When we talk of women’s safety, our thoughts primarily focus on being safe from sexual harassment – the big demon. Little do we imagine the subtle threats to a woman’s safety, especially on campuses. These are acts that are taken for granted in the name of values and morals. But these are acts that have deep-rooted patriarchal beliefs. These are unjustifiable acts that hamper women’s safety. And by women’s safety we mean, her safety in a public space, her safety in private, her economic safety, and her safety-related to physical and emotional well-being too. Thinking of different scenarios now? Here are 7 subtle threats to women’s safety that can’t be ignored on campuses.
1. Stalking For years together, Bollywood has equated eve-teasing, cat-calling, stalking to romance. Boy loves girl. He goes behind her. She gives no consent. He still goes behind her. She says no. He still, still goes behind her. The girl gets tortured day by day. Her friends might tease her for being a valuable object of a male’s interest but she may not be liking it in reality. She may change her route. She may skip classes. She may confront him. She may block the guy’s account. But she’s always under the fear of the repercussions of her actions. Which is the place to go to, the place which has no repercussions… remains a question.
2. Restriction on clothing Many campuses have strict dress codes imposed on students, especially women. A young woman’s safety is threatened sometimes by other women and men who comment, remark, disregard and shame her for her choice of clothing. It implies all kinds of clothing. And if she happens to dress up to express her sexual orientation, she is all the more ridiculed and expected to dress “normally” – one that does not exist. Such a horrendous shaming is a threat to her self-expression and freedom.
3. Lighting This holds good for campuses that have hostels or dormitories within a particular area. Sometimes the distance is long with low-lit or lack of lighting. Girls find this unsafe. It can be a small but debilitating factor that prevents girls from engaging in activities or programs that require them to stay back on the campus during late hours.
4. Dysfunctional toilets & washrooms A woman’s health is at stake when the minimal infrastructure such as toilets and washrooms are dysfunctional. A broken window or a loose latch are not small issues. This impairment gives scope to voyeurism, again a threat to women’s safety.
5. Moral policing Young women are shamed for making consensual romantic choices. It is completely a woman’s choice as long as she is giving consent in a relationship. But sadly, they get judged because of this. Authority figures call this “correcting them for their own good” whereas they’re least aware of their indulgence in ‘moral policing’. And yes, it is very much a threat to a young woman’s freedom of choice.
6. Unsolicited sexual advances by authority figures Having mentioned the above factor, it can’t be dismissed that it is a threat to a woman when sexual advances or acts are not consensual. Authority figures sometimes make advances towards women while playing it safe in the role of a professor or mentor. Women find themselves in a dilemma about calling out such behaviour. The fear of not being believed, the fear of being ridiculed for suspecting authority is what stops them from taking any action. More often than not, they’re left with choices of avoiding, compromising or giving in.
7. Consensual sex but non-consensual circulation A girl, involved in a romantic relationship, may choose to videotape a private act with her partner. However, she may tell the partner explicitly to not circulate it. Yet she may find her video or photo popping up somewhere. This is a major safety breach on her modesty, physical and emotional well-being.
The onus of women’s safety on campuses is on each individual on the campus – from the janitor to Director – each is responsible for women’s safety. And it goes without saying that women’s safety is a big umbrella and none of the issues under it are small or insignificant or negligible, and not at all tolerable.