What Do The Women’s Studies Centres In College Campuses Really Do?

UGC has stipulated that all colleges should have women’s studies centres and universities are asked to monitor their activities. But how effective are they?

UGC has stipulated that all colleges should have women’s studies centres and universities are asked to monitor their activities. But how effective are they?

Recently my campus witnessed an incident where a female teacher complained against a male student of harassing her. It was the last in a sequence of events which began with a fresher girl being harassed on the campus and on social media.

The teacher, who was also the girl’s class tutor, took up the cause and ended up facing immense pressure from the higher authorities. The authorities preferred using stereotypical patriarchal words like ‘compromise.’ This was followed by phrases like ‘why create a fuss?’ ‘it’s just a lot of ruckus caused by a girl’ among others.

An inquiry in the incident was launched

The teacher and the department decided to complain resulting in the constitution of an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) An enquiry was conducted by a 11-member committee. Meanwhile, the Principal, the head of the institution resisted this throughout. But sat through the various sittings of the committee, often passing distinctly misogynous comments.

Finally, a verdict was pronounced. Though the boy gave a letter confessing to have verbally harassed the teacher, the committee was unable to find him guilty in a conclusive manner. The report also mentioned ‘how exasperated he was’ by the whole proceeding and wanted it to come to an end soon.

UGC has stipulated that all colleges should have women’s studies centres and universities are asked to monitor their activities. ICC’s are another source of power for women to complain against sexual harassment within campuses.

How effective are these committees in colleges?

But the question remains; how effective are they in colleges or in universities? How many cases have been registered in campuses in the last three years? Is there any kind of auditing happening at any level regarding the functioning of these bodies? Does the UGC find itself responsible for the emotional and physical wellbeing of the girl students within campuses?

Women’s Studies Centres in colleges are probably the easiest way to communicate with girl students in campuses. They have funds, mandatorily collected from girl students which can be utilised by colleges to organise program aimed at empowering them.

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I am aware of campuses that have conducted baking classes, cooking classes and sewing classes with this fund! Why can’t UGC give clear instructions regarding the utilisation of these funds? Or are they being overlooked by campuses and universities because addressing women’s issues are often merely tokenistic and any serious consideration is not deemed worthy of it?

To fix the problem, rules need to be standardised

The constitution of Internal Complaints Committee is another aspect that requires some kind of standardisation in its rules. For eg: Saksham guidelines issued by the UGC regarding harassment state that while ICC is conducting an inquiry, the head of the institution cannot be present.

But Shakti guidelines regarding ICC in Kerala University have very vague pointers and even permits Principal’s presence during the process. This in itself, is self-defeating. Such anomalies are aplenty in this context. Yet women’s issues are considered to have been addressed and ‘all is well’ within campuses.

Aren’t problems that women face relevant?

Gender related issues, in campuses across the country need to be addressed with adequate attention to details. Especially with regards to the smaller campuses, in the smaller towns and villages.

In Kerala, the regular arts and science colleges have more than 50 percent girl students. Here, the problems associated with sexism and misogyny are yet to be considered as serious and socially relevant concerns.

Clearer guidelines, consistent and regular monitoring of the functioning of women’s studies centres might help build gender friendly campuses and communities.

Picture credits: Still from Netflix movie Guilty

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About the Author

Swapna Gopinath

Reads and writes and thinks about gender identities and cultural contexts.. involves actively in women's issues.. read more...

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