Dress code for women in universities 'discriminatory', says Centre; Corporate India must take cue

Deccan Herald reported on Monday that the Centre had banned the dress code in universities. This will hopefully put a stop to discriminatory rules against women students in class and hostels.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) had in two separate notifications banned discriminatory rules against women students, including dress code, on the pretext of safety. The notification applies to universities and colleges affiliated to the two regulatory bodies. The Centre has also restricted higher educational institutions from imposing two sets of rules for men and women students, stating, “Concern for the safety of women students must not be cited to impose discriminatory rules for women in hostels as compared to male students.”

 Dress code for women in universities discriminatory, says Centre; Corporate India must take cue

Representational image. AFP

Many professional colleges and universities have been imposing strict dress codes for their women students, on the pretext of preventing sexual harassment. These colleges also police and monitor the movements of women students. The UGC feels the dress code should not curtail the freedom of women students.

This comes as a validation for students of several professional institutions who have been protesting against the dress code imposed on them.

More so, as the Bar Council of India (BCI) issued a circular to all law schools in the country as recently as April to implement a uniform dress code for students. The Times of India reported that the BCI had said that standards of dressing by law students were "gradually detracting" from the institutions' reputation.

The BCI circular had come even as students of several law colleges were fighting the imposition of a dress code on them. For instance, the students of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) of Bengaluru had been protesting a professor’s inappropriate remarks against a girl student for wearing shorts to class. Just last month, the students of Hazra Law College in Kolkata too objected to the imposition of a dress code by the Bar Council. Men students had been asked to wear black trousers and white shirt and girls either white sari or salwar-kameez or black and grey full-sleeved blouse.

Now, whether the BCI follows the AICTE and UGC notification has to be seen.

Meanwhile, several educational institutions across the country have been imposing a dress code. The Hindu College, affiliated to the Delhi University recently asked their women students to wear clothes as per the “normal norm of society.” But the college had to withdraw the dress code in the face of protests by students.

JanakiMuraliIt’s not only professional colleges that impose a dress code on their students, even graduate colleges and pre-university colleges do so. Even all women’s colleges insist that their women students do not wear shorts or sleeveless shirts to class.

It’s no better in schools. Besides the uniforms that school children have to wear, which is already a given, many schools insist that the girl children should not wear jewelry, bindi or flowers. Some schools even have gone as far as to insist on a dress code for their teachers, insisting on the traditional sari or salwar-kameez.

Imposing a dress code is abhorrent in educational institutions, especially if they are being targeted at women students and women teachers alone. A woman is not molested, because of the clothes she wears, but because of the attitude of the men who harass her. Wearing formals, or “appropriate clothes” is not going to be a deterrent to those out to molest a women. Sexual harassment is a crime against women, which has to be tackled as such.

Just as an educational institutions should allow students to explore their mind freely, they should also give them the freedom to wear what they want to class. Many educational institutions insist on a formal dress code, under the garb of students getting used to wearing formals at their workplace. For instance, law, business management and hotel management graduates are expected to wear formals at their work place.

Corporate settings should get casual

Unfortunately, many corporates insist on a dress code and formal attire at the workplace. The HR body, SHRM or Society for Human Resource Management has clear guidelines on 'Attire and Grooming Policy' which "establishes guidelines for appropriate workplace appearance, clothing, grooming, natural and artificial scents, and hygiene…It provides that department heads will establish guidelines appropriate for the specific work setting and for the work being performed."

But, firstly is it necessary for corporates to impose a dress code on the excuse that it encourages a formal workplace atmosphere? Doesn’t it instead encourage a stilted workplace, where no creativity, free thought or fun is encouraged?

In the last decade, many start-ups have broken the norm on dress code and allowed their employees to wear whatever they were comfortable in. Take Apple, Google, Twitter, Tesla or Facebook, for instance. Employees wear jeans and tees and even flip-flops to work. Some of these companies even allow their employees to bring their pets to work. These companies have not only ditched the suit and tie and business suits but have gone out of the way to provide a comfortable working environment for their employees. When I visited the Menlo Park office of Facebook recently, I not only found cool tees and jeans, but a music room in which employees could use to play and practice music.

One of Google’s 10 philosophies is "you can be serious without a suit." Google states under this philosophy, “We believe that great, creative things are more likely to happen with the right company culture…We put great stock in our employees – energetic, passionate people from diverse backgrounds with creative approaches to work, play and life. Our atmosphere may be casual, but as new ideas emerge in a café line, at a team meeting or at the gym, they are traded, tested and put into practice with dizzying speed - and they may be the launch pad for a new project destined for worldwide use.”

And, we all know that Google has been consistently ranked as one of the top companies to work for.

The CEOs of these new age companies feel that allowing their employees to wear what they like only encourages free thought and creativity. The work ethics of these “cool corporates” has not been affected by their rebellion against any formal dress code. In fact, some of the best creative ideas come out of these companies. Many of these new age companies have “chief happiness officers” and “fun officers” who work at ensuring the happiness of their employees, so that they are the most productive.

So, it’s time that not only educational institutions scrapped the dress code, but also stuffy corporates who still insist on formal wear for their employees.

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Updated Date: Jul 13, 2016 12:17:57 IST