Mingling of sexes on campus

Why does Pakistani society always make the assumption that if an unmarried man and woman are talking, a sexual relationship must be afoot? And what kind of affect does this type of mindset have on a university environment?

I was shocked to find out about the notification from the Bacha Khan University administration which prohibited male and female students from interacting with one another. I was disappointed that an institution named after a person who often spoke on gender equality had taken such a regressive step.

Shortly afterwards, a friend shared similar notifications from other educational institutions. One from Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai University instructed male and female students not to talk with each other ‘unnecessarily’, and to move to other departments unless they have a class together. Similar directives were issued by NUST and Benazir Bhutto University’s Liyari campus on social media. Initially, I was reluctant about accepting the authenticity of these notifications so I made an enquiry about them. No university denied issuing these directives.

A few weeks back, directives were also issued by Taxila University and the International Islamic University to female students, instructing them to dress modestly so that they don’t attract attention from male students. I couldn’t help but wonder if a notification was issued to the male students, asking them not to stare at girls.

What can be said about instructions like this in an era when women are quite competitive with men in several academic and professional fields? Furthermore, why does Pakistani society always make the assumption that if an unmarried man and woman are talking, a sexual relationship must be afoot? And what kind of affect does this type of mindset have on a university environment?

Of course, there are a number of religious and cultural factors here which explain why our universities are enforcing these types of rules. In Pakistan, when a child enters a school he or she is prepared to only interact with members of the same sex. People from the opposite sex are practically considered alien. Apart from this, the syllabus in our school system rigorously reinforces traditional gender roles. Women are always portrayed as home makers. All of this strengthens the patriarchy dominating our society.

In Pakistan, when a child enters a school he or she is prepared to only interact with members of the same sex. People from the opposite sex are practically considered alien. Apart from this, the syllabus in our school system rigorously reinforces traditional gender roles. Women are always portrayed as home makers. All of this strengthens the patriarchy dominating our society

History is full of examples of women working with men as equals. But this is very rare in Pakistan today. Women are routinely discriminated against because of their gender, and are often blamed unduly for society’s ills. It is no wonder that the body language displayed by women in public spaces is insecure. It is shameful that half of the population of the country is made to feel this way.

The considerations made by respective university administrations while passing the aforementioned notifications are not known, but this trend is a matter of great concern. It has slowly and gradually crept into both private and public universities. The university administrations and faculty must combat this regressive mindset, rather than give into it.

Are the ethical problems facing our society a result of mingling of the sexes? Absolutely not. Our country needs to adopt a more critical and open minded approach when dealing with social issues. The steps taken in the aforementioned university administrations will only marginalise women further. Pakistani students must have freedom of movement and interaction irrespective of gender as it is a fundamental human right.

The writer has experience in the field of education and is currently working as a resource person in the development sector

Published in Daily Times, January 4th 2018.