ISLAMABAD: Once they arrive at the campus in the morning, female students at the International Islamic University in Islamabad (IIUI) cannot leave the varsity for any curricular, co-curricular activity or even an emergency till the buses leave in the afternoon. Or, the students can try to get written permission from varsity officials.
However, teachers and officials at the varsity argue that the measures – part of the varsity’s unique culture and system – have been taken to make sure the security of female students.
“I had only one class today which too was cancelled. We have been here since 8am and will now have to wait till 3pm,” a student at the international relations department of the varsity says on the condition of anonymity.
“The teachers have asked us to wait for the buses since they cannot issue [permission] slips to the entire class,” the student adds. “Our entire day has been wasted”.
The IIUI is one of the biggest public sector universities in Islamabad. Not only in terms of its size, but also in terms of the sheer number of students studying there, some 30,000 – segregated between male and female campuses.
While male students can come and go with little to no restrictions, female students are not allowed to leave the campus before the due time without showing permission slips to guards at the gates.
These slips are issued only by their department heads, or other assisting staff, after the students give a ‘genuine reason’ to leave the campus.
But that is not the only hurdle.
Students say the guards, who always stand alert at the gates, after accepting the slips only allow them to leave with their parents or siblings, but not with other relatives.
“Once the mother of one of our fellow students had fallen ill and a relative came to pick her up. But the administration did not allow her to go,” remarked one of the students, refusing to give her name for fear of administrative reprimand.
Even travel to the convention centre from the campus is no less of a hassle for students.
Recently, a student convention was held at the centre. A student at the computer sciences department claimed that students from several universities were attending the convention except for female students of IIUI since they were not permitted to leave the campus.
“We came to the varsity all dressed up and ready to go out that day,” she recalled, adding “buses [to take us to the convention centre] kept waiting for us outside but the administration did not issue us permission slips”. Students further complain that they also face trouble when someone wants to come to the campus, including delivery boys dropping off mail or food.
“It’s a great hassle to receive your order,” notes a student.
Another student recalled how a student had once ordered pizza, but the guard did not allow the students to receive it from the dispatcher.
“The guards did not even allow him to come close to female campus, motioning him to leave without delivering the order,” she added.
Fatima Khan, a former student who recently completed her Masters from IIUI, said that the campus security officials and the administration “ always think students [leaving the campus early] are going on a date.”
“Their attitude is always humiliating and sceptical. Even if you have to go out to a bookstore or to any organisation to drop your CV, you can only get permission after going through a thorough ‘investigation’ and arguments with the guards”.
Those living in hostels on the campus face a much bigger issue since they need to step out of the university from time to time. But with such a strict regimen in place, it becomes difficult.
“I used to live in a hostel and I was not allowed to go to the hospital without [permission] slips. They did not even accept the university doctor’s prescription who asked me to go off campus to Pims for treatment,” Fatima said.
By contrast, boys do not generally face such a grilling though the administration has started strict monitoring of those living in hostels, said a male M.Phil student Ahmad, who only shared his surname.
“They have started checking ID cards of female family members if they come to meet us,” Ahmed said, adding that the administration was strictly monitoring the times they entered and left the hostel. Though, following protests by the students, the administration does not bother the boys much.
However, varsity officials believe such restrictions have existed since the university’s inception and have now become its norms – even though the written slips were introduced only a few years ago. In fact, they consider it a distinctive feature of the institute.
“We are responsible for students during university hours,” maintained a department head.
“It will not only ruin the reputation of the family but the varsity as well if a student is found involved in any unwanted activity or gets in any trouble. Thus, we ask the students [the reason for leaving early] and allow them to leave if they have a genuine reason to go out [from the campus] to avoid any problematic situations”.
“The university is more concerned about the safety and security of the students, especially the female students,” said Public Relations Department chief Hassan Aftab.
“Female students who wish to leave the campus during university working hours or during classes must get a permission slip to leave the campus on their own from the concerned HOD,” Aftab adds.
However, these slips are not required after class timings end.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2017.