Can college education play a crucial role in sensitising youth towards gender issues? With the entire nation outraged and disturbed after the shocking gangrape and brutal assault of a 23-year-old student in the Capital last week, academicians feel that more and more students should participate in gender sensitisation programmes.
Universities such as Delhi University (DU), Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) have been offering programmes on gender sensitisation and women’s development at different levels. These are primarily aimed at addressing contemporary socio-political issues concerning women.
“After the Supreme Court’s Vishakha Judgement of 1997, which is a landmark in legal guidelines for cases of sexual harassment at the workplace, we formed a complaints committee at our university. Besides working on the complaints and grievances related to sexual harassment, the committee members also work towards sensitising the students on gender issues. The university also started the Sarojini Naidu Centre for Women Studies in 2000. As a distinctive academic discipline, women’s studies has a core area of theory and it draws on knowledge from various disciplines, humanities, social sciences, and sciences,” says Simi Malhotra, member of University Complaint Committee on Sexual Harassment Policy, JMI.
The university has been organising several outreach programmes for sensitising students on gender issues, including self-defence classes for girls, workshops, seminars and campaigns. “A South Asian Women’s Theatre Festival was held recently at the university where documentaries and films on this issue were screened. Students also participate in QnA sessions on topics such as gotras and khap panchayats. This helps them overcome their own stereotypes on issues like communalism and real politics,” says Malhotra.
DU is playing an active role in sensitising its students on gender issues. “Education plays a very important role in this with institutions playing a much bigger role.
Our centre offers short-term courses on gender studies, gender and society and women’s studies. These courses have a 80:20 ratio of female-male students. In addition, we encourage all colleges to have a development cell that can handle gender issues sensitively,” says Madhu Vij, director, Women’s Studies and Development Centre (WSDC), DU. The sexual harassment committees at the university and individual colleges have been very active too.
Keeping last week’s Delhi gangrape as a backdrop, the university will hold workshops where college representatives will interact with each other on the issue once the session resumes in January 2013.
Citing an example of projects undertaken by students on this issue, Vij says, “Students from around seven colleges participated in a project on the Pros and Cons of Marrying an NRI for the ministry of overseas Indian affairs in September this year. The WSDC also offers a UGC refresher course for teachers on women’s studies.
JNU, too, offers the women’s studies programme that seeks to study questions of gender in an interdisciplinary and comparative framework. Currently, the programme offers optional courses at the master’s level which are open to students not only in social sciences but also to those enrolled in other schools and centres of the university. As part of this, students learn to examine the historical, social, political, economic, and cultural dimensions of gender.