In the past few months we have, to put it mildly, been going through a difficult time on the matter of campus security. There can be a fine line that runs between the need to respect the privacy of individuals and the duty of ensuring the security of us all. This is something that a campus as large and as diverse as ours can only hope to learn slowly.
That said, the incidents threw up the not entirely surprising fact that our campus is quite insensitive on matters relating to gender. The scale of the problems have helped to highlight just how inappropriate it is that in this day and age we can be quite so clueless as to how to deal with gender issues on a campus that is as educated as ours… It is not that we don’t have committees such as CASH (the Committee Against Sexual Harassment), but many of the incidents are difficult to bring up. And there is the daily subjection to mild and even self-unaware forms of insensitive behaviour that one gets inured to… But when it deals with matters of security, it is quite another matter.
I therefore requested a colleague to investigate the reality of this, to respond to specific complaints, and some of the suggestions that emanated are given below. These suggestions have been made following a number of interviews with students, faculty, staff, security, and they have, for the most part, been accepted by the administration, with a view to change the existing environment.
The first thing that was pointed out is that the issue affects all sections of our community: students, staff, and faculty. And “gender sensitization” is needed in all sectors as well, since the overall atmosphere is created by all. On a given day, the campus has anywhere between 10 and 15 thousand inhabitants, and it is a challenge to anyone to provide a safe atmosphere for all. The first recommendation is that
- The campus needs a resourceful, committed, engaged, alert, approachable and gender sensitive Security Officer who is knowledgeable about the complexities of the present context and thus can assess the problems that emerge in a community that has approximately 6000 to 15000 people at a given point of time in the day (including employees residing outside, private personnel selling services and workers and construction work labourers) in its precincts.This university is in campus where the dominant age group is from 17 to 25. In addition to providing formal knowledge, University campuses also offer students with a possibility to engage, experience and learn to live with difference of all kinds-social, cultural and sexual. The philosophy of any security system should be based on the principles of engaging with stakeholders in terms of freedom and responsibility.
Since security persons are those that are most responsible for creating a safe environment, it is further necessary that
- Security personnel both permanent and temporary have to be given training regarding gender sensitivity. This training can be similar to the training given to the police by the Central Government and the State Governments. The administration should make this a requirement and part of its contract with the private security company. (Asmita, the Resource Centre for Women, Hyderabad has such programmes.)
A related suggestion that should not be so difficult to implement is that
- Fifty per cent of the security staff has to be women and they should also be present at all the gates. Additionally they should be available at night time when there is an incident involving women. Furthermore, students may be asked to volunteer with security personnel for joint patrolling of the campus.
But we need to be open about this:
- A gender sensitive successful security plan can be implemented only when there is continuous communication, dialogue and coordination between various stakeholders (students, teaching and non-teaching employees and their families, those selling private services etc. and security personnel) and the providers (Security personnel, Engineering dept, Water and sanitation dep., and hostel administration). The University should ensure that such a plan is put in practice.
The main need, though, is for the creation of an environment:
- Gender sensitivity and the creation of enabling non-hostile culture for women needs to be the goal of the University administration. It should ensure that all security personnel together with other teaching and non-teaching employees and students understand what constitutes a hostile environment for women in terms of speech, bodily stances and conduct.
The message could not be louder or clearer: We need to act, and with some urgency.
There are however two not entirely unrelated issues that we should focus on, as some of the comments on this post indicate. (a) Security needs enhancement in general. (b) Awareness on gender issues needs improvement all around.
The implicit assumption here is that security staff who are more gender sensitive will provide better security. And that is a testable theory…