The Masked Beast Of Female Accommodation

For most students, moving out of your house and into a dorm means freedom. This is especially true for Hostelites when they come to LUMS compared to other institutes that impose Draconian restrictions such as curfews. The female experience of getting a dorm is more significant keeping in mind the familial and societal pressures that are common in Pakistan. It means that girls can have more mobility to be themselves and use their independence in a project of self-discovery. This freedom comes at the cost of added responsibility. One is prepared to be more mindful of budgets and to take on more mundane chores of laundry, sharing spaces with a roommate and cooking. However, in recent years the costs of living on campus in LUMS have far outgrown the benefits.


Having 5 hostel buildings compared to the 7 male hostels, female students are at a severe disadvantage of space. It is almost a perfect ironic analogy of the lack of public space that women are granted in Pakistan. As girls are shunned from public parks, roadside restaurants so too are they shunned from occupying space on campus. There have been countless debates and Open Houses on campus with heart wrenching stories of girls who have been denied space on campus and shuttled off to housing in Askari with the promise of hourly buses for commute. The Administration has assured constantly that it is simply a temporary solution but female students see no end in sight. Last year, there was a discussion that M2 should be converted to a female hostel since it is mostly vacant. Almost expectedly, there was a huge uproar from male students and the decision was revoked. It speaks volumes that the opinions of a few men who are not even occupying that space took precedence over the many women who shared deeply personal stories and traumas as a result of these policies.


The administration’s long-term policy is two-fold. Firstly, they have brought back triple occupancy in F1 and F2 aimed mainly at First Years. Secondly, the basement of F5 has been converted into a makeshift refugee camp for day scholars who require accommodation. Imagine this. One room with 14 beds. You wake up to the whim of whoever turns on the light in the morning. You sleep covering your face with you bedsheet to block the light out at night. You pack your things in your suitcases and foldable storage before leaving class everyday and come back to find some things missing still. You try to stay out of the “room” as long as you can and take shelter in a friend’s room most of the time. Whenever you try to ask for some basic decent living conditions you are told to stop being greedy and be thankful you’re given this space at least. That was a typical day in the life of Areej Shamshad in her Sophomore year.


Even the hostelites who are “blessed” with a room and just 1 roommate to share it with, the problems are endless. In the unbearable heat of the Lahori summers, every night is a gladiator style fight to the death over mattresses in the air-conditioned common room. The finite spaces are filled, with people removing other mattresses. These conditions are highly stressful for girls who are socially anxious as squabbles and fights have become more commonplace. This semester, the administration failed to fill water in the coolers installed in the hallways leaving the girls to defend against the hot air spewed at them adding to the miserable weather.


Basic hygiene and healthcare is also absent in hostels. Maryam and Sania were greeted by bedbugs in their mattresses and cupboards. Arooba had to battle fungus infecting her clothes. When students ask for fumigation, there are additional complications. The inconveniently short time slots that fumigation can take place in do not account for the busy schedules that students have. It is a system rigged against young hostellites whose academic responsibilities stand like a Goliath in front of them.


LUMS’ housing facilities feature no accountability measures. There are no escape plans in cases of emergencies. No drills are carried out to prepare students what to do in cases like earthquakes. I still remember my first year living on the 6th floor of F5 and having to run all 6 flights of stairs when there was an earthquake, not knowing what to do. In case of emergencies like fire, we have gotten a glimpse of what to expect. The administration has a simple policy. When in doubt, victim blame. The fire was somehow caused by a cigarette. Curiously though, all the girls who lived in that room were not inside. The only reasonable explanation is a mouse with a nicotine addiction. Even when we tried contacting Residence to get a view and clear any confusions, we were met with no response.


Countless LDF posts, SC emails to the administration and Open Houses later, we are still where we started. Women on campus should have a space where they feel safe. If that is not going to be the room which is their home for the next 4 years, where will it be? This matter of not prioritizing female issues points at a more systemic problem entrenched within LUMS. We must treat all students as equal and that starts with giving them space to breathe.



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