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“ When the plan for the IWSL was conceptualized, a lot of effort was put into the site’s selection. It is in the center of the city with easy accessibility to market places and other areas for recreation. However, the Institute is located in a quiet lane, away from the nerve wrecking sound of traffic and the congestion of office buildings. Snuggled quietly into the lane lies the Institute, lending it an academic and tranquil air. As one of the students observed:
” Being an architect I was amazed at the kind of spaces, the physical environment and the surroundings of the building. Beautiful red building set back in a quiet corner of a not so quiet city seems perfect for a women’s institute. Everyone in the group had a favorite spot where they would roam off to when readings were given and get together in the common room for chatting and discussions”
The living quarters for the students have also been structured in such a way to be in line with the methodology. It has been constructed deliberately to look like a house, instead of a typical hostel, usually separated by corridors with disconnected rooms, and consequently, disassociating the occupants. In-built into the methodology is the concept of ‘sisterhood’ with the building designed to enhance integration among the students. At the same time, however, the concept of ‘women’ s space’ and ‘non-hierarchical’ feminist methodology is also kept in mind, the center therefore, does not have any full time warden. It has a woman manger responsible for the overall maintenance of the place, who keeps the usual office hours of 9:30 am to 5:00 pm. A conscious effort is made to subside and gradually eliminate any class, race, ethnic or religious barriers that the students might have. For this purpose, the students are required to clean their own rooms, maintain common seating areas, like the T.V room, and do their own laundry and dish washing. The meal timings are fixed to ensure that the students gather in the central dining area to meet at least thrice a day outside of the seminar room. As a student from India commented
” I have lived in a hostel for five years, but perhaps because of the large population of residents and partly because of the structure of the building itself, one can go on living there without developing a sense of community. Here we fostered a feeling of bonding and sisterhood.”
The methodology is aimed at inculcating socialist feminism into the students in such away that it becomes part of their life. It is a process of deep analysis of one’s self and the surroundings: processes of deconstruction of both, for only then can one deconstructs patriarchy and class. Self-reflexivity is therefore, an important ingredient of any feminist endeavor and this course is no different. Throughout the course, assignments and general discussions (in and outside the classroom) are aimed at the ‘self’. The last assignment, which is the major part of the overall grade, was in fact on self-reflexivity. As the aim of the course is to bring theory and action together, and come up with a well-informed activist.
The consistency in methodology was considered while decorating, even. So, the décor was actually done while keeping in mind ‘women’s creativity’. The T.V room and the dining room had a mural, painted by lay women in a workshop at Asr. The women were just told to draw, no size, pattern or shape was specified as such and their raw creativity flowed onto the mural which now graces the walls of that room. The rugs in the center are also woven by women. In fact these are done by Central Asian women and not as articles of sale but, as part of their daughter’s dowry. ‘Women’s creativity’ is lauded in other ways in the décor also. The staircase up to the seminar room has photographs of prolific women from the performing arts in Pakistan. Another methodological issue in consideration was the consistency between theory and action. Not only the whole décor but also the various gadgets and appliances (electric kettle, air conditioners, furniture etc) of the center is done with indigenously produced and if not produced at least assembled in Pakistan. This practice then, does not contradict what is being preached in the module on Political economy.”
“The building of the IWSL however, before this came the process of looking for the land / space that the Institute required within its given resources and demands. In fact, choosing the location of the Institute was most important as are choosing locations for all of Ash’s activities. As the IWSL is the only public Institute that is primarily for women to have access to and interact or utilize for research, training, library, use of the book shop and for meetings this became even more so. In Pakistan there has been a dearth of such easily and safely accessible places with all these facilities for women, less so all available at one location. Also because security is a major consideration for families to send women members for training or to a public space this also became a main concern when looking for a location. The design of the IWSL was achieved by sitting with the architects to design a woman friendly building.
The Institute building consists of two portions: one the actual institute and the other a residential space as all courses are residential. The residential space is equipped with bed-cum-study rooms for 80 persons (at double and triple occupancy), faculty residence, lounge and dining spaces. The office building includes library, seminar rooms, video area and work spaces for ASR members.”
“The Institute is located in Lahore, a city that boasts not only a historical and cultural history, but also a history of political consciousness and political activism. The choice of city and Institute was a conscious effort to draw upon and live up to the many possibilities of Lahore.
The city has museums, numerous libraries and archives, bookshops, publishing houses, art galleries, historical monuments/architecture, and several parks and gardens.
The residential section of the Institute has been designed more as a comfortable home and includes spacious bed-cum-study rooms that can accommodate up to 25 persons (single, double and triple occupancy), a separate living space is reserved for faculty /scholars or research persons.”