As women studies gain visibility in colleges and universities, academics call for an attitudinal change towards facilitating gender equity.

The University Grants Commission, as a method of empowerment, has created several centres of women's studies by implementing a scheme on ‘Development of Women Studies in Indian Universities and Colleges.'

Gender perspective

For the last two decades, such centres have been playing an interventionist role by initiating gender perspective in many domains in generation of knowledge; in the policy designs and practice. Seven universities started Women Studies Centres (WSC) in 1986 and the number has now grown to 160 in 2011. Thanks to women's organisations and groups who have contributed to a national movement through sensitisation exercises in universities and colleges. These centres have contributed to visibility of women's issues in their endeavour to facilitate gender equity. Recently, 26 women's study centres in south Indian universities and colleges came together to form Regional Association of Women's Studies (RAWS) to serve as a forum for healthy dialogue between the various stakeholders including individuals, NGOs, policy-makers, researchers, academicians and those in power.

Despite increase in women's upward mobility, dismal sex ratio, female infanticide, sexual harassment and female child labour were worrying indicators, according to N. Manimekalai, Secretary, RAWS, and Head, Department of Women's Studies, Bharathidasan University. At a day-long workshop on ‘Relevance of Women's Studies in the Present Context' that the RAWS conducted earlier this month, speakers opined that violence against women was a manifestation of patriarchy and that the society did not protect them. The violence had its roots in denial of economic rights, they said.

Collective steps

According to Prof. Susheela Kaushik, Former Director, Centre for Women's Studies, Delhi University, and Co-Chair, Committee on UGC Capacity Building of Women Managers in Higher Education, there was an imperative need for society and academics to take collective steps for research and social action. Women have to be trained to be independent. The glass ceiling between men and women should be researched by women study centres, she advocated. WSCs should work towards bringing attitudinal change through sensitisation, document the contributions of women, undertake research and bring it to the curriculum and to classroom. According to her, the movement for gender justice could begin in classroom through involvement of both boys and girls.

The society must understand the differences between sex and gender which indicate biological and sociological differences respectively. The differences and the ways in which they impact life should be understood in a right perspective, explained Regina Pappa, former Director Centre for Women's Studies, Alagappa University.