Curfews, dress codes, surveillance: Restrictions on women in hostels reflect deep-rooted gender biases
Curfews, dress codes and constant surveillance – the all-too-common themes that come up when interacting with female students who have lived in an all-girls hostel during their college years. In 2016, two students have been fired from VIT University, Vellore, one of India’s best-known engineering colleges, for challenging sexist rules for girls on campus.
A conversation with a former student of VIT clarified the specific rules for girls. There was a strict dress code specific to girls, and they were only allowed to leave campus four times a month. An 8 p.m. curfew at the hostel was imposed on female students, with male students facing no such restrictions.
Those wishing to work in a lab or participate in evening student clubs had to obtain special permits each week, complete with an elaborate bureaucracy dance. male students didn’t need any of these permissions and were free to explore the campus as they pleased. One student in particular who interacted with me also participated in academic debates that required travel across the country. However, they were only allowed to go if a female faculty member was present. Male students faced no such caveats and could officially represent the university in such activities at any time.
At another engineering college in Chennai, while paper rules apply to both male and female hostel students, enforcement is much stricter for women. Curfew times for women’s hostels are religiously enforced while male students, especially those in their final years at college, are given carte blanche.
My own experience with a hostel that imposed a strict curfew on hostel women is testament to how women had to produce a signed permission from a local parent or guardian each time they wished to stay out past the curfew. , with limited allocations each week. Similar stories are always common when conversations about hostel issues arise among female students in Mumbai.
My university during my undergrad only had a boys hostel as it was touted as a security risk to also have a girls hostel nearby. My disbelief stemmed from the fact that it was considered less of a safety risk to require young girls to seek accommodation options in an unfamiliar city, rather than providing some level of comfort and accessibility within the campus that male students had.
A female student’s housing is often seen as a liability rather than simply a way to provide relatively affordable housing for students in large cities or to have greater accessibility to a college campus. Rarely do male students face the same level of scrutiny and concern when it comes to housing.
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These restrictions are less of a concern for the well-being of students than for the backlash that university and hostel authorities might face, in the event of ‘unfortunate incident‘. There are several flaws in this argument. First, it places the responsibility for safety on the girls, limiting their movements. Second, it assumes that danger only exists at certain times of the night and in certain contexts. Finally, it ignores the need to address these risks by reinforcing safety measures such as better public lighting and by training students in concepts such as consent and mutual respect.
These stricter rules and restrictions for girls are not only the result of discriminatory policies by university authorities or hostels. They also strive to respond to a socio-moral demand for control and policing of women’s activities. Families feel soothed and safe under such rules, where it becomes more acceptable to send their daughters to live away from home in a place where they are watched every minute.
For example, the 2019 protests against Punjab University the hostel restrictions have drawn mixed reactions. While many supported the fight against unequal structures and rules, many also saw the different treatment of female students as necessary. The Tribune listed some opinions on Punjab University decision to expel students who have not signed mobility register.
“Hostesses should also understand that the university authorities are responsible to their parents and guardians for any untoward incident. Certainly, female students should fight for gender equality in studies, debates, sports and other academic programs or activities and should withdraw their request to remove the attendance and mobility register, a requirement totally in the interest of the host girls. ”
These views argue that the apparent threat to girls in the presence of men is more important than their freedom and that authorities advocate such rules in their interests. They also suggest that society is not overly concerned with the safety of young men, which can be interpreted as an insensitivity towards their lives or a general assumption that it is more often men, not women, who are the perpetrators of such violence and therefore are not vulnerable to it.
Overall, this is a continuing reflection of gender norms that exist in society, where women are prevented or shamed from leaving their homes for purposes other than work, especially after dark. . All of these control activities are implemented in the name of safety and their well-being. Women are rarely able to simply be in a public space without worrying about social, moral and family scrutiny.
Such restrictions infantilize young women, who are treated as unable to make their own choices. While it is unfortunate that women are more vulnerable to harassment and violence, locking up the potential victim is never a solution. Instead, more efforts should be focused on education and changing social norms.
If discipline is presented as the reason, curfews, dress codes and accessibility to certain facilities should apply to everyone, regardless of gender. All of these restrictions only breed more fear and resentment, as well as perpetuating the dangerous thinking that in cases of gender-based violence, the victim is to blame.
Read also : ‘Nights want lights, not locks’: Patiala students campaign against hostel curfews
Featured Image Source: Le Quint