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Published in the 16-30 Apr 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

SPECIAL REPORT

Female-friendly campuses needed to promote girls' education

The talk about launching social reforms within the community does not make sense unless measures are taken to make education women-friendly

By M H Lakdawala

The Milli Gazette Online 

Mumbai: How would a man feel in a female-dominated environment? Perhaps uneasy, misplaced, and hesitant. How would women feel in a male- dominated environment, perhaps same and also insecure.

5-star Hotel Oberoi through its in-house research discovered that even their high profile female customers prefer first floor rooms and that too rooms near the lifts as they can contact the reception and move out quickly if threatened. 
The corporate world has realized the different needs of female employees and has set up exclusive facilities for them. Ironically, our educational institutions still insist on an environment which makes females uncomfortable and insecure.

A visit to any higher education institution will reveal how unfriendly the atmosphere is. Female students are exposed to male-dominant environment inside and outside the class and have to suffer lewd remarks, lustful stares and no privacy. 

Canteens, gymkhanas, libraries, and even campuses do not have exclusive space for females. If we need to educate our future generations, we must offer a female-friendly environment in the educational institutions. 

At the school level, many of the girls go to girls’ schools. But after the 10th, they are suddenly exposed to male-dominated environment in colleges, which scares most of female students. This is one reason why most of them opt out of education.

There is a hunger for learning among Muslim girls and women. Scanning the list of the students of the colleges in Mumbai majority areas as well as Muslim-managed colleges, the trend of Muslim girls enrolling for various professional courses is discernible.

Many of the most energetic volunteers in the best education NGOs come from the Muslim community. The socio-economic profile of the Muslim middle and deprived classes is making it imperative that Muslim parents shed the inhibition towards female education and encourage girls to opt for higher education.

No doubt the shift is encouraging but two factors make it less productive. First, the confusion about the upcoming profession, suitable for girls from conservative families and its scope. The major worry of parents and Muslim girls is selection of the profession, as they do not want to be seen as too modern, which impairs their marriage chances. Secondly, the Muslim intelligentsia has failed to debate the issue of Muslim girl education and the challenges which females face in the workplace. Thus lack of consensus in the family leads to many dropout at the 10th and 12th levels. 

Ayub Haji Mohammed, a taxi driver in Mumbai, wants his two daughters to study and be capable of facing any eventualities of life. "I do not want my children to suffer the hardship which I am facing. If they are educated they can improve their standard of living and take care of themselves," he says.

The major problem with the attitude of the community towards Muslim girl education and employment is that till today it is consider as an ideology or theology-related issue. The socio-economic angle is either overlooked or neglected. A majority of Muslim women in India are poor and illiterate. In urban areas these Muslim women are either working as domestic workers where their pride and prestige are at risk or on the mercy of poor husbands who themselves face uncertain future and pathetic living standards not fit even for animals to survive. Such are the conditions in which a majority of Muslim women are living today.

Depriving girl education in the name of not exposing them to co-education in the educational institutions and thus protecting their honour is pushing them towards uncertain future in a fast-changing world. Muslim parents need to invest time in coaching girls in Islamic teaching and then learn to have faith in them.

The girl education is complex issue which needs a thorough debate within the community. All the talk about launching social reforms within the community does not make sense unless and until concrete measures are taken to make higher education women- friendly.

Not only Muslims but also many other communities feel the need for women-friendly higher education. Girls colleges and universities are the steps in that direction but due to limited resources this cannot be implemented. The other option is to network with other like-minded communities, secure enough enrolment and request the management of colleges to have an exclusive division for the girls with female-faculty whenever feasible.

The biggest nuisance girls face in the educational institution is the lewd remarks while arriving in and departing from the institution. This can be easily tackled by asking them not to tolerate it but to report it to the management as most institutions now insist on display of student I-cards. If few such cases are reported and the culprit punished the lewd comment nuisance can easily be tackled.

There are dropouts because many a time there are not enough girls in the class for them to form a group, which is so essential to make them feel secure in the male-dominated environment. For this, managements must club all the girls in a single division or parents must do enough spade work while taking admission and ensuring that enough girls are there in the division so that they can form a group.

Providing privacy in canteens, libraries, and gymkhanas and inside campuses for them to gather and discuss their problems will make girls life more easy and the environment conducive for learning and excellence. 
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