Thursday, December 8, 2011

GENDER SENSITIZATION AGAINST SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN CAMPUSES: ROLE OF THE STUDENT'S COMMUNITY



* Gender Sensitization Committee Against Sexual Harassment, or GSCASH, Jawaharlal Nehru University, had started functioning from its present office space since October 2001. This essay won the first prize in M.Phil/Ph.D level essay competition conducted by the GSCASH.*

 
In India, the layman’s understanding of sexual harassment is, ‘eve teasing, unwelcome sexual gesture or behaviour whether directly or indirectly as sexually colored remarks; physical contact and advances; showing pornography; a demand or request for sexual favors; any other unwelcome physical, verbal/ non-verbal conduct being sexual in nature. The critical factor is the unwelcomeness of the behaviour, thereby making the impact of such actions on the recipient more relevant rather than intent of the perpetrator’.  The definition of sexual harassment can be broader than what we have known. The degree of punishment to accuse varies from country to country. In India, the ‘Vishakha guidelines’ gave an awareness to check sexual harassment in working places. However, the problem of sexual harassment is yet to be plucked out, infact over the years its impact has so much increase that several institutions are coming up with various measures to combat it.

The awareness so far
                         The sole aim of colleges and universities is to bring about a harmonious development between an individual’s intellect and personality. Campuses, whether residential or non residential are meant for providing learning, working and homely environments. All members of academic communities pursue their studies and research work in a liberal way best suited for them. However, the malady of ‘sexual harassment’, in someway has acted like a stumbling block in erecting the pillar of progress.

For sometime the problem of sexual harassment was treated as confidential. However, with the growth of awareness of this issue, the victims came forward with a bold stand against it; this step taken by the victims acted like bacon of light for the other victims who had shelled themselves in the darkness of despair.  By 1980s, onwards the problems of sexual harassment in campuses gained its cheap popularity, so the universities armed up with effective measures and attention were focused on this problem.

Forms of sexual harassment in campuses can be take place in the following way. Unwelcome sexual advances, sexist remark, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, unwanted jokes, sending vulgar emails or text messages. An intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment is created when individual's employment is made on the basis of submission to or rejection of such conduct, and when such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance.

Irrespective of gender, both male and female in the academic community can be victims of unwanted sexual behavior; however it was to be noticed that the majority of complainants were from female students, faculty, and staff. Through the complaints, it was brought to notice that whether they where in undergraduate or research programme female students were harassed either by their supervisor, classmates or other male students. Academics are seen as male dominated arena so women are overwhelmingly the targets of sexual harassment; this is believed to be one of the reasons for such indecent behaviour from man. The cause of such activity some believe arises because of power structures and cultural biases within the academy

Role of the student’s community in gender sensitizing and combating sexual harassments in campuses
The power of the student’s unity is not to be underestimated.  For decades changes were brought in our society through their active participation, their strength is undeniable. Through proper awareness the student’s community can voluntarily organize themselves to pluck the evil seed of ‘sexual harassment in the campuses’.

A student as an individual must set an example in eliminating gender inequities among all segments of the academic community and respect each others choice and preferences. The students’ community in whole should promote mutual cooperation, equity, and care among students of different class, caste, race, sex and religion.

The mind set that breeds the superiority complex over the other, looking down towards a particular gender as inferior, creates problem in controlling sexual harassment in campuses. Women are generally looked upon as a prey to satisfy the sexual appetite; some of the maniacs cannot take no for an answer, they keep on pestering and pursuing until they achieve their desired goal. Here, what the student’s community can do is of crucial importance. If only they can pick out the anti-social agent, if only they can hand him over to the respective legal authority, or put him for therapy; then the problem will cease like butter in a hot surface, however it is easy said than done.

Student’s community can highlight the issues through the public talks, distribution of pamphlets, posters, write ups in college magazines. Student’s community can bring up policies, procedures, extensive training programs, and materials that seek to identify and prevent sexual harassment and promoted conferences and seminars addressing the problem. They can stage the issues of sexual harassment, and for effective participation they can organize literary competitions under this theme. 

Students who are sexually harassed are often so confused, worried, or angry that they do not know what to do. Therefore a professional counselor should be employed in the campus; the student’s community should support the victim in best possible way whether in giving legal help or emotional courage.

Prevention is better than cure; therefore the student’s community should come up with a solid proposal and draft rules and regulations to punish the offender. Sexual harassment cells should come up in the campus where the victims can place their complaints; so, that such anti-social acts will be controlled to some extent.  

Some universities in India like Jawaharlal Nehru University and Delhi University had been strong in avenging sexual harassment, and they have been successful in grabbing the problem. The credited however is equally shared between the students and the faculty members who vigorously voiced out when support was needed.

A join endeavour
                         Much is done but much has to be done. In spreading awareness of the sexual harassment in the campuses people often expect a lot from the students’ community however it is a combined endeavor. The society at large should come forward in combating the problem of sexual harassment for a better tomorrow.


 

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