Oxbridge club votes to let women step up

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The Independent Online

It was one small trip up the stairs for women, one giant step for womankind. If one cared enough to pay pounds 100 for the privilege, that is.

In a surprise result last night the United Oxford and Cambridge University Club announced that women associate members would be allowed access to the main staircase and the library, after a motion was passed by 1,073 votes to 457, provided they paid the extra fee.

It was a satisfying result for the Club's Reform Group and curiously divergent to that of Monday's meeting in which proxy votes helped elect new committee members who were said to be strongly against increased access for women. It appears that the use of proxy votes is the subject of some debate.

The result follows five months of public in-fighting at the historic club. As a result of the committee's refusal to allow full membership to women, 69 heads of Oxbridge colleges resigned from the club.

They also indicated that they were considering taking legal action against the club to force it to change its name, as they believed its failure to accommodate women meant it was not representative of the universities.

Under present rules campaigners are blocked from raising the issue of women's membership until 1998. But, according to one member, last night reformers gathered the requisite number of signatures to secure an extraordinary general meeting in order to challenge the five-year freeze on discussion of constitutional issues. They hope to hold the meeting within months.

"Once the rules have changed it will be possible to have a proper democratic vote on the question of women's membership," said one member last night.

A motion which expressed a lack of confidence in the club's committee, which has repeatedly blocked calls for full membership for women, and "urged them to resign", was also passed, by 891 votes to 621.

A counter-motion commending the committee's actions failed. The chairman of the committee and other members were last night said to be "considering their position".