Gender (In)Sensitivity

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…


7 thoughts on “Gender (In)Sensitivity

  1. The students also should be given awareness about respecting the Security Guards on campus as most of them seem to be getting offended when they are asked to produce the ID card. As a student who have been on campus for almost six years now, I have witnessed instances were students refuse to show the ID card and behave rather harshly with the security personnel for trivial matters. I guess, it is only through mutual co-operation between the students and the security staff that we can bring a sense of security to the campus.
    Thank you Sir, for initiating such things. Good Luck.

  2. Dear sir,
    More than gender sensitivity in particular, it is the security problems in general that needs to be addressed. I did not feel nice when the security guard asked me to show my ID card but he was not asking everyone, just me. This could be the case with other Ph. D. students like me. Could you come up with concrete suggestions in regard to how coordination between security personnel and students can be strengthened? That is, I believe, what we need to beef up the security on the campus. Thanks for taking the initiative in this direction!
    Warm regards

  3. Issue of security can only play the role of deterrent, but not a real solution for the issue of gender (in)sensitivity. The discourse around gender (in) sensitivity has to grow beyond than this. Too much emphasis on security may lead too much surveillance, which is not good sign for a institiution, where creative ideas and ideals shuold flourish.

  4. Dear Sir,
    What you said is true. UOH campus cannot afford to be insensitive to gender issues; but the recent problems are not because of lack of sensivity or awarness, but because of failure on part of the concerned security department and other committees to deal with such issues (ex. CASH). It is surprising to note that even when sexual harassment cases are reported, the so called committees do not take the issue seriously and come out with simple reprimand instead of heavy punishment for the culprits. We need a coordinated effort from all the stakeholders to deal with such issue including tight security as well as creating awareness and impose strict punishment. I hope the university will takes some drastic steps immediately so that we do not read more of bad news about our university in the media.

  5. Dear Sir,
    It is with great pleasure, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for acting on the issues pertaining to gender sensitivity on campus on such a short notice. As you have rightly mentioned, the campus needs strict orientation programmes implemented before the commencement of any course. However this kind of an exercise should not be restricted to the students but the entire UOH family (as I would like to call it) and made mandatory. it is very crucial for any member of this institution to remain aware about ones own integrity as far as her/his social space space is concerned. The time calls for a quick and a cooperative action and we are all by your side in this regard.

    • There are some things that one learns from the environment ‘before’ entering the university. Gender sensitivity is one of them. You would have far more luck training ducks to become peacocks than training a 25 year old misogynist to open the doors for you (so to speak). Not in the span of 2-5 years that they spend in the campus, at the very least.

      But all hope is not lost. There is a way to teach a lesson to such people … I call it the theory of DANDA – Doubts And Negativity Decreasing Appliance. It works in however short a time you have at your disposal. It may not teach any sensitivity but it will make them very very sensitive. The victorians of yore had a nice catchphrase to summarize this theory – spare the rod and spoil the child. If we stop being queasy about DANDA and summon the inner victorian in us, we would not need any hoopla about paperwork/ritual laden security. This approach is simple – be lenient in general but strike with a steel DANDA upon mistake.

      And as an added bonus, gender sensitivity would become an issue of ‘self-learning’ instead of ‘teaching’.

  6. We live from crisis to crisis.

    After a new incident happens we tighten up the surveillance several notches up, which often have ingredients serving no real security purpose but only as irritant. Then as time goes by we retain the most annoying parts of the drill (ie, paperwork part) and do away with any real improvements (which are hardly any). There is a new ritual of security which is only for the purpose of pretense. This is a classic bureaucratic (mis)solution – meaning hindrance to all and serving none.

    Let me illustrate this mindset by an example. There is a narrow paved alley leading from the back gate of science complex to the main road. This road is supposed to be used by pedestrians and possibly cyclists. To deter the motorcycles a roadblock was installed a few years back. And it worked for the time. Then within a few weeks one of the roadblock-pillar was removed for God knows what reason. The resulting situation is – no motorcycle/scooter is really stopped but all pedestrians/cyclists are troubled by the partial roadblock. It was far better to have nothing at all.

    Our security solutions are always in the same mould. This time we have a day-permit system for guests which for paperwork loving cultures such as ours is so much irresistible. Mindless stopping/pestering/annoying of all guests to the university achieves nothing. It only keeps up a facade of security while the real miscreants can have a field day inside the campus.

    It would be better if instead of concentrating on the gates of all buildings/campus, we posted some security guards at all the major intersections/streets who also patrol some stretch of the street from time to time. Checking I-cards as if on steroids serves only to irritate.

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