Mechanical engineering is not for women; don’t join an IIT, there are hardly any women; be prepared to deal with comments if you access the supernumerary quota for girls. If you are a woman aspiring to join the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), statements like these may have caused confusion.
Aiming to cancel all such notions, IIT Bombay conducted an ‘Open House’ session for women who qualified JEE Advanced this year to help them better understand academics and life in high school. The session, which was held online on Tuesday, featured an elaborate panel of teachers and students who addressed the apprehensions and questions of the aspirants and their parents about the environment, opportunities and safety measures at IIT Bombay.
The panel included Subhasis Chaudhuri, Director, IIT Bombay, Suryanarayana Doolla, Chairman JEE Advanced, Prita Pant of the Department of Metallurgical Engineering, Pooja Purang, Coordinator of the Gender Cell at IIT Bombay, Preeti Jyoti of department of computer engineering and students Aarushi Chaudhary. , Divyashree Tambade, Kirti Agrawal and Vidushi Verma.
Here are some questions answered by the panel:
Is there any branch of engineering that is not suitable for women?
This is absolutely not true. Only you can decide what works for you. And you’re just asking this question. One important thing to remember here is that this is your first degree and only the beginning of your career. Getting a degree from IIT may seem like the ultimate destination after the grueling JEE preparation process, but that is not the end. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way based on your interests and skills. See what you are good at and pursue it.
The panel in this session was carefully chosen to show how normal it is to have women in various branches of engineering, be it civil, mechanical, chemical or metallurgical. It is important not to decide on any preconceived notions promoted by society and cinema. Another important factor is that the different fields of engineering have evolved over time.
For example, in the case of mechanical engineering, it is assumed that you will have to stand in workshops for hours together or, in the case of civil engineering, the candidate is assumed to build. Although these are the basic aspects of these branches, there are now many new aspects and opportunities.
What is the experience of studying in a gender-biased classroom?
Women represent between 18 and 20% of each classroom. This means that there are enough girls in the campus and there is no need to be afraid. Also, there is no gender discrimination in any branch of engineering. There are equal opportunities for all genders. You can work with professors or in student-led activities in different branches that are of your interest and this is purely based on merit and aptitude.
Are students witnessing misogyny or sexism on campus?
We cannot say that there is no discrimination in society in general. The people at the institute also come from the same social backgrounds. You may experience that certain things are said just because you are a woman. There may be instances where you encounter sexist behavior. But it is important to note that there are systems or offices to address these situations. Apart from offices like IIT Bombay Gender Cell, there are also student representatives who you can contact in case of any grievance. Through awareness and sensitization, we have worked hard to reduce if not eliminate these incidents. It is important to reach out and talk, there is a whole support system ready to help you.
Is there any sense of bias towards female candidates who come through the supernumerary quota with lower scores?
There is no such feeling of being looked down upon by your peers on campus. Everyone has equal platforms and opportunities everywhere, be it academics, extracurriculars, internships or internships. It is very important not to have this feeling of inferiority. With every change in the system, there will be differences of opinion. But with time, change is happening and the initiative of women’s supernumerary seats is being appreciated now. We have to look at it positively as the campus is much more vibrant now.
What about the safety of female students on campus?
The safety of women on campus is of utmost importance. While there is restricted entry and regular monitoring to ensure safety from external threats, there are also 24×7 security systems for each hostel, including those for female students. The campus is extremely safe to move around freely. There is no dress code imposed by the administration. Moreover, we work to achieve greater gender friendliness on campus. Student representatives are actively encouraged to organize initiatives around gender equality. Sexual harassment in any form, physical or verbal, is taken seriously. Although there are proactive measures, in the event of a complaint, the gender cell responds within 24 to 48 hours with support and protection for the victim. A rapid response team is available 24/7 if you find yourself in any awkward situation on campus at any time. These equipments are easily accessible.
What steps have been taken to make the campus more inclusive of the LGBTQ community and to ensure that there is no discrimination?
There is already a mechanism in place: the gender cell that works for all genders. The Gender Cell does not consider gender harassment in terms of a single gender. We work to provide measures to prevent sexual harassment for students of all genders. There is also a special student body called “Saathi” that caters to the LGBTQ community on campus. They are always open and supportive to talk about problems and also help to deal with them. It hosts many events and discussions about the LGBTQ community, and you can certainly be a part of it as an LGBTQ member or ally.
Do you have any mental health counseling on campus and does it include counselors?
Much importance is given to the mental health issues faced by students. There is a student wellness center with six counselors and most of them are women. They can be approached for any problem you face at IIT Bombay. Apart from this, there is also an in-house hospital with mental health professionals. In addition to this, there are several other student support mechanisms, the most important of which is the student mentor program. Each student is assigned a same-sex mentor in the first year. They are carefully selected to help transition freshers. The Student Mentor Program also hosts many events to encourage dialogue and discussions to help new students.