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'Most colleges in denial on women's safety'

Friday, 28 February 2014 - 8:30am IST | Agency: dna

UGC survey finds a majority of institutions don't have policy against sexual harassment

Despite the assurances to ensure the safety of women, especially after the Nirbhaya case, most institutions of higher education in the country don't have a policy against sexual harassment.

According to a recent survey conducted by the University Grants Commission (UGC), only 57% of the higher education institutions who responded to the survey said they had a policy against sexual harassment. However, only three-quarters of them could substantiate their claims.

What might better reflect the state of affairs on this issue is the fact that while the survey questionnaire was sent to all 31,935 higher education institutions, including 600 universities, that are under the purview of the UGC, only 1,307 – or just 4% – institutions bothered to reply.

Other disappointing findings are that only four of every 100 institutions had a helpline and eight of every 100 provided a complaint box. In the absence of a well-defined policy, a permanent counselor or CCTV systems were also rare.

The survey, which was initiated in February last year, aimed to review the arrangements for the safety of women in particular and youth in general at the institutions of higher learning. The report, titled 'Saksham', was released by UGC chairman Ved Prakash last week. The survey group was headed by Meenakshi Gopinath.

"The way the questionnaire was answered proves that the authorities are either in denial mode or defensive on the issue of gender discrimination," the report stated. Nearly 83.5% of the colleges denied any sexual harassment complaints in their "entire history". Most also said that the questions on gender discrimination did not apply to them.

The UGC had in 1999 directed all universities and colleges to comply with the Vishakha guidelines to deal with complaints of sexual harassment. This is also mandated by the law for the protection of sexual harassment of women at the workplace.

Following on the recommendations of the survey, the UGC has issued a fresh directive to universities and colleges to comply with the guidelines in the report.

Of the 1,307 institutions that responded, 275 were from Maharashtra and 266 from Andhra Pradesh. The response from the northern states was lukewarm, but institutions in the southern states were the best.

Asked about the existence of a committee to tackle sexual harassment at her college, a student in Thane said: "I am not aware about any such committee where one can complain about harassment."

Dr Kamakshi Bhate, professor at Seth GS Medical College and KEM hospital, concurred with the survey report. "Many affiliated colleges especially in the rural areas don't have any mechanism. The situation in private universities is worse as they do not have a monitoring system." Bhate is head of preventive and social medicine department and a member of the anti-sexual harassment committee at the institution.

How colleges fared
4% have a helpline
8.3% provide a complaints box
10% have CCTV system
10.9% hired guards
18.5% have female security staff
9% a common room for girls

The complaints received
7.3% were about sexual harassment
8.3% about public transport
14.8% on lighting on campus
22.3% were about toilets
16.5% on accommodation
17.8% were about health
10.2% concerned counseling

(Source: Saksham report of the UGC)

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