on others’ right to take a different viewpoint, whether we like their opinion or not. But if what you are saying, or campaigning for, has the potential to have a negative impact on others, does it have any place at an event such as a fresher’s fair, where the aim is to introduce new students to new hobbies and encourage them to be open-minded?
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