Incidentally, in those times there was a separate President’s Gold Medal and Governor’s Gold Medal for women. We launched a signature campaign to convince the administration to get rid of it, because we wanted to be able to win these medals in the general pool and not from this tiny little pool of women. We really felt that it detracted from the value of the award itself. It was wonderful when the admin agreed to our demands, and since then you don’t have any medals especially for women at the institute level.
Maybe it was the atmosphere in the 90s, but several of us during that time felt very strongly about issues like this. We stood up for our rights. We agitated to have a cleaner campus. We nucleated groups to protest the wanton destruction during Diwali. We all took oaths against dowry, female infanticide, and so on, and vowed to work to make the world a better place. And we fought long and hard for equality, especially on campus.
Personally, I disagree that having a more girls in the institute, and a lot ‘better’ boys will automatically solve the problems articulated above. Rather we should all stand up for what is right and make changes here and now. Much of the stereotyping and lack of communication is because we haven’t really thought or debated about these issues enough. I like to hear both sides of arguments and read a lot before coming up with my own stance, but that takes a lot of time. Of course it is easy to get frustrated and lose hope, but if we cannot make this campus a gender equal and safe place, what chance is there in the outer world? And why will things change in some utopian future, without any effort from us?
There are unique problems faced by girls who work in various labs. Is the atmosphere conducive? Safe? At night? What can we do to make everyone feel better, safer, happier? Then there is the male perspective to be considered – the campus has to be a productive and enjoyable location for them as well, that cannot be an issue that is sidelined! We have the freedom to discuss the more serious things – cases of sexual harassment; cyber crimes; discrimination during recruitment; lack of a culture of mingling under casual circumstances; extreme stereotyping (on both sides) etc. I think we definitely have the opportunity to build a wonderful culture here on our campus – something that will serve as a model to academic institutions worldwide.
I don’t think the ‘us vs. them’ approach is in the least constructive. At least in our campus it’s not men vs. women and it shouldn’t be so. Of course the girls ought to be sensible and cautious and think about their safety, but that doesn’t mean they have to isolate themselves completely and assume that every single one of the men here is staring, judging, thinking ill of them, and ‘objectifying’ them. Isn’t that just as bad a stereotype of guys as that of women?
I strongly feel that we all have the opportunity to learn, to progress, to adapt, to change.- In fact, as women, if we take the first step – work hard and demonstrate our willingness to stand shoulder to shoulder with men for the sake of science (or whatever else we choose!) the men, at least the decent ones – there is definitely no dearth of intelligent, well meaning men on our campus – will accept us. And I guess I am allowed to say that, because I believe it strongly, and live it myself everyday.
What do you feel about gender issues in campus? Do you have any particular experience to share? Do comment below and add to the discussion!