UGC’s Women’s Safety Guidelines Encourage Institutions to Explore Locally Appropriate Solutions

The TOS guidelines on women’s safety and gender awareness in higher education institutions (HEIs) are helping to reduce instances of campus harassment, but university women say more needs to be done in terms of funding for the creation of adequate infrastructure, inclusion of more women in leadership positions and reducing toxic masculinity to create egalitarian and gender responsive institutions in India.

The UGC recently shared draft guidelines and invited comments and suggestions to create a safe and gender-equitable environment in all HEIs. UGC 2022 guidelines require HEIs to ensure access to basic sanitation facilities for women, such as clean and well-maintained toilets. Campuses and adjacent areas must be well-lit, have reliable and consistent transportation facilities for female students and staff, and have sufficient female security guards from credible security companies as well as a wall of enclosure for student safety.

From time to time, UGC has issued guidelines to address the threat of sexual harassment on campus. In 2016, the UGC mandated an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) in each institute to address sexual harassment of women. In 2013, he formulated the Saksham Guidelines which encapsulated measures to keep women safe on campus.

The mentality must change
Increasing gender awareness programs will help reduce harassment. “The institutional framework is the only way to implement both short-term and long-term solutions. Universities have tried to do their best, but mentalities have to change. The way people are conditioned to think they can violate another person’s personal space needs to change,” says Abha Dev HabibAssociate Professor, Miranda House, New Delhi. The college recently witnessed horrific cases of men trying to scale the walls during a cultural festival. “What happened at Miranda House is a reflection of the times we live in,” says Habib, emphasizing the need to send a signal of zero tolerance. She adds that toxic masculinity is encouraged in society, so the UGC guidelines cannot change things in isolation.

Habib says the UGC needs to ensure institutions provide all facilities before recognizing them. “It is important that no irrational hostel hours are imposed on women and that they are allowed out for university work. The more women there are, the safer the whole system will become. Not treating women like adults is also part of the problem,” says Habib.

Create safe spaces
Regular communication with students and employees guarantees freedom of expression and creates an environment conducive for them to reach their full potential. “It is the need of the hour to raise awareness of the environment, to not accept any form of harassment or intimidation. Take preventative action by promptly reporting to the appropriate committee any disrespectful behavior by anyone in the universities. The challenge is the mindset of people and the culture of silence on these issues. The only way to circumvent them is to establish regular communication with all stakeholders,” says Sujata ShahiVice-Chancellor, IILM University, Gurugram.

Institutions that are committed and have more women in leadership positions take the guidelines seriously. “Mumbai has infrastructure constraints, but there are other things that can be done. For example, self-protection training. Guidelines will always be there, but each institution will have to find locally adapted means for the ’empowerment of women’, says Suchitra Naikprincipal, KG Joshi College, Mumbai.

Creating forums where staff and students can present their views also helps address student grievances. “When there are more women in leadership positions, policies are automatically aligned with the well-being of women in general. It also helps to develop a collective mindset. HEIs should create a healthy environment and teachers should try to be role models for students. Not every code of conduct can be enforced, it has to come from within,” says Suja BennettDean, Academics, CMR University, Bangalore.

Mara R. Wilmoth