This article has been written by Oishika Banerji of Amity Law School, Kolkata. This article provides a detailed analysis of gender equality which is an important element in the social growth of a nation and its surrounding aspects.
This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”
— Gloria Steinem
When persons of all genders have equal rights, duties, and opportunities, the same is referred to as gender equality. Gender inequality has an impact on everyone, including women, men, trans and gender diverse persons, children, and families. It affects people of all ages and walks of life. Gender equality is attained when individuals irrespective of their gender have equal rights, circumstances, and opportunities, as well as the ability to design their own lives and contribute to society’s growth. It is a matter of equitable distribution of society’s power, influence, and resources. Gender continues to be a vital yet frequently disregarded prism through which development concerns are evaluated across the world. This article aims to highlight every aspect related to gender equality and how it has been perceived globally with special attention towards India.
Need and importance of gender equality
These days, gender equality appears to be a pipe dream. While progress has been achieved, statistics from organisations such as UN Women paint a bleak picture. Over 2 billion women in the world do not have the same job opportunities as males. At the present rate, closing the worldwide wage disparity will take approximately a century. While both men and women are victims of human trafficking, women and girls account for more than 70% of all victims worldwide. In light of this information, gender equality must be a top focus.
Women and girls in many countries suffer life-threatening hazards due to a lack of empowerment and resources. One such example is natural calamities. Experts explored how gender disparity contributes to mortality and injury at the 2005 World Conference on Disaster Reduction. Climate change, which makes natural catastrophes more severe, puts women and girls in even more vulnerable circumstances, according to other studies. Women can have a stronger part in their own safety when a gender viewpoint is included in talks.
Beneficial towards economy
Women’s influence extends beyond businesses and organisations. According to studies, boosting women’s economic engagement is beneficial to the economy. If female employment rates in OECD Nations were raised to match Sweden’s, it would result in a $6 trillion rise in GDP. Pay disparities between men and women end up disrupting the economy.
Women, on average, receive poorer medical treatment than males, according to research. This is due to a variety of factors, including a lack of education and lower salaries. In the medical research community, sexism contributes to substandard care. Women’s diseases such as chronic pain disorders are less well-studied than men’s diseases. Medical practitioners don’t always take them seriously. Women’s health will improve when they are treated equally in society.
Better legal protection
Women aren’t properly protected from domestic, sexual and economic assault under the law. All such sorts of violence have an impact on a woman’s safety and independence. Women’s legal rights are being expanded in order to keep them safe and enable them to live productive and happier lives.
When women make their own reproductive decisions, they are better able to care for their children. Mothers can provide their children with education, healthcare, and healthy food if they have the same financial opportunities as men. Higher levels of education have also been associated with lower infant mortality in studies. Children who are reared in gender-equal circumstances will do better than those who are raised in unequal situations.
Women can enhance any organisation if they have access to the same education and work possibilities as males. Diversity of all kinds (gender, colour, sexual identity, etc.) has been shown to boost an organization’s productivity and innovation. The University of California conducted research in 2016 that looked at large organisations in the state that have some women in senior leadership roles. They outperformed organisations with a majority of males at the top.
Promoting racial equality
Race equality and gender equality are inextricably related. Race has a significant effect on issues such as the gender wage gap. Women of colour, Hispanic women, and native women earn less than White and Asian women. Black women in the United States have a greater chance of dying from pregnancy-related reasons. When gender equality takes race into account, it enhances racial equality as well.
Reducing poverty and human trafficking
Young females have the greatest poverty rates. The gender difference in poverty widens as boys and girls grow older. This is largely due to the fact that girls do not have the same access to schools and career prospects as boys, and when they marry, they frequently do not work. Women and their families are imprisoned in poverty because of gender inequity. Women may prosper when they have access to better education, healthcare, and career possibilities. Investing in gender disparity is a long-term, high-impact method to alleviate poverty.
Human trafficking affects both men and women, however, women and girls make up the bulk of victims. They’re more vulnerable, making them easier targets for traffickers. Women and girls are less likely to become victims of human trafficking as a result of improved education and work opportunities. Gender equality may also aid a country’s development by lowering poverty and insecurity. Human trafficking is fueled by them.
Ensuring and enforcing peace
Gender equality is connected to peace, perhaps more than a country’s GDP or a level of democracy, according to research. Military action is less likely to be used in countries where women are treated equally. It encourages peace when a country addresses important areas of gender disparity, such as education and employment.
Understanding the difference between gender equity, gender equality and women’s empowerment
Gender equality refers to treating women and men equally. To compensate for women’s conventional and societal disadvantages, strategies and measures must be accessible. Gender equality entails women and men having equal access to socially valuable products, opportunities, resources, and incentives. Women are often excluded or disadvantaged in decision-making and easy access to economic/social resources where gender disparity occurs.
Equality follows equity. The term equity connotes starting the race with the same level of potential and resources so as to compete efficiently. Equality can only be achieved if the first stairs of equity are successfully climbed. While the male gender has been resourceful majorly, when it comes to the other genders playing significant roles in society, resources at similar levels are lacking. For every gender to compete equally, equity needs to be provided, for example, women getting reservations to some extent in engineering colleges.
Women’s empowerment concentrates on redressing disparities and providing women greater authority to regulate their lives and society, thereby being an important part of fostering gender equality.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment : the relationship
Gender equality is not just a basic human right, but also a prerequisite for a society that is peaceful, affluent, and sustainable. Over the last few decades, progress has been made in implementing gender equality as more girls are attending school, fewer girls are being coerced into early marriages, more women are sitting in the Parliament and in positions of leadership, and laws are being modified to promote gender equality. Despite these gains, many challenges remain. Discriminatory laws and social norms persist, women continue to be underrepresented at all levels of political leadership, and one in every five women and girls aged 15 to 49 report experiencing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the previous 12 months.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment have been clearly acknowledged as critical not just to national health but also to social and economic growth during the last decade. One of the crosscutting strategic topics of India’s National Population Policy, 2000 is “empowering women for health and nutrition.” In addition, one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to which India is a signatory is the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Women’s empowerment and gender equality are two sides of the same coin, and progress toward gender equality needs women’s empowerment, and women’s empowerment requires gains in gender equality.
Empowering females necessitates a concerted effort and partnership. Providing girls with the services, safety, education, and skills they require in everyday life will lessen the hazards they encounter and allow them to fully develop and contribute to India’s development. In their daily lives, girls have a particularly difficult time obtaining life-saving tools, knowledge, and social networks. Millions of girls may be strengthened by access to programmes especially suited to their needs, with an emphasis on education and developing life skills, reducing abuse, and including the needs and contributions of girls from vulnerable groups, such as those with disabilities. Long-term solutions created with and for girls may bolster this resilience and provide a transformative and lifetime opportunity for girls.
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on gender equality
The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to undo the modest progress that has been accomplished in terms of gender equality and women’s rights. The pandemic exacerbates existing inequities for women and girls in many areas, from health and economics to security and social protection. Women have a disproportionately large part in the virus’s response, notably as frontline healthcare professionals and at-home caregivers. As a result of school closures and the rising requirements of the elderly, women’s unpaid care labour has expanded dramatically. Women are also disproportionately affected by COVID-19’s economic effects since they work in uncertain labour markets. Nearly 60% of women are employed in the informal economy, putting them at increased risk of poverty.
The pandemic has also resulted in an uptick in violence directed at women and girls. Many women are confined at home with their abusers as a result of lockdown measures, unable to access services that are being curtailed or restricted. According to new research, violence against women and girls notably domestic violence has increased since the epidemic began.
Important facts and figures related to the discussion
- At least 200 million women and girls in 30 countries have had female genital mutilation (FGM), and 750 million women and girls were married before the age of 18.
- In the 30 nations where the practice is prevalent, the rate of girls aged 15 to 19 who are subjected to FGM has decreased from one in every two girls in 2000 to one in every three girls in 2017.
- Husbands can legally restrict their wives from working in 18 countries, daughters and sons do not have equal inheritance rights in 39 nations, and domestic abuse is illegal in 49 countries.
- Within the previous 12 months, one in five women and girls, including 19% of women and girls aged 15 to 49, had been subjected to physical and/or sexual assault by an intimate partner. Despite this, there are no laws in 49 nations that particularly protect women from such assault.
- Women have made significant gains into political office throughout the world, but their participation in national parliaments is still far from equal at 23.7 percent.
- Women now hold more than 30% of seats in the national parliament in at least one chamber in 46 nations.
- Only 52% of married or in a union women have the freedom to choose their own sexual interactions, contraception, and health care.
- Women own just 13% of agricultural land in the world.
- In the non-agricultural economy, women account for fewer than one in every five paid occupations in Northern Africa. Outside of agriculture, the share of women in paid work has climbed from 35% in 1990 to 41% in 2015.
- More than a hundred nations have made steps to track gender equality budget allocations.
- Since 2000, the likelihood of a girl marrying in her childhood has decreased by more than 40% in Southern Asia.
Gender equality a concern for men : an insight
- In general, achieving gender equality necessitates adjustments for both men and women. Gender is an important part of men’s social identity that must not be overlooked. This reality is overlooked since masculine qualities and attributes are assumed to be the norm. Gender, on the other hand, has an equal impact on men’s lives as it does on women’s.
- Men’s expectations as leaders, husbands, and sons are shaped by societal standards and ideals of masculinity. Men are expected to prioritise their families’ monetary necessities above the loving and caring duties that are traditionally attributed to women.
- Young men’s risk-taking conduct is encouraged through socialisation in the family and subsequently in the workplace. As a result, the lifestyles that men’s occupations demand typically expose them to greater morbidity and mortality risks than women. Accidents, ignorance, aggression, and alcohol abuse are just a few risks among such dangers.
- Men have the same right as women to take on a more caring role, and such possibilities should be offered to them. Men have obligations for the health of their children, as well as that of their own and their spouse’s health. Recognizing men’s individual health concerns, as well as their demands and the factors that form them, is essential to address related rights and duties.
- Adopting a gender perspective is a necessary first step to promoting gender equality in the society we live in. This is because the same emphasises that gender equality is concerned with both men’s and women’s roles, duties, and demands, as well as their interconnections.
Gender equality in India
Gender equality in India is defined as having equal access to abundant resources and opportunities regardless of gender, including economic involvement and decision-making, and equally valuing varied behaviours, goals, and needs. Gender equality in India entails equality in all aspects of life. Gender equality is a basic human right in India and a prerequisite for a peaceful, wealthy, and sustainable world. Gender equality is the objective in India, while gender neutrality and gender equity are the behaviours and ways of thinking that help to accomplish it. Gender parity is a term used to describe the gender balance in a situation, which can aid in achieving gender equality but is not the goal.
In India, gender inequality leads to uneven opportunities, and while it affects both men and women, girls are statistically the most affected. Girls have better birth survival rates, are more likely to be developmentally on track, and are just as likely to attend preschool as boys throughout the world, yet India is the only large country where more girls die than boys. Girls are also more likely than boys to drop out. In India, adolescence is experienced differently by girls and boys. While boys have more independence, girls have more restrictions on their capacity to move about freely and make decisions that influence their career, education, marriage, and social ties.
Gender barriers continue to widen as girls and boys get older, and they persist throughout adulthood, with barely a quarter of women working in formal jobs. Although some Indian women are worldwide leaders and influential voices in a variety of sectors, patriarchal ideas, norms, traditions, and systems prevent most women and girls in India from fully exercising their rights. India will not fully develop unless both girls and boys are equally supported to reach their full potential.
Gender equality in the past
Since ancient times, India has held its women in high regard. Hindus, who make up the bulk of the population, often pray to the goddess Saraswati for education, goddess Lakshmi for money, and goddess Durga for the strength to combat bad forces. Women in India have achieved greatness in a variety of fields, including as saints (Meera Bai) and warriors (Rani Jhansi and Rani Rudrama Devi). Swami Vivekananda, one of Hinduism’s most eloquent proponents, said that a civilisation is defined by how it treats its women.
Prior to the arrival of the British in India, the Indian culture practised traditions that completely gendered oppressive toward women. Sati, female infanticide, and child marriage were examples of such practices, all of which resulted in sorrow, pain, and even death for the women and girls made victim to. Sati was the act of burning alive the widow of a Hindu male, a tradition observed by Hindu cultures’ rites. During the seventeenth century, it was frequently performed by the upper castes.
In certain Indian states, the number of women a prince brought to the death pyre with him was a measure of his accomplishments. Female infanticide was the killing of a newborn girl child which is also known as selective abortion of female pregnancy. Poverty, the dowry system, unmarried births, misshapen children, a lack of support services, and maternal diseases all contributed to such practice in India.
The present scenario of gender equality in India
It is vital to invest in and empower females by providing them with education, life skills, sports, and other opportunities. We may jointly contribute to the attainment of certain outcomes through improving the worth of girls, some short-term (expanding access to school, reducing anaemia), some medium-term (stopping child marriage), and other long-term (eliminating gender-biased sex selection) goals to ensure gender equality in India. Every individual must work together with others to change the way females are valued. Equal rights for Indian women will be realised only when society’s perceptions alter.
The need for gender equality in India
- In India, gender equality is connected to long-term development and is essential to the realisation of human rights. Gender equality is defined as a society in which men and women have equal opportunities, justice, and responsibilities in all aspects of life. When men and women may partake equally in the allocation of power and influence, equality exists. They are equal if they have equal opportunities, financial freedom, equal access to education and employment, and the ability to pursue their goals, hobbies, and abilities.
- Gender equality is crucial in national and development initiatives because it allows women to make decisions that affect their general well-being, as well as the health of their spouses and families. Gender equality in India is critical for the country’s development from all angles.
- However, it is critical to recognise that women are often excluded or disadvantaged in decision-making and access to economic and social resources where gender inequality occurs. The country that has experienced gender equality has also seen development. Gender equality in India is a necessary component for a flourishing nation. As a result, gender equality is an important part of women’s empowerment in India.
- Gender inequality affects women at practically every stage of their lives. In India, prejudice against women begins in the womb. When it comes to male newborns, Indian women are getting superior prenatal care. Pregnant women with boys go to prenatal visits, take prescribed medications, and choose to give birth in a hospital. If she has a female child, the situation is different as in such cases either the child is born at home or is killed as soon as she is born.
- ‘Gender inequality’ refers to the subjugation of women and girls in society at all stages and levels. While gender inequality is more widespread in the lower middle class, it is also present in the upper-middle class. Gender inequality has been so entrenched in Indian society that it has become accepted.
Highlights of gender equality in India
- The UNDP’s Gender Inequality Index rated India 131st out of 189 countries in 2020. It is clear that political dialogue has to take a stronger turn, taking into account both public and private places.
- The normalisation of intra-household violence is a major setback for women’s welfare. Between 1991 and 2011, the number of crimes committed against women had doubled. According to the National Family Health Survey, 37% of married women in India have encountered physical or sexual abuse from their husbands, while 40% have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence from their spouses. While contemporary policy language promotes employment as a source of empowerment for women, research shows a troubling link between female labour force involvement and domestic abuse exposure.
- India has also ratified various international conventions and human rights instruments committing to secure equal rights of women. Key among them is the ratification of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1993.
- The Mexico Plan of Action (1975), the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies (1985), the Beijing Declaration, as well as the Platform for Action (1995) and the Outcome Document adopted by the UNGA Session on Gender Equality and Development & Peace for the 21st century, titled “Further actions and initiatives to implement the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action” have been unreservedly endorsed by India for appropriate follow up.
- The greatest incidences of sex discrimination at birth are seen in India. Even in 2050, India would have the poorest sex ratio in South Asia, according to a 2017 review of demographic statistics. The heartbreaking 918 girls for 1,000 boys ratio in 2011 prompted the Indian government to take action in the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao‘ effort to secure the girl child’s survival, protection, and education. The Beti Bachao initiative combats racism and provides assistance to help women avoid becoming pregnant.
- To educate and save the girl child, gender equality in India will be achieved via widespread awareness and large-scale female welfare programmes throughout districts.
- Gender equality has been improving in India over the last few decades. Fewer girls are driven into early marriage as a result their attendance at school has increased. Women are serving in Parliament and in positions of leadership, and legal change is being pursued to promote gender equality.
- According to World Economic Forum publications (WEF), India was recently rated 112th out of 153 nations in the annual Global Gender Gap Index for 2020. India has dropped to 112th place from 108th place previously. In the 2006 Report, India was placed considerably higher at 98th place. China (106th), Sri Lanka (102nd), Nepal (101st), Brazil (92nd), Indonesia (85th), and Bangladesh are all ranked lower than India.
The issues revolving around gender equality in India
Despite the gains discussed above, obstacles persist, discriminatory legislation and societal norms persist, women continue to be underrepresented in political leadership at all levels, and one in every five women and girls aged 15 to 49 report physical or sexual abuse by their relationships.
- Girls endure hazards, abuses, and vulnerabilities just because they are female. The majority of these dangers are tied to the economic, political, social, and cultural disadvantages that girls face on a daily basis. This is especially true at times of crisis and calamity.
- Girls are at risk of child marriage, adolescent pregnancy, child domestic labour, poor education and health, sexual abuse, exploitation, and violence as a result of gender discrimination and social norms and practices. Many of these expressions will persist until girls are given greater value.
Preference of male gender over the female
- A fundamental indicator of gender inequality in India, and arguably, one of the most powerful, is a preference for bearing a son which is so strong that it is manifested as limiting the birth and survival of girls. Strong son preference and the low status of women in many regions of India play a substantial role in reducing the under-seven sex ratio.
- Because of gender inequities, men’s health and survival are valued more than females’. In India, sex ratios at birth, newborn and child mortality by sex, and low ages at marriage for women are examples of health and demographic indicators influenced by gender inequalities in male and female perceived value.
- Women’s disempowerment also restricts their influence over decision-making and freedom of mobility at the family level, limiting their access to resources such as education, employment, and money. On the one hand, men’s power over women may be evaluated by examining the amount of women’s and men’s agreement with norms that allow males the authority to dominate women, and on the other hand, by assessing the extent to which women are subjected to marital abuse.
- Gender disparities in access to education and educational attainment must be eliminated in order to achieve gender equality and reduce women’s disempowerment. One of the Millennium Development Goals is to eliminate gender disparities in primary education, recognising the critical role of education in development and the persistence of gender inequalities in access to school. Since independence, achieving universal primary education has been an important priority of Indian planning. However, boosting primary school enrollment does not address the dual issues of educational quality and school retention.
- Continued economic progress cannot be sustained with a population that has just completed elementary school. It requires a consistent supply of highly educated and competent human capital, which requires both women and men to have a high level of educational attainment. However, ensuring a steady supply of skilled human capital to support economic growth is only one goal towards reducing gender disparities in educational attainment. Another is that education, particularly higher education for women, is a key enabler of demographic change, family welfare, and improved health and nutrition for women and their families.
- Higher education has the ability to empower women by providing them with information and tools for comprehending and influencing the world. Women’s education has been linked to decreased fertility, infant mortality, and improved child health and nutrition.
- Employment, in addition to education, may be a powerful source of empowerment for women. Women can be empowered through employment, particularly in the formal sector and for pay, since it provides financial independence, alternative forms of social identity, and exposure to power systems outside of familial networks.
- Nonetheless, women’s capacity to engage in the labour market, particularly in the formal sectors, is constrained by early marriage and childbearing ages, as well as limited access to education. Male gender roles, on the other hand, are compatible with employment, and men are often expected to work and provide for their families. Men, unsurprisingly, dominate the majority of formal labour markets.
- Women’s employment differs substantially depending on their marital status. Divorced, separated, abandoned, or widowed women are far more likely than currently married women to be working and married women are the least likely to be employed. Men’s employment differs little between those who are now married and those who have previously been married.
- As women are over-represented in the lower wealth quintiles and under-represented in the higher wealth quintiles, they have poorer per capita resource access than males.
- In every age group, women have less access to the media than males. Women’s freedom of movement is highly restricted. Just one out of every three women are permitted to travel to the market, the health centre, or outside their place of residence alone. One in four women and 47 percent of women in the lowest wealth quintile suffer barriers to getting health care.
- A majority of women do not have any money of their own that they can use as they wish. This proportion is lowest at about one in four for women in the highest wealth quintile who are working for cash.
- Kerala, Delhi, and Goa are the only states where more than one in four women has a bank or savings account, whereas, less than one in six women own a bank or savings account that they use.
Attitude surrounding gender relations
- Although the majority of males aged 15 to 49 agree that husbands and wives should make decisions together, the number of men who believe that the husband should have the last word in most of the decisions is still large. More than half of women and men think that one or more of the reasons for wife abuse are valid. Both are likely to agree that a woman should be beaten if she disrespects her in-laws and neglects the house or children.
- The unequivocal rejection of unequal rights and benefits that originate from and are allocated exclusively based on a person’s sex is a crucial component of empowerment. The right to be the primary decision-maker on important household matters, the right to control their wives’ behaviour and bodies, including via violence if necessary, and the right to have sex with their spouses whenever they want are some of the normatively assigned rights of men.
Role of UNICEF in establishing gender equality in India
The UNICEF India Country Programme 2018-2022 was created in response to the identification of deprivations faced by Indian children, including gender-based deprivations. Each programming objective has a gender priority that is stated expressly in the programme, budget, and outcomes. The Ministry of Women and Child Development, in particular its leadership of the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Program, which UNICEF India is supporting at the national and state levels, is a key partner. UNICEF India collaborates closely with other UN organisations to promote gender equality, particularly the UN Population Fund and UN Women. Gender specialists and activities, as well as civil society groups, are important partners. The outcomes of the programme have been provided hereunder:
- Health: Reducing excess female mortality in children under the age of five and encouraging girls and boys to seek treatment in the same way. For instance, front-line staff advise parents to take sick infant girls to the hospital as soon as possible.
- Nutrition: Improving women’s nutrition, particularly through supporting more equal eating habits, for example, women cooperatives develop and implement their own micro-plans for improved nutrition in their villages.
- Education: Support for out-of-school girls and boys to learn from gender-responsive curriculum and pedagogy. For example, implementing new strategies for identifying vulnerable drop-out school girls and boys, and overhauling textbooks so that the language, images and messages do not perpetuate gender stereotypes.
- Child protection: Ending child and early marriage, for instance, assisting panchayats in becoming ‘child-marriage free,’ encouraging clubs that educate females in athletics, photography, journalism, and other non-traditional pursuits.
- WASH: Increasing girls’ access to menstrual hygiene management, notably through the provision of well-equipped separate restrooms in schools (example: developing gender guidelines from Swachh Bharat Mission, supporting states to implement MHM policy).
- Social policy: Assisting state governments in developing gender-responsive cash transfer programmes and encouraging women to take on leadership roles in local government (example: cash transfer programme in West Bengal to enable girls to stay in school, a resource centre for women panchayat leaders in Jharkhand).
- Disaster risk reduction: Increasing gender disaggregation of information management for disaster risk reduction, as well as increased leadership and engagement of women and girls (for example, higher women’s leadership and participation in village disaster management committees).
The third gender and its rights in India
The Indian Supreme Court’s determination in National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India (2014), that transgender individuals constitute a ‘third gender’ under the Indian Constitution, as well as framing of subsequent laws, has considerably increased transgender people’s recognition and rights.
Enjoyment of life by all citizens and an equal chance to flourish as human beings irrespective of their race, caste, religion, community, socioeconomic class, or gender,’ is the golden thread that runs through the Indian Constitution’s equality scheme. The scheme is spread over Articles 14,15,16, 19, and 21.
The acceptance and acknowledgement of the ‘right of choice and self-determination’ is one of the main foundations of the equality programme. The freedom to determine which gender a person belongs to and to whom they connect is inextricably linked to their right to self-determination and their dignity.
Transgenders and their rights
The Indian legal framework’s failure to recognise the Third Gender has resulted in the systematic denial of equal protection under the law and pervasive socio-economic discrimination in society and in Indian businesses. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 was recently adopted by the Indian Parliament in response to the NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) Judgment. The Act is not a comprehensive piece of law, rather, it is a first step by the government in recognising the third gender as a legal entity in India’s legal system. The extent to which the stakeholders involved will take good efforts to enable inclusion and attempts to make transgender people useful members of society will be a long and difficult process.
As defined in the Act, ‘transgender’ refers to and includes all individuals whose gender does not conform or match the gender assigned to them at birth, including trans-man and trans-woman [whether or not they have undergone sex reassignment surgery (‘SRS’)] and individuals with socio-cultural identities such as ‘kinner’, ‘hijra’, ‘aravani’, and ‘jogta’.
The legislation has imposed positive requirements on all interested stakeholders, distinguishing between acts that require rapid implementation, such as implementing social welfare programmes, and activities that require a long-term strategy, such as altering the general public’s unfavourable attitude. The Central government, state governments, and businesses are all considered ‘stakeholders’, as defined under the Companies Act, 2013. The rights that have been vested by the 2019 legislation on transgender individuals are:
- Prohibition of discrimination against transgender individuals,
- Identity recognition,
- Welfare measures,
- Rehabilitation and right of residence,
- Obligation on establishments to ensure enforceability of the above rights.
- Constitution and establishment of the National Council for Transgender Persons.
- Coercion, bonded labour, removal from the household and physical, sexual, verbal, emotional or economic harm and/or abuse on transgender individuals will be subjected to a penalty which may vary between six months to two years, with a fine.
Including transgender as a part of every workplace : a challenge
Preparing the Indian workplace for an inclusive attitude to transgender people would be a difficult challenge since the societal change of this scale in India has historically been a gradual process. Improving the transgender community’s condition requires a communal effort, and strengthening this population in the workplace would go a long way toward removing societal stigmas and improving their financial situation. Despite the fact that the Act simply places an onus on the Stakeholders involved and does not impose legal obligations, in light of the shifting dynamic, some of the initiatives that establishments and organisations can take to create a more equitable and inclusive environment are outlined below:
- Sensitisation and education: Before making any changes to the system, companies must educate their employees on gender inclusiveness, workplace assimilation, and increased acceptance of transgenders’ intrinsic character and personality.
- Policy review: HR, administrative, recruitment, and employee benefit rules and manuals must all be reviewed and updated. To ensure that rules represent suitable approaches for an organisation to address the third gender, it might be useful to obtain and integrate comments from a member of the transgender community.
- Sex/gender reassignment surgery (SRS) transition: Transitioning to SRS is not only a challenging but also a stressful procedure, both physically and psychologically. Organizations must have rules that give transition assistance, not just in terms of paid leave, but also in terms of educating the rest of the workforce about an employee’s transition and providing rehabilitative and counselling help.
- Anti-harassment policies: Organizations must put in place adequate grievance redressal mechanisms for transgender individuals to deal with harassment complaints, similar to the requirements under the POSH Act (The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013) while keeping the complainant’s identity anonymous.
- Gender-neutral washrooms: Employees should be able to use restrooms that are appropriate for their profession. When trans women are forced to use male restrooms, they are frequently humiliated and harassed.
- Recruitment: Organizations must remember that transgender people have been discriminated against for years, resulting in social, economic, and talent gaps, and that recruiting standards must be altered accordingly. Organisations must also make an effort to provide training programmes that will help employees improve their abilities.
Indian laws and gender equality : an insight
The Indian Constitution has a notion of gender equality that empowers every gender, and this idea is reflected in the Preamble, which mentions the principle of social justice. Indian citizens have various rights that safeguard their safety, some are constitutional, while others are statutory. Different parts of the Constitution contain constitutional protections. The existing legislations promoting gender equality have been discussed under three categories hereunder.
To live life
Many regulations have been established by the Indian government in order to provide people with the Right to life. It is a national embarrassment that a girl child has to struggle hard to survive in the outside world because she is slain in the womb. If we look at the world at large, we can see that there is still a gender divide in India. Gender equality is still a work in progress in Indian states like Haryana, Daman and Diu, and Rajasthan. There are three legislative acts in India that guarantee a woman’s right to life, implying that no one has the authority to take a woman’s life without her consent to the same.
Commission of Sati ( Prevention ) Act ,1987
- This statute states that no one can compel a woman to burn herself during her husband’s funeral. This statute prohibits the commission of sati.
- According to the law, anyone who performs any act for the purpose of glorifying sati will be imprisoned. In his or her jurisdiction, the District Magistrate must put an end to this practice.
- The state government may if it is satisfied that in any temple or other structure which has been in existence for not less than 20 years, any form of worships or the performance of any ceremony is carried on with a view to perpetuate the honour of or to preserve the memory of, any person in respect of whom sati has been committed, by order the removal of such temple or structure.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 prohibits anyone who intends to take a child’s life through abortion, as it is usual to abort a baby girl owing to the perception of the society concerning the same. This legislation makes abortion a criminal offence, but it also allows for abortion to be done by a certified medical practitioner in a government hospital in some exceptional circumstances, such as when the woman’s life is in danger and the baby’s life is at risk after delivery.
Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994
The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 forbids sex discrimination. This law forbids the use of any technology for sex selection, including modern chromosomal separation procedures. It also outlaws the marketing of any technology used for sex selection or sex determination, as well as the sale of ultrasound machines to individuals who are not registered under the Act.
To live a safe life
To survive life after birth, women had to endure a lot of ridicule from others. For them to have a safe life, the Indian government has implemented a number of laws that ensure their safety at home and at work.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence (Prevention) Act, 2005
- This legislation defines ‘domestic violence’ for the first time in Indian law, stating that it covers not just physical violence but also verbal, emotional, sexual, and economic abuse.
- The Preamble of the Act reads that the Act provides for more effective “protection of the rights of women provided by the Constitution who are victims of violence of any sort happening inside the family,” reads the Preamble of this bill. This conduct involves real or threatened physical, sexual, or verbal abuse of women, as well as harassment in the form of unlawful dowry demand.
- One of the key characteristics of the legislation is that it protects women’s housing rights. The statute allows a woman to live in a married or shared home regardless of whether she has any title or claim to the property.
- The Act establishes a protection officer and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to help women with medical, legal, and safe housing needs. Any of the law’s recognised remedies are available to the victim. Under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 the victim can also initiate a general case against the perpetrator. This Act had a significant impact on women, particularly housewives who had to put up with a lot of violence from their husbands and in-laws previously.
National Commission for Women Act, 1992
- A legislative entity known as the ‘National Commission For Women’ was established in 1992 under the National Commission for Women Act, 1990 to provide Indian women with an appropriate platform where they could express their opinions, seek support, and enforce their rights.
- The goal of establishing a statutory body was to :
- Review women’s constitutional and legal protections,
- Recommend legislative changes that will improve their situation,
- To make it easier to file a complaint,
- To provide advice to the government on all policy issues that impact women. On its website, the National Commission for Women expresses its objective clearly as “Today’s Indian women are culturally anchored, internationally oriented, and healthy.”
- Many activities for the welfare of women have lately been conducted by the National Commission for Women, such as a national conference on “NRI weddings” that was attended by many individuals from all backgrounds. “Realizing Women Farmers’ Rights: Developing A Roadmap For Action” is another topic of a national consultation.
- In addition to seminars, consultations, and workshops, the commission has review sessions to examine all regulations and protections for women. A commission was recently formed to look at child care for central government employees.
Immoral Traffic (Prevention Act), 1956
According to this Act, trafficking and sexual exploitation of women for commercial purposes will be considered a criminal act.
Sexual Harassment of Women At Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition) Act, 2013
- This is a piece of legislation that aims to protect women from workplace harassment. The Supreme Court of India’s Vishakha Guidelines for preventing sexual harassment were superseded by this statute.
- This Act will ensure that women are safeguarded against sexual harassment at all workplaces, whether public or private. This will help them realise their rights to gender equality, life and liberty, and fair pay in all workplaces all across the world. At work, there will be a greater sense of safety. Women’s engagement in the workforce will rise, leading to improved economic and inclusive growth.
- The Act requires all businesses with ten or more employees to establish an internal complaints committee. Employers and local governments will be required to establish grievance committees to investigate all complaints under the Act, which also includes students in schools and colleges as well as patients in hospitals, and employers that fail to do so would be penalised.
- It also protects against false or malicious accusations. Any organization’s workplace and documents relating to sexual harassment can be inspected by the government.
- Employers must undertake education and sensitization programmes, as well as adopt anti-harassment policies, under the legislation. One very important aspect of the statute is that the complaint committee has civil court-like powers for obtaining evidence.
Provision for offences like rape, kidnapping and abduction, molestation and other offences outranging female modesty under the Indian Penal Code, 1860
The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), contains provisions for punishing those who commit egregious crimes against women. Various sections of the IPC deal explicitly with such offences, as have been mentioned hereunder:
- Acid Attack (Sections 326A and 326B).
- Rape (Sections 375, 376, 376A, 376B, 376C, 376D and 376E) .
- Attempt to commit rape (Section 376/511).
- Kidnapping and abduction for different purposes (Sections 363–373).
- Murder, dowry death, abetment of suicide, etc. (Sections 302, 304B and 306).
- Cruelty by husband or his relatives (Section 498A).
- Outraging the modesty of women (Section 354).
- Sexual harassment (Section 354A).
- Assault on women with intent to disrobe her (Section 354B).
- Voyeurism (Section 354C).
- Stalking (Section 354D).
- Importation of girls up to 21 years of age (Section 366B).
- Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman (Section 509).
To live life with dignity and pride
The Indian government has also put in a lot of effort in ensuring a dignified life for females. There are several legislations that assure gender equality so that women may keep up with men and perform at par with men in every sector.
The Family Court Act, 1984
- In 1975, the Commission on the Status of Women suggested that all issues touching ‘family’ be handled separately. The immediate motivation for establishing family courts was rising from various women’s organisations. The number of cases involving marriage, family, and divorce was growing by the day, necessitating the creation of a forum for a quick resolution.
- In its 59th report in 1974, the Law Commission emphasised the need for a special court for family-related issues. The late Durgabai Deshmukh was the one who originally underlined the necessity for family courts.
- The Family Court Act of 1984 does not define the term ‘family’, although it does cover issues related to women, children, divorce, maintenance, and adoption. In the state of Rajasthan, India’s first family court was formed in 1985. These sorts of special courts are extremely beneficial to women since they provide quick justice and, of course, a platform where females may seek assistance.
The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986
This Act prohibits indecent representation of women in advertisements, publications, writings, paintings, figures, film, or in any other manner or matter. It also states that no person shall produce, sell, let to hire, distribute, circulate, or send an indecent representation of women by post, pamphlet, painting, film, writing, or photographs.
The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961
The Maternity Benefit Act of 1961 safeguards women’s employment during pregnancy and allows them a maternity benefit, a fully compensated leave of absence from work, to care for their child. All businesses with ten or more employees are subject to this legislation.
Employees State Insurance Act, 1948
In illness, maternity, and other emergencies, this statute offers health care and monetary benefits. This law applies to all non-seasonal factories with ten or more employees. Social insurance which it provides are mentioned hereunder :
- Medical benefits.
- Sickness benefits.
- Maternity benefits.
- Disablement benefits.
- Dependent benefits.
- Funeral expenses.
This Act also provides social security to women at the time of their pregnancy.
The Married Women Property Act, 1874
This Act expressly states that any married woman’s wages and earnings acquired or gained after the enactment of this Act in any employment, occupation, or trade, as well as any money or other property acquired through any artistic or scientific skill, and all savings, shall be deemed to be her separate property. In this way, a woman has the right to possess her own property.
Positive steps that can be taken towards achieving gender equality
Every year, the United Nations recognises a different theme for World Women’s Day or International Women’s Day, and in 2022, the UN highlights the direct impact of climate change on women’s lives, as well as women leaders who are changing the conversation about climate change through their sustainable initiatives. While we commemorate International Women’s Day, there is so much that goes undetected in our discussions on the issue. Gender equality is a detailed topic consisting of different layers of discussion and one among those is the adoption of positive steps that will fundamentally enforce equality among every gender in this world. Some of such steps have been discussed hereunder:
The key step to introduce gender equality in workplaces is by normalising and granting paternity leave. Prince William, Justin Timberlake, David Cameron, Virat Kholi and Mark Zuckerberg have all taken paternity leave to take care of their children. These trailblazers are excellent role models for balancing career and family life. Some nations have ‘bonus periods’, meaning that if the father takes a particular amount of sharable leave, the pair may be eligible for additional weeks of paid leave. Other nations just give both parents their own separate entitlements, with no shareable term. As a result, more fathers may be at home caring for their children, making it simpler for moms and themselves to meet the demands of newborns and bosses.
Promotion of gender-neutral advertisements
Yorkie, which is owned by Nestlé, debuted its overtly masculine ad ‘It’s Not For Girls!’ with slogans like ‘Man fuel for man stuff,’ ‘Not available in pink,’ and ‘Don’t feed the birds’ just 20 years ago. Given that the only goal was to sell five solid bits of chocolate intermingled with raisins and biscuits, this was excellent marketing. The campaign lasted till the year 2012. Advertisements of Surf Excel, Nihar Hair Oil, etc. have normalised the concept of ‘share-the-load’ in the way they portray their products in front of consumers for selling the same. Thus, washing, cooking, cleaning and other related jobs are experiencing a transition from being women-centric to being gender-neutral. Another notable advertisement that often draws attention is that of Red Label tea where a transgender woman serves to the vehicles waiting in traffic. An indicator of humanity and inclusion is promoted by the advertisement. Generation Z is also encouraging and demanding such portrayal.
Including gender equality as a core subject in primary schools
While several schools have already introduced gender studies as a part of their course and curriculum, it is expected out of every educational institution to encourage their children to view a gender-neutral world which will also help them learn how to show respect to both their parents and their individual professional life. In a safe and secure learning environment, both boys and girls must feel welcomed. Governments, schools, instructors, and students all play a role in ensuring that schools are free of violence and prejudice and that they deliver gender-sensitive and high-quality education.
Governments may do this by developing a nondiscriminatory curriculum, facilitating teacher education, and ensuring proper sanitary facilities. Schools are in charge of dealing with school-related violence as well as offering comprehensive health education. Teachers should adhere to professional guidelines for proper disciplinary procedures and give objective instruction. Students must also act in a nonviolent and inclusive manner.
Teaching load-sharing at home
Children must be allowed to carry out every household chores in terms of assisting their parents or elders irrespective of their gender. For instance, if guests arrive in A’s house and food needs to be served to them, A must encourage both the male and female child to assist in doing so and not be biased toward the male child, thereby pushing the female child to carry out such activities. Gender equality can be best taught to children and to society at home in this manner.
Not fearing transgenders on road and accepting them
It is often a common sight that whenever we see a transgender on road, the car’s windows roll-up. While this may be a very frequent and normal activity that we tend to carry out, the same is a signatory of grave gender inequality when it particularly comes to the third gender. Instead of shutting the window on their face, it is necessary for us as educated legal citizens to make them aware of their rights and the possible destiny the same holds for them. The need for adopting and strengthening sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of every shadowed gender is a must in the present century.
In India, society should strive for gender equality and abandon the notion that women or any other gender that do not align with the mainstream gender division, are commodities. It’s the only way to get the country back on track to wealth and success. We all know that gender equality in India may make a significant contribution to the country’s growth in every aspect. Various statistics and numbers from nations with a sizable population of empowered women show that countries with a larger proportion of gender equality are fast growing on all fronts at the global level.
Although the author strongly believes in equal rights for every citizen irrespective of gender, readers of this article might encounter more female-centric content in comparison to the other genders. The reason behind this is simple. The feminine gender which has been a part of society since the very beginning has not been given the prominent chair they deserved, and the third gender whose rights have been recognized lately could expect very less from society in general.
When the gender globe is balanced with an equal number of men and women, the principle of gender equality will be demonstrated. To realise this objective, government action with public backing is essential.
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