“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” ~ Malala Yousafzai.
Since the inception of societal organization, patriarchy has been ruling the roost and women have been at receiving end of discrimination, maltreatment and injustice. However, the forms and quantum of these evils have been mercurial in relation to the times in which they existed. In ancient times, perceived to be a ‘lesser gender’, women were ghettoized to the four walls of the domestic set-up and were shorn of all the educational opportunities as well as the economic and the political rights which were available to their male counterparts. A slew of other discriminatory practices like the Sati, child-marriages, etc. were also prevalent and a few of them like the Pardah system continue to be practiced even today.
In modern era, attempts were made to break the chains of parochialism and throw the monkey wrench into the historical unjustified practices against women. Thanks to the worldwide furore against this injustice from mid 19th century to late 20th century that national and world leaders started realizing that real progress becomes a mirage when almost half of the world’s population is ousted from contributing to and benefitting from it. It was then that they started laying down regulations and enabling legislations for the emasculation of women’s sufferings. Consequently, in its voyage from ancient to modern times, society shunned or dialed down its old unfair practices. But this unfortunately happened only to pave way for the fresh forms of inequity.
As women got access to education and political rights, they also became eligible for economic opportunities and employment which exposed them to a new form of discrimination, i.e. discrimination at workplace. Over a period of time, coexisting with its other variants it became the most conspicuous and undeniable form of discrimination against women. Apart from this, the incidents of rape, domestic violence, acid attack, female foeticide, etc. all indicate the societal intolerance towards women in modern times.
A LEGAL LEAP TOWARDS EQUALITY
On December 18, 1979, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women which now stands ratified by more than 185 countries. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women adopted on December 20, 1993; Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action adopted on September 15, 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women; Gender Mainstreaming: Strategy for Promoting Gender Equality adopted in August, 2001, etc. give a glimpse of the efforts made at the international level in the direction of countering the problem of discrimination against women.
In India too, our constitution explicitly provides for the right to equality under Article 14, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex along with several other grounds under Article 15(1), provides for equality of opportunity to men and women alike under Article 16(2) and obliges the State through its directive principles of state policy to elevate the status of women. India also ratified CEDAW in 1993 as well as the various other international covenants hell-bent on bringing women at par with the other half of the world. Besides, India also enacted the Equal Remuneration Act in 1976 to plummet the level of discrimination at workplace and provide for equal salary for equal work irrespective of the gender. The Parliament of India enacted the Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act in 1994 to deal with the scourge of female foeticide.
The Apex Court of India has also been not lax in proselytizing the rights and freedoms of women in the country. In its landmark judgment of Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, the Supreme Court has been considerably stentorian in laying down the guidelines to prevent sexual harassment of women at workplaces. In the wake of this judgment the Union government also enacted the Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place (Prevention, Protection and Redressal) Act in 2013. Also, in another landmark verdict of Indian Young Lawyer’s Association v. The State of Karnataka, the Supreme Court upheld the women’s right to worship and threw open the gates of the Lord Ayappa temple at Sabrimala, Karnataka where the entry was denied to the women of an age ranging from 10 to 50 years. Since the health of women has been neglected for aeons, some statutes have been particularly enacted in our country to provide for the better health facilities to women. The examples include the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971, etc.
On July 23, 2020, the government of India issued an edict for the permanent commission of Short Service Commissioned (SSC) women officers in all 10 streams of the Indian Army which include army air defence, signals, engineers, army aviation, electronics and mechanical engineers, army service corps and Intelligence corps adding to the already existing streams of judge and advocate general and army educational corps. The diktat was issued in the wake of Supreme Court’s Judgment in The Secretary, Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya & Others in February, 2020 where the honorable Court went on to salvage the women’s right to equality of opportunity. Prior to this commendable verdict, women were recruited to Indian Army only as SSC officers for a tenure of 10 years and the option of permanent commission was not available to them unlike the male SSC officers. This also stymied them from qualifying for government pension which can only be claimed after serving as an officer for 20 years. Thence, apart from upholding the women’s right to equality, the move also works for their empowerment.
The efforts made by authorities in formulating statutes to defenestrate discrimination against women, both at national and international dais, are extremely applaudable. But equality cannot be guaranteed by mere writing it down in the legislations. Despite having the particular laws concerned with each of these problems, women in India still whine about not getting a job, at first place, because of their gender and about being paid less, denied promotion and the sexual harassment at employment site if they manage to get one. Therefore, the job is not done and dusted by making efficient laws. To go the whole hog, the authorities must ensure the effective implementation of the drafted legislations.
The judgment of Supreme Court in Babita Puniya case and the consequent order of the government set a precedent for other departments where women are still not considered apt for holding exalted positions and are deprived from the pertinent accolades. The Supreme Court in granting permanent commission of women in Indian Army has called for ‘change in mindsets’, it is also high time for the society to adopt these fresh norms of equality and shun the old ones of inequity and to bring to fruition all the efforts made by those in power.
1) Special Laws for Women Empowerment in India, Presidency University https://presidencyuniversity.in/specific-laws-for-women-empowerment-in-india/#:~:text=Some%20specific%20laws%20which%20were,The%20Dowry%20Prohibition%20Act%2C%201961.&text=The%20Sexual%20Harassment%20of%20Women,Protection%20and)%20Act%2C%202013.
2) Women’s Human Rights, International Justice Resource Center https://ijrcenter.org/thematic-research-guides/womens-human-rights/#:~:text=Inter%2DAmerican%20Convention%20on%20the%20Nationality%20of%20Women,Civil%20and%20Political%20Rights(arts.
3) Top 30 Landmark Supreme Court and other Judgments on Women, Lawnn https://www.lawnn.com/top-30-landmark-supreme-court-other-important-judgments-on-women/
4) Govt. issues order for permanent commission of women officers in Army, The Indian Express https://indianexpress.com/article/india/govt-issues-order-for-permanent-commission-of-women-officers-in-army-6519988/
5) ‘Women sail with same efficiency’ — SC says yes to permanent commission for women in Navy https://theprint.in/india/women-sail-with-same-efficiency-sc-says-yes-to-permanent-commission-for-women-in-navy/382258/
6) The Secretary, Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya & Others, https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2010/20695/20695_2010_8_1501_20635_Judgement_17-Feb-2020.pdf
7) The Constitution of India.
Author - Tanya
Student at University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh.