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NLS SBA & ‘Over Sensitive Women’ students win 2 gender equality battles: Remove football grounds woman ban, add sanitary pad dispensers

NLS students get subsidised menstrual pads on campus (blue liquid not included)
NLS students get subsidised menstrual pads on campus (blue liquid not included)

NLSIU Bangalore has rid itself of an age-old, unwritten, discriminatory rule that restricted female students’ use of the of law school’s football field. This small win for gender equality was also accompanied by the recent provision of subsidised menstrual pads on NLSIU’s campus.

The NLSIU’s Student Bar Association (SBA), on the initiative of a new group on campus officially going by the name of The Alliance of Over Sensitive Women, petitioned NLSIU’s vice chancellor to permit unfettered access to the football field to female students on campus, as it has been provided to the male students.

The petition was in the form of an email request to sent to the VC Prof Venkat Rao on 16 February at 10:15am. At 1:03pm on the same day, Rao responded: “You are permitted.”

Also, the SBA has arranged to install sanitary napkin dispensers in the women’s washroom on the ground floor. HLL Life Care has made machines dispense subsidised napkins at the cost of Rs 10 for a set of three napkins, as against the market rate of around Rs 35 for six napkins.

Curfew history

SBA president Aman Saxena told us today that female students had only been allowed entry to the football field during sporting or other events on campus but not on regular days, which hampered their use of the field for exercise and recreation during early morning and evening hours.

He said: “The boys hostel was right next to the field which is at one corner of the campus. Entry to the field is directly in front of the hostel and there are no barricades [to the boys hostel]. Boys entry is not allowed near the girls hostel [and vice versa]. The idea [of the administration and rule] is safety of women but underlying problems are mentioned in the petition.”

The petition states:

we wish to point towards the discriminatory nature of such restriction. We believe that the said restriction is being imposed in order to ensure security of girls by prohibiting them from going to the field. In Anuj Garg v. Hotel Association of India,the Supreme Court of India accepted the ‘anti stereotyping principle’. It essentially means that if the justification for a classification based on sex, and one that imposed unequal benefits and burdens, rested upon “stereotypes” of the role of men and women in society, the classification was unconstitutional for being violative of equality under the constitution.The present instruction to security guards rests on one such classification and ends up victimizing its subject in the name of protection.

The “romantic paternalism” that is, the belief that women needed special protection from immoral or corrupting influences, protection that could only be achieved by confining them to close spaces under surveillance and supervision, is no longer a valid constitutional argument.

Another possible justification for the decision of not allowing women to access the football field is that there may be cases of sexual assault. With all due respect, this rationale regrettably perpetuates one of the most insidious of perceptions in society that women, wittingly or not, are seductive sexual objects. The effect of the decision, even if made with good intentions, punishes women because their very presence might provoke sexual assaults. It is women who are made to pay the price in lost access to an amenity for the threat of depraved conduct by male students or security guards. Hence the instruction suffers from stereotypes about morality and sexual role of female students. It is to be determined that the instruction to further the aim of protecting the interest of women takes away the autonomy, equality of opportunity and right to privacy (decisional). A modern democratic society shall ensure freedom to pursue varied opportunities and options without discriminating on the basis of sex.

Therefore, sir, in light of these submissions, we request you to get the instruction, which disallows women from accessing the field which is a common space, revoked and uphold their freedom, autonomy and decisional privacy and discontinue the practice of such discrimination against them.

The SBA also noted in the petition that written rules on the use of the campus, under the hostel rules, only bar entry of women into men’s hostel and vice versa, but is silent on the point of access to the field which is restricted only through a verbal instruction by the administration to the guard manning the field’s gate.

Saxena told us that though the verbal instruction has existed on campus since the very first batches, this was the first time in NLSIU’s history that the students had challenged it.

Menstrual pads

In an email to us the SBA said that it has followed top Indian universities such as the JNU Delhi and Xaviers Mumbai in installing sanitary napkin dispensers on campus. It commented further in the email:

Certain state Governments have also made it mandatory for schools to install these. Such an installation gives out an unequivocal message that menstrual cycle is a natural process of a women’s body and the university is committed to ensure that it does not act as an impediment to the education of its women students or employment of its women employees. Absence of such a mechanism prevented the women from managing their bodily functions with dignity and comfort.

We are glad that NLSIU has become one of the first NLUs to install the dispenser. This is coupled with recently allowing access to the otherwise out of bounds football field to its women students at all times of the day. It was indeed heartening to see that law school expanded upon its equal safe space amidst shrinking liberal atmosphere elsewhere, within and outside universities. We are proud that NLS is taking more inclusive steps in the right direction for a greater sensitivity to the gender issues.

Saxena added that The Alliance of Over Sensitive Women, a group of female students from various LLB batches, has taken other initiatives such as allotting space for a bulletin board on campus that shames “any recent sexist comments” made on campus. Saxena said that the bulletin board has not featured any comments from faculty members so far.

NLSIU students had protested last year against a professor who had passed allegedly sexist remarks on one student’s attending his lectures dressed in shorts.

Picture by Mediaphoto.

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