This article has been written by Adeline Coelho pursuing Diploma in Advanced Contract Drafting, Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from LawSikho and has been edited by Shashwat Kaushik.
This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
India has had a patriarchal society for ages, and it is high time now that women stand up for themselves. Inequality between males and females is seen on a wide spectrum, even in today’s modern era. We find these discriminations not only in workplaces but also in our own homes. Ancient traditions and customs have been so deeply embedded in our Indian society for such a long time that they curb the free will, independence, and personal views of women. Women are denied opportunities; they are not allowed to have opinions of their own and are limited to their homes, thereby being completely dependent on men.
Traditional mindset of Indian society
Since ages past, women have been expected to get married, serve their husbands, and take care of the family. The traditional outlook made it seem that men used to go out, work, and earn money while women were supposed to stay home, cook, and take care of the children. This has been continuing even today, against the will of the women in most cases. They are expected to leave their jobs and sit at home, serving her husband and in-laws. People are expected to act according to their gender roles. Men hold the position of power and authority and have the last say in most things, including decision-making. Boys were considered a blessing as the family could have a male heir, and having a girl child would be looked down upon and considered a burden, and the mother of the girl child was blamed for the entire thing. The male child was given more opportunities and freedom, which constituted a better life for him, while the female child was forced to get married at a young age, thereby leading a miserable life where she was denied opportunities.
Indian Constitution and gender equality
Gender equality means providing equal opportunities to both men and women in every sector, be it the workplace, wages earned, or the opportunities provided. There should be no discrimination between men and women. Article 14, Article 15, Article 16, and Article 39 of the Indian Constitution are a few important articles that revolve around the concept of equality.
Article 14 talks about the Right to Equality. It is a fundamental right and makes sure that every Indian citizen is given equal treatment before the law and that equality is not denied on the basis of race, caste, class, religion, gender, etc. As women are forced to marry at an early age, it becomes difficult for them to pursue higher studies and get a job, which makes them dependent on men for every little thing.
The state shall not discriminate between people on the basis of caste, class, religion, gender, etc. The wages offered at workplaces and the treatment given to males and females should not be unequal.
Equal opportunities should be provided to all the citizens of India in matters relating to appointment of public sector jobs and there should be no discrimination for such employment on the basis of religion, gender, caste, etc.
Article 39 talks about equal pay for both men and women. There should be no discrimination between the wages provided to men and women for the same work that they are undertaking.
Indian laws related to gender equality
Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
This Act is provided to safeguard women from sexual harassment at work. This adversely affects the fundamental rights of women and caters to their modesty. It is the responsibility of the government to frame the necessary rules and regulations, thereby providing a safe environment for them.
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
The age-old custom of giving and receiving dowries needs to be eradicated. The wife and her family are expected to meet the demands of her husband and in-laws in the form of expensive gifts without even bothering about the condition of her family. On not meeting the required demands, the wife is ill treated, abused, and tortured by her husband and in-laws, in some cases eventually leading to dowry deaths. The Dowry Prohibition Act was enacted to eradicate the custom of giving and receiving dowries and too make it punishable.
The Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act, 2005
Domestic violence is prevalent in many households even today. The wife is ill treated by her husband, subjected to domestic violence, abused by her inlaws both mentally and physically, and made to suffer. These matters are not taken into consideration, thinking that it is a family issue and should be resolved within the family, thereby leaving the people who commit such crimes unpunished. The objective of introducing this Act was to make people understand that domestic violence is unlawful and punishable by law. Domestic violence should not be normalised.
The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987
Sati was considered a custom wherein if the husband dies, the wife is also made to die by burning her with him as a form of social rite. In ancient times, young girls were made to marry middle aged or old men. It was pretty obvious that those men would die early, and on his death, the women were forced to perform sati, leading to a miserable and painful death. This Act was enacted to end this custom and make forcing someone to commit sati or attempting to do it on their own free will punishable under law and punishable with a fine as well as lifelong imprisonment.
Shayara Bano vs. Union of India and Ors. (2017)
This case talks about the triple talaq concept, wherein Rizwan Ahmed divorced his wife, Shayara Bano, in 2016 after 15 years of marriage. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Shayara Bano, thereby considering triple talaq unconstitutional. Triple talaq violates Article 14 as the husband can break the marriage ties instantly without the consideration of his wife or` the effort to save the marriage.
Vishaka and Ors. vs. State of Rajasthan and Ors. (1997)
This case talks about a woman named Bhanwari Devi, who was a social activist in Rajasthan. She was not in favour of child marriage and made efforts to stop it. She tried stopping the marriage of an infant who was not even a year old; this led to her being sexually harassed and raped in a fit of rage and a feeling of revenge, which led to the formation of the Vishaka Guidelines. The Supreme Court stated that these guidelines were to be implemented until legislation is passed to deal with the issue.
Mrs. Mary Roy, Etc. vs. State of Kerala and Ors. (1986)
In this case, Mary Roy, a widow, was denied the family inheritance of her parents. Her brothers took all the property by crook, but she was determined to have it because it was her right. She felt her right to equality had been infringed and thus went to court to fight the case against her brothers. This case shows us the long standing patriarchal mindset and dominance in our Indian society.
Pre-Constitution and post-Constitutional era
In the past, the British ruled India; hence, there were no qualified laws. The British realised that the position and status of women in Indian society were not as secure as those of women in England. Hence, they framed laws especially for the betterment of the lives of women in India. Some women centric laws are as follows:
Slavery and trafficking- Many girls and women are taken away, trafficked, and put into labour without being provided with proper food and living conditions. They are forced to work in an inhuman environment, eventually leading miserable lives. The law was framed so that slavery and trafficking would not be permitted and those caught doing so would be punished
Miscarriages, fetalicide, and infanticide-The provision was made that miscarriages would not be allowed to take place voluntarily. Many times, when a girl child was born in the family, she was killed. Female infanticides were on the rise, and hence strict laws had to be made to stop such evil acts.
Outraging modesty- There are various ways of outraging modesty like teasing, molesting, sexual harassment, etc. The increasing extent and intensity of such crimes make us realise that it is far more than just outraging modesty. Women should be provided with a safe environment.
Strict laws are made to safeguard women’s rights. Awareness is created among women and all the other people in society so that they are aware of their rights and can use them to protect themselves. For example, domestic violence cases
The structural and cultural changes in India and the advent of women being more educated and aware of their rights have brought about many changes and opportunities in their lives. There are different women’s organisations and NGOs that work specifically for women’s issues and make sure that their freedom is not curbed and that they get proper justice. There are women police officers specially assigned to sensitive cases, including cases of domestic violence. India is developing, and with time, we can see a lot of changes.
Possible solutions to overcome the problem of gender inequality
Men and women should be treated equally, be it at work or in our own homes. But we see differences in the wages given to men and women at workplaces for the same amount of work they do; this is also seen with movie actors and actresses. Hence, change is needed. A few solutions to overcome the problem of gender inequality are:
Creating awareness via social media
In today’s technology driven world, most people use social media. It is the best platform to bring an issue into the limelight and spread awareness about the different problems experienced by women. It is the fastest way to address an issue with a large number of people, eventually reaching higher authorities. Through this medium, we can make women aware of their rights and help them overcome different problems.
Upbringing of children in the right way
The inequalities that we see prevalent since ancient times are due to old age traditions followed by people. Girl children were considered a burden, and she was made to realise that her work was only to serve her husband and take care of her children and family, thus this mindset getting passed down from one generation to the next, whereas the sons would be treated in a very good manner, providing him with opportunities and teaching him that the work of cooking and cleaning is just for women. If people start treating their children in the right way, considering both the girl and boy child equal, by providing both of them with opportunities and making them realise that work needs to be divided equally, our country will transform beautifully.
Whenever guests or relatives visit our homes, we always find the men of the family sitting around the table, eating, talking and enjoying themselves, whereas the women in the family are usually in the kitchen, cooking food, serving the guests, picking up the food that is dropped on the floor, etc. Why can’t men and women equally share the responsibility?
Even if both the husband and wife are earning, the wife is expected to prepare breakfast and keep things ready while the husband has everything ready for him. All of this happens in most places, but as our country is developing, we see changes happening, men helping women and sharing responsibilities. But in some places, women still face this inequality. Gender equality is a topic that we have spoken about for a long time. It’s high time now that these theoretical aspects get transformed into practical actions.
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