When a student of the Jawaharlal University’s (JNU) School of Languages was brutally attacked by her classmate on campus two months ago, teachers, educationists and psychologists reiterated the need to strengthen measures and rope in agencies and experts to work on greater gender sensitivity across campuses of universities. This incident was followed by another when a college student was assaulted by a student of the same university.
‘Courses in gender studies can make a huge difference’
Academicians believe that courses in gender studies and women’s studies can play a big role in sensitising students to this issue along with workshops and discussions and other such activities. Many universities across the country already have women’s studies centres and gender sensitisation committees that offer courses and help students to be more proactive and sensitive towards this issue. The University Grants Commission (UGC) had also issued guidelines in the eleventh plan for development of women’s studies in Indian universities and colleges.
Delhi University, for instance, has the Women’s Studies and Development Centre (WSDC) to address women’s issues in higher education. It offers short-term courses for undergraduates, graduates and postgraduates. Certificate courses in women’s studies are offered at colleges for undergraduates. Courses titled gender and society for graduates and advanced certificate course in gender studies for postgraduates are run by WSDC.
The centre also undertakes many research projects and other extension activities. It regularly offers the UGC’s refresher course in women’s studies for teachers. The centre also organises gender sensitisation programmes, community action, lectures, workshops, seminars and conferences regularly.
Talking about the need to familiarise students with the subject, Manjeet Bhatia, assistant professor, WSDC, says, “Gender studies can be part of all subject disciplines. Educational institutions can mainstream gender by including gender studies and that would sensitise the students. Colleges are expected to sensitise students on gender issues through workshops, panel discussions and seminars.”
Gender studies not just for women
Another university that has been actively working on this front is Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI). It offers many courses or components of courses in gender studies or women’s studies by various departments in the university. These include introduction to gender studies, women in Indian society, women and development history, gender and society, women and society, and crime against women.
“The Sarojini Naidu Centre for Women Studies, JMI, has since taken many significant steps for awareness and sensitisation of gender issues in the Jamia campus and the surrounding communities. It endeavours to be a channel, promoting women’s empowerment and gender equity through advocacy, capacity networking within and outside the university system, socially relevant research, and gender sensitisation,” says Bulbul Dhar James, director, Centre for Women’s Studies, JMI.
James believes that education plays the role of a “catalyst” in gender sensitisation. “There is a realisation that there is an imperative need to change the stereotyped mindset, especially of men and the community at large, which can only be done by purposeful and effective gender sensitisation. At JMI, we conduct workshops on capacity-building, skill enhancement, legal advocacy, self defence, academic seminars, peace walks through the university campus and other outreach programmes,” she says.
At JNU, some of the courses currently offered by its Centre for Women Studies (CWS) include the MA optional course in women’s movement and gender studies and the MPhil optional course in gender and political violence and development: South Asian contexts. These are open to all students of the university. Students learn to study the historical, social, political, economic, and cultural dimensions of gender, while gaining a more complex understanding of the construction of gender.
‘Women’s studies enhance critical thinking’
“We have quite a few takers for these courses with the average batch size being 35 in one course, which includes about 10 male students. Additionally, we regularly organise lectures, seminars, workshops and film screenings on a wide range of subjects to which all are welcome. The university administration has been working proactively on this aspect, especially after the July 31 incident. Various committees have been formed, open forums are being organised, and suggestions being sought from all students including hostellers,” says Mallarika Sinha Roy, assistant professor, CWS.
Roy, however, believes that gender sensitisation cannot happen overnight… it requires a thorough exposure to different kinds of thoughts. “It’s important to expose the students to academic debates too. Sensitisation requires deep thinking and serious engagement and is an ongoing discussion,” she says.
* MA in Women's and Gender Studies (MAWGS), Indira Gandhi National Open University
* MA in women's studies, PhD in women's studies, Panjab University
* Direct PhD in women’s studies and integrated MPhil/PhD programme in women’s studies, MA in women’s studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and Hyderabad
* MA in women’s studies, Bangalore University
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