Insight 18.1 : Gender (in)equality
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UG Freshers’ orientation videos, artists that tell women to roll chapatis, transgender rights, and Deepika Padukone’s video about choice – the Institute (at least just as much as the world outside of it) has seen spurts of discussion about gender over the past few months. While critiques of both patriarchy and feminism are well abound in today’s discourse, there needs to be a closer look into its various aspects.
Findings of the survey
Insight conducted a survey to gauge people’s opinions about gender inequality in the context of the campus. The perception of the existence of gender inequality in campus was roughly similar – a slightly higher proportion of men did, however, feel that overall, there was gender equality on campus, compared to women. Underneath this layer of apparent similarity, though, was a fundamental difference of perception. Many people of both genders tended to feel that the inequality was biased against their own.
Q) Have you personally witnessed instances of gender inequality on campus? If so, what was (were) these instance(s)?
M: “Professors giving away extra marks just because a girl comes and asks. Actually, I only saw one professor doing that.”
F: “Insensitivity in handling sexual or verbal harassments, like having opinions about the victim, especially among security guards and hostel officials.”
M: “I have seen not-so-qualified girls (relatively) getting through interviews during placements just because the company is trying to maintain or improve its sex ratio. From a company’s point of view, it might be justified but it sure acts a disadvantage to boys.”
M: “Of course I have! A man having hairless legs is suddenly looked down upon and asked why he is being ‘girly’. What’s wrong with him? Gender expression and expectations from both the sexes is something that people seem to be genuinely confused about.”
F: “It is often cited that before H14 was constructed, there was a time when male PhD students had to stay in double occupancy rooms and there was a lot of pressure from faculty to speed up the construction of H14 so that such pressure could be alleviated at the earliest, because ‘PhD students should have privacy’. However, female PhD students have been living in double occupancy rooms for so long, and yet, the response is, ‘It is good to live in shared rooms because you can get support from one another’.”
Subjective questions were also asked to the respondents and many supplemented their views with examples of gender discrimination that they had seen, heard of, or experienced in campus. There was a stark difference in the kind of discrimination reported by men and reported by women. Men felt that there was bias in terms of favours and selections for projects, positions of responsibility and placements – many felt that it was easier for women to get jobs and projects because of bias: either subtle and implicit, or for maintaining a gender ratio in the company in case of placements. Separate queues and sports facility bookings for women were also cause of some complaints. Women, on the other hand, had distinctly different types of complaints overall. Casual sexist remarks on appearance and dressing and underestimation of girls’ abilities seem to be extremely commonplace, although tolerated. Security restrictions and infrastructure issues (especially about room sharing and allocation compared to boys) are also causes of complaints.
The Open Session and Women’s Cell
Insight had also conducted an Open House about Gender Inequality in October 2014 (the full recording can be found here). It included Prof. U.A. Yajnik (the former Dean of Student Affairs), Mr. S.S. Jha (the Chief Security Officer), Prof. T. Kundu (the former Security Head) and Prof. Suparna Mukherji (former Convener of the Women’s Cell). Various issues came up in the Open House, including sexist videos and comments on display in the freshmen orientation, lack of student interaction and safety of women on campus. There were instances pointed out where students felt that the Quick Response Team was not sensitized when it came to handling cases of harassment. The vagueness in the mandate of the Women’s Cell (which has been defined now, however, as complaints against sexual harassment as stated on the WC website), and the lack of awareness about the Cell was also brought up. Various suggestions were made as to how it could be improved, including restructuring and strengthening pre-existing bodies, and gradual sensitization programs.
In February, the Women’s Cell was reconstituted by the Director following the end of the previous tenure of its members. Prof. Neela Nataraj from the Mathematics department and Prof. Prita Pant from MEMS are the new Conveners for the Women’s Cell.
One avenue to broaden the scope of the discussion about gender from the box of just men-vs-women, is factoring in the April 2014 Supreme Court judgement about transgender rights. A transgender person is someone who does not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. They may self-identify as men, women or a third gender and are supposed to be referred to using that gender. Read our previous article ‘Born a he, now a she’ to know more about the experiences of an alumna.
The government has taken up the SC recommendation for more inclusive spaces for transgender people in institutions through UGC. This includes recommendations like TG-friendly infrastructure and sensitisation workshops. While the UGC circular has been received by the Institute and by the relevant authorities within, not much work has been done on ground with respect to infrastructure. GATE, the entrance exam for M.Tech candidates, now has an option for third-gender candidates to apply.
Coming back to the ‘gender debate’
While the issues in the context of the campus are slightly polarized, and that too in a men-vs-women fashion, it ought to be noted that both men and women face forms of discrimination on campus. While such discrimination is properly recognised as inequality in its literal sense, usually the ‘blame’ is put not on the reason or cause of the discrimination, but on the side that supposedly benefits through it, causing this polarization. For example, one of the survey respondents said, “Companies tend to favor girls during the intern process. Sometimes having ‘two buttons open’ is what counts more than ability or substance.” It is easy to only blame a girl for using her so-called ‘bandi-influence’ to get a PoR. However, not many people (ignoring the issue of women’s representation here for simplicity’s sake) seem to recognise the decision-makers’ incompetency for having made such a decision.
This perception often also extends to feminism and patriarchy, due to which feminism, instead of being seen as people – regardless of gender – fighting for equality for women, is seen as women trying to overpower men. One respondent presents such a view: “Sexism hurts everyone. But you can not finish it by reverse-sexism. Feminism started as a noble cause but has turned into something like Femi-Nazism.” Similarly, patriarchy isn’t seen as a system consisting of societal, political and economical structures that favour men, but only as men discriminating against women.
The underlying causes of discrimination on the basis of gender can thus be better understood and tackled by shifting the paradigm away from this intense men-vs-women approach, because gender and its associated issues are much more intricate than just that.
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