– Ms. Manpreet Kaur Rajpal1
The daughters. The mothers,
The fribblings – friends like
The wives. The girlfriends,
The aunts. The nieces,
The young ones. The teens,
She is the women in world,
Who love, cry& laugh,
Who heal, thrive,
Nurture & Create .
Woman is an embodiment of love, grace, and compassion; so understanding, balanced, sharp, witty, beautiful, and artistic. We can go on and on and still the essence of woman hood will be difficult to define. She creates, she nurtures, she supports, she loves, and she is a power house!Yet she is denied the very basic right to live with dignity, just because she is a woman. Empowered woman is strong enough to stand as a support for her family and community at large. She further contributes to the prospects of next generation.
From times immemorial women has been subjected to atrocities. We find that women continue to suffer from numerous disabilities and inequities. Despite the guarantees of theConstitution, protection of the laws and the support of various developmental schemes, women continue to be victims of domestic violence, sexual harassment at the workplace and atrocities in general. Illiteracy, ignorance, lack of awareness, poverty and above all, economic dependence coupled with oppression caused by customary practices have placed women in a situation where they have to face persecution, day-in and day-out.
One most telling statistical data which sums up the total scenario is contained in the continuously falling sex ratio of females. Whereas in most developed societies, women outnumber men because of well known biological forces, Indian society has always had a scarcity of women. Worse still, the ratio has been getting more and more skewed. The 2001 Census has indicated that there are 933 females for every 1000 males. At the beginning of the century therewere 972 females for every 1000 males.
These diminishingratios and the missingwomen have naturally caused immense concern. Where have they gone? What has caused such drastic reduction in the number of females? Well, the missing numbers have been traced to the increasingcases offemale feticideand infanticide, at least in certain States. Alas, even those females who survive these early threats at birth or in infancy continue to be neglected and abused, at home and outside, throughout their lives whether as daughters or as wives or as widows. Various statistics relating to education and health document the same story. Figures of crimes against women as revealed by the National Crimes Record Bureau bring out the grimness of the situation affecting the “better half” (which, alas, is less than half) of our population.
Looking at the pathetic plight of women, sincere efforts were needed by the state to empower women. Now here it becomes necessary to understand the phrase”Women Empowerment”.Broadly we can define, Women Empowerment as the sum total of changes needed for a woman to realize her full human rights – the interplay of changes in agency, structures and relations. But duringthe last three decades there has been a sea changein the concept of women’s empowerment. I am reminded of a dialogue from A Doll’s House written by Henrik Ibsen. Helmer tells Nora-“First and foremost, you are a wife and mother.” Nora replied-“That I don’t believe any more. I believe that first and foremost, I am an individual, just as much as you are.” This dialogue carries a forcefulmessage.Awoman today expects herself-and rightly so-to be treated as an individual, a living human being, entitled to the same dignity and status, as her male counterparts.
Women Empowerment is the result of many internationaland national efforts. In the process of women empowerment many domestic and international agencies has played pivotal role. My papermainly focuses on the role of Constitution , Government and Internationaltreaties for strengthening women . As we all know that the Government has three organs i.e. Legislature, Judiciary & Executive. So lets us now probe into the role played by allthese state organs & the supreme law of land i.e. Constitution in empowerment of women.
INTERNATIONAL TREATIES AND CONVENTIONS
The 20th century has witnessed the upsurge of women empowerment movement universally. TheUniversal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) reaffirming faith in thefundamentalhuman rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women, contemplated the entitlement of allcherished freedoms to all human beingswithoutany distinction ofany kind,including discrimination based on sex. The World Conference on Human Rights at Vienna
in 1993 had declared the human rights of women and the girl child to be “inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universalhuman rights” and eradication of any form of discrimination on the basis of sex, is the priority objective of the international community. The Convocation on theElimination ofAll Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), 1979 is the United Nations’ landmark treaty marking the struggle for women’s rights. Described as the Billof Rights for women, it spells out what constitutes discrimination against women and propagates strategies based on “non-discriminatory” model, so that women’s rights are seen to be violated, if women are denied the same rights as men. General Recommendation 19 to CEDAW, formulated in 1992, deals entirely with the violence against women and explicitly states that gender-based violence is a form of discrimination which seriously inhibits a women’s ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on the basis of equality with men and asks State parties to have regard to this, while reviewing their laws and policies. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Agains t Women (1993) is a comprehensive statement of international standards with regard to the protection of women from violence. The Declaration sets out the internationalnorms which States haverecognised as being fundamental in the struggle to eliminate allforms of violence against women. Any “grave or systematic violations” are liable to be inquired into and penalised ever since the Optional Protocol of December 2000.
ROLE OF THE SUPREME LAWOF LAND : CONSTITUTION
Forcenturies, women in this country havebeen socially and economically handicapped. They have been deprived of equal participation in the socio-economic activities of the nation. The Constitution of India has taken a long leap in the direction of eradicating the lingering effects of such adverse forces so far as women are concerned. It recognizes women as aclass by itself and permits enactmentof laws and reservations favoring them.Severalarticles in ourConstitution makeexpress provision for affirmative action in favor of women. It prohibits all types of discrimination against women and lays a carpet for securing equal opportunity to women in all walks of life, including education, employment and participation. Part-III of theConstitution enumerated several FundamentalRights and Freedoms such as freedom of speech, protection of life and personal liberty.
Article 14 declares, “The State shallnot deny to any person equality beforethe law” This is the bedrock of equality ofstatus as an individual guaranteed to every citizen, man or woman.
Article 15 and laid down that “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them”. The Constitution makers were also aware of the fact that equality would have no meaning between people, and sections of people, placed in highly unequal situations through accidents of history and socialevolution. Therefore, they made a specific provision under Article 15 (3 ) for what is called P os itive & Protective discrimination. This enables the State to make any special provision forthebenefitof women and childreneven in violation ofthe fundamental obligation of non-discrimination among citizens. Thus, speciallaws and rules weremade for women, particularly,in thefield oflabour legislations, like the Factories Act, the Mines Act, etc.
Article 16 (1) guarantees “equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment orappointment to any office under the State”.As in the case of equality of status, here too Article 16(2)forbids discrimination in respect of any employment or office under the State on the grounds only of “religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any one of them”. The obligation notto discriminate on grounds of sex in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State has thus, at least, theoretically ensured a significantposition and status to Indian women.
The Directive Principles of State Policy are enunciated in Part- IV of the Constitution.These embody major policy goals of the Indian State. There are sixteen Articles of the Constitution that dealwith the DirectivePrinciples. They cover a wide rangeof State activity embracing economic, social,legal, educationaland internationalproblems. Some of them concern women indirectly or by necessary implication.A few are, as it were, “women specific”.
In the first category fall –
• The omnibus provision of Article 38 which, in brief, directs the State to secure a just social, politicaland economic order, geared to promote the welfare of the people;
• Art.39(b), (c) and (f) which concern distribution of ownership andcontrolofmaterialresources of thecommunity forthe common good, prevention of concentration of wealth and means of production to thecommon detriment,and protection of childhood and youth against exploitation and moral and material abandonment;
• Art.40 (organization of village panchayats to promote self- government);
• Art.41 (right to work, education and public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness,disablement and other types of underserved wants);
• Art 43 (provision of work, a living wage, conditions of work ensuring a decent standard of lifeand fullenjoyment of leisure, of social and cultural opportunities, and the promotion of cottage industries);
• Art. 44 (Uniform Civil Code);
• Art. 45 (free and compulsory education for all children up to the age of 14); and
• Art. 47 (raising the levelof nutrition and thestandard of living of the people and improvement of public health).
Directive Principles which concern women directly and have a special bearing on their status include:
• Art. 39 (a) (right to an adequate means of livelihood for men and women equally);
• Art. 39 (d)(equal pay for equalwork for both men and women);
• Art. 39(e) (protection of the health and strength of workers – men, women and children from abuse and entry into avocations unsuited to their age and strength); and
• Art. 42 (justand humaneconditions ofwork and maternity relief).
Fundamental duties are also included in the Constitution by an amendment. Article51(A)(e)imposes a Fundamental Duty on every citizen to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women. The Constitution was also amended by the 73rd and 74th Amendments to provide for reservation of 1/3rd seats for women in allinstitutions of local government and posts of chairpersons in such bodies. The Constitution, with its Preamble,the FundamentalRights and Duties and the Directive Principles, lays down a vision which the different organs of the Government, the legislature,the judiciary and theexecutive, were supposed to take forward.
ROLE OF LEGISLATURE
One of the main focal points of the Indian Legislature has been to empower the fairer sex, who has since long been prone to gender discrimination. Our history of discrimination has made it increasingly important for us to reexamine and explore further the laws for women in India. Since independence, the Indian Legislature has constantly sought to enactlaws thataddress economic,social, culturaland political issues pertaining to the oppressed sex i.e. women. Important laws are passed by the Indian legislatures which have a bearing on women’s lives and status. Some of these laws have been dealt with herein under to give a concise idea of the subject matter contained therein.
The Child Marriage RestraintAct, 1929
The Act, duly amended in 1938, 1951, 1968 and 1978, applies to all persons in India irrespective of their caste, community and religion. The marriageable age for the groom is 21 years and for the bride is 18 years. The Act prescribes punishments for an adult male contracting a child marriage, any one who perform s, conducts or directs the child marriage and a male parent/guardian who promotes, permits or solemnizes a child marriage.
The Factories Act, 1948
The Factories Act was enacted to regulate conditions of labour with regard to health, safety and welfare facilities. Inter alia, it also specifies thenature ofwork thatmust not be given to afemale worker/employee. For example, the law says that a female is not to work on or near machinery in motion. Further, she must not be employed during the night shift, nor can she be compelled by the employer to lift excessive weight. The Act also mandates separate latrines, urinals, washing facilities, crèches etc. exclusively for the use of female employees.
The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956
The Act prescribes punishments for keeping a brothel, for living on the earnings of a prostitute, for trafficking in women for prostitution,etc. It also aims at prohibiting prostitution in public places with a view to safeguardingpublic morals and society.
The Hindu Adoption and MaintenanceAct, 1956
It spells out theright of maintenance ofa Hindu wife. TheAct specifies the special circumstances under which a Hindu wife can claim maintenance. Allthese factors are essentially measures of social justice designed to prevent destitution in society. Similarly, the Act also deals with the circumstances under which a widow ed daughter-in-law, children, aged parents and dependants are entitled to maintenance.
The Maternity Benefit Act, 19
The object of theAct is to impart social justice to women workers. It protects the dignity of motherhood by providing for fulland healthy maintenance of the woman worker and her child during the period of herconfinement. TheAct provides for payment of maternity benefits in cash for a certain period before and after confinement& also provide other benefits like granting leave etc.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971
TheAct aims at protectingthe physicaland mentalhealth of a pregnant woman. Consisting of just eight sections, it deals with various aspects like the time, place and circumstances under which a pregnancy may be terminated by a registered medical practitioner. It legalises abortion in cases where there is failure of contraceptives or where the pregnancy willadversely affectthe physicalor mentalwell-being of the prospective mother.
The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986
The Act prohibits indecent representation of women through advertisements or in publications, writings, paintings, figures or in any other manner. It further prohibits sale, distribution and circulation of material containing indecent representation of women.
The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1986
The Act purports to effectively prevent commission of sati and its glorification. It prescribes punishment for whoever may attempt to commit sati or abet the commission of sati, directly or indirectly. The abettor is disqualified from inheriting theproperty ofthe person in respect of whom such satiis committed.
The National Commission for Women Act, 1990
The Act empowers the Central Government to constitute the National Commission for W omen, consisting of a Chairperson, committed to the causeof women,five able,knowledgeable and experienced members dedicated to the cause of development of women, and a Member- Secretary.
The Pre-Natal Diagnos tic Techniques (Regulations and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994
The Act restricts the use of Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques for the purpose of detecting genetic or metabolic disorders, chromosomal abnormalities, congenital malformations or sex linked disorders. It prohibits the use of these techniques for determining the sex of the foetus leading to female foeticide.
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
Dowry has been one of the biggest socialevils concerning the fairer sex in this country, and has not been eradicated till date. Dowry is the term used for money, goods or estate that a woman brings with her to her husband’s house aftermarriage.It becamea means to exploit and harass Indian females whose families did not have the means to provide for sufficient dowry. This law makes the demanding as well as providing of dowry illegaland punishable with a sentence not less than five years.
Hindu Succession (Amendment)Act, 2005
This ruling came as an amendment to the earlier Hindu Succession Act 1956, by abolishing it and giving equal rights to daughters to inherit ancestral property. The earlier law entitled daughter only to a minor share in inheritance as opposed to men. This amendment has brought the wifes, sisters, and daughter of this country on an equalfooting with men in economic terms.It represents a pivotalshift in society’s perception of a male child being preferred over a girl, and should be adopted for the forward-thinking it mightbring to families throughout the country.
Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act India, 2006
This regulation came as a relief for female citizens who are very often subjected to violence and abuse within the four walls of their homes, especially after marriage. This statute defines domestic violence as physical, mental, emotional,verbal, sexualand economic abuse against them, and seeks to eradicate it. This regulation met with strong criticism because of the likelihood of it being misused.
Women’s Reservation Bill India, 2010
This is yet to become an Act, but if it does, it willreserve 33% seats for women in the Parliament as well as State assemblies. This has been hailed as a historic step in ensuring meaningfulrepresentation ofthe sex that hasn’t been spoken for forgenerations at the politicallevel.This Bill was first introduced in 1996, and since then has been an object of great controversy with mosttheorists advocating that this billwillonly benefit those with special privileges, and would further push daughters and wives of current politicians in the domain of politics, thereby defeating its very purpose.
These laws and bills are without a doubt the definitive laws for women in India who wish to looktowards abrighter future, ripe with equality in every aspect of life.
ROLE OF JUDICIARY
Do you think justby enactinga law society can be overnightly changed? The answer is for sure NO….Coz it is the judiciary which interprets and implements thelaws. Ajudge is an eyewitness to a real-life drama- how the script written by thelegislature is played by real-life characters. Thus the judiciary has also contributed its share to the promotion of women’s cause through some creativeinterpretive judgments and historic rulings which have either themselves becomelaw orhave led to suitable legislation being enacted.Even if at times the rulings of lower counts in individual cases have disappointed those working in the women’s movement, the general tenor of response of the higher judiciary to women’s issues has been quite progressive. Some of the important landmark cases are cited below:
• G overnment ofAndhra Pradesh v.P BVijay Kumar and another,AIR 1995 SC 1648.
• Karnel Singh v. State of MP, AIR 1995 SC 2472
• Vishaka and Others v. State of Rajasthan and Others,AIR 1997 SC 3011
• Ms. Gita Hariharan and Another v. Reserve Bank Of India and another, AIR 1999 SC 1149
• Delhi Domestic W orking W omen Forum v. Union of India and others, Jt 1994(7) SC 183
• Gaurav Jain v. Union of India, AIR 1997 SC 3021
• Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India, (1995) 3 SCC 635
• Rohtash Singh v. Smt. Ramendri and others, (2000) 1 Femi- Juris C.C. 132 (
• Balwant Kaur and others v. Chanan Singh and others, (2000) 2 Femi-Juris C.C. 6 (SC)
• Raghubar Singh and others v. Gulab Singh and others,AIR 1996 SC 2401
ROLE OF EXECUTIVES
TheConstitutional provisions, laws and the rulings confer de jure rights on women but to become de facto entitlements, they have to be given thesupport ofcertain schemes or programmers.For example, the equal right to work or to be appointed to any office has meaning only if the concerned woman is able to have the necessary qualifications, educational or experience wise. Similarly, equal pay for equal work also vests rights in a woman worker but they can be realized if she is capable ofequal performanceor productivity, which may again depend on the status of her health. It is necessary, therefore, that this super structure of rights is supported by the infrastructure of opportunities,
Therefore, the entire gamut of schemes of various departments and agencies of the Government comes into the picture. An enabling environment has also to be created for the realization of these opportunities. This again depends on the policies of the Government as well as the activities of civilsociety through various voluntary and non- governmental organisations. Therefore, much of the responsibility for translatingconstitutionalpromises of genderequity into everyday reality devolves on the executive. Various departments of the government formulate and implement different schemes or issue executive orders/instructions or guidelines that have a bearing on the lives, opportunities and aspirations of women.
For accomplishing the purpose government has establishe different departments for the welfare of women like Department of Women & Child Development (WCD). The Department of W omen & Child Development,being thenationalmachinery for empoweringthe women in the country was made responsible for mainstreaming women in the national development by raising their overallstatus on par with that of men. The Department, in its nodal capacity, formulates policies. The other very important department for the welfare of women is POLICE DEPARTMENT. The role of Police in implementing the orders and judgments is of vitalimportance .Apart from departments ,from time to time, various committees were set up to evaluate the impact of constitutional and statutory provisions and the different schemes for social and economic development of women implemented by the departments of central and state governments and to identify gaps or deficiencies. Thefollowing importantCommittees areconcerned directly or indirectly with the welfare or development of women:-
• NationalCommittee on W omen’s Education (1958-59).
• The Committee on Status of W omen (CSWI), 1974.
• The NationalCommittee on Role and Participation of W omen in Agriculture and Rural Development (1977-78).
• The NationalCommittee on W omen Prisoners (1986).
• The NationalCommittee on Self-Employed Women and Women in the Informal Sector,(1988).
Similarly from time to time various action plans or perspective plans were brought out by successive governments eitherin response to their own election manifestos or as a result of important committee reports.
Likewise, various other policy documents havinga bearing on women’s lives also appeared now and then and these also deserve a place in the chronological sagaof the development of women. The more important ones are enumerated below:-
• The National Policy on Education, (1968).
• The NationalPolicy for Children, (1974).
• The National Plan of Action (For Women), (1976)
• National Health Policy, (1983).
• NationalPolicy on Education and Programme ofAction (1986- Revised in 1992).
• National Perspective Plan for Women (1988-2000).
• NationalPlan of Action for the Girl Child (1991).
• National NutritionalPolicy (1993).
• National Population Policy (2000).
• NationalPolicy for Empowerment of Women (2001).
The NPEemphasized therole ofeducation as intendments with of social justiceand socialtransformation. TheNationalPolicy for Empowerment of Women finalized in 2001 seeks to create an environment through positive economic and socialpolicies for fulldevelopment of women to enable them to realize theirfull potential.
Therefore, all in all, the picture is, like the curate’s egg, a mixed one. There is advance on severalfronts; obstruction or regression on some. Many of theold pernicious social systems are weakening;many others are resisting change. Many new problems are arising either because of new technologies, (making feticideeasy) ornew economicforces (global forces marginalizing women in their traditional occupations) and internationalization of crime (giving a fillip to immoral traffic). New challenges are bound to arise in women’s field as indeed in all other fields and they haveto be met by the united will and action ofthe entire people.Aproblem as multifaceted as women’s self actualization, is too important to be left to the government alone. Allsections ofcivilsociety ,- women’s organizations, the academia, the NGOs, thecorporate world – must join hands with the government at alllevels, from the Panchayati Raj institutions to the federalpolity, and the women and their self help groups to usher in the new dawn of freedom, dignity and opportunity for all.
Here I will like to conclude by saying –
“All Laws would be made and amended, promises made and broken but to me things shall change only when there’s an undying unity in entire womanhood, be that of the country or even globally. The promises, policies, benefits etc all has to come from the ones at top to all down under and this approach alone can empower all women in general.”
There is a rainbow out there and we have to keep reaching out …………………………..
• Books on Constitution : D.D.Basu & J.N. Pandey
• Book on Hindu Law : Agarwal
• Book on Women & Child : Mamta Rao
• CBSEinfo Magzine : Article on Status of Indian Women
• Report of NationalWomen Commission of India