A Four Week Online Certificate Training Course on “Ending Violence Against Women: Awareness of Laws and Policies in India”, organized by the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), at the IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi. The session was on “Legal Safeguards and Constitutional Rights against VAW” by Adv Dr Shalu Nigam Advocate, Author, and Researcher, Gender and Human Rights & Visiting Senior Fellow IMPRI. Inaugurating the session Bhavni, a researcher at IMPRI, welcomed the speakers and participants to the program with an introduction to the eminent panelists.
Firstly, she showed a YouTube video “The Rapist Is You” in Spanish which is a Chilean feminist performance piece protesting violence against women in 2019. It is a protest against the practice of victim blaming in sexual assault cases, which implies that the issue is with the perpetrator’s conduct rather than the victim’s attire by criticizing the victim’s clothing.
Further, she presented a presentation on Legal Safeguards and Constitutional Rights against VAW.
Violence Against Marginalized Women
She added that violence against underprivileged women in India is an upsetting topic that highlights the several vulnerabilities that women who belong to marginalized communities face. These women, who frequently come from lower castes, indigenous communities, or economically underprivileged groups, suffer the most violence because of the cumulative effects of their marginalized identities.
An all-encompassing strategy that incorporates judicial changes, public education campaigns, and focused assistance programs is needed to solve this issue. To end the cycle of violence, it is crucial to give underprivileged women the tools they need through education, employment opportunities, and social inclusion. Because of how authoritative the language of dominance is, the disadvantaged have a difficult time speaking up.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
She emphasized on UDHR by explaining the following:
- Adopted unanimously without dissent on 10 December 1948
- Based on French Declaration of the Rights of Man
- The US Declaration of Independence
- Around 250 delegates and advisors from 56 countries participated in the making of the document of the Universal Declaration.
- Besides Europe and America, representatives from Latin America, Lebanon, China, Egypt, India, Panama, Philippines, Cuba, Soviet Union, Uruguay, Pakistan, and other countries participated actively..
Later, she talked about women who contributed towards United Nations Commission and fought for women’s rights in India and abroad. It was only a single word change in the line that made all the difference.
Women like Eleanor Roosevelt who is one of the prominent figures in the drafting committee of the Declaration, Hansa Mehta and Lakshmi Menon from India, Begum Shasta Ikramullah from Pakistan, Minerva Bernardino from the Dominic Republic, Bodil Begtrup from Denmark and other women delegates from Brazil, Prance, and Russia, contributed significantly to making of the draft.
CEDAW (Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women)
Subsequently, she stated CEDAW is an international human right treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly in the year 1979 also known as the International Bill or Rights of Women.
- It requires countries to eliminate discrimination against women in all areas and promote equal rights.
- India ratified this treaty in July 1993.
- The Convention articulates the nature and meaning of sex-based discrimination and lays out State obligations to eliminate discrimination and achieve substantive equality.
Women’s Rights are Human Rights
She explained an instance that in the year 1993, at the Conference held in Vienna, emphasis was laid on the maxim,“Women’s Rights are Human Rights”. The phrase was first used in the 1980s and early 1990s by several scholars.
And in 1995, Hillary Clinton in her speech declared
it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
At the Millennium Summit in 2000, the international community established eight time-bound Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be accomplished by 2015. These goals include one on gender equality and the empowerment of women, one on eradicating hunger and poverty, one on reducing child mortality, one on improving maternal health, one on eradicating diseases like malaria, HIV and AIDS, one on achieving universal primary education, one on environmental sustainability, and one on achieving global peace.
73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments
Dr Shalu explained that 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments were passed in the year 1992 and emphasizes the idea of local self-governance in rural and urban India through local Panchayats and Municipalities. The amendments called for regular, prompt, and fair elections and, most notably, mandated that one-third of the seats in these local authorities be designated for women, along with seats for members of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe populations.
In accordance with these revisions, women must make up one-third of elected officials and one-third of Sarpanchs or chairpersons. Through these provisions, about one million seats were made available to women. Over 71,000 of Bihar’s 1.3 lakh Panchayati Raj Institution representatives are women. 3, 04,638 of the 9.1 lakh representatives in Uttar Pradesh are female.
Today, as many as 20 states – Andra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Tripura, Uttarakhand and West Bengal – have increased reservations for women in their PRIs to 50 per cent.
Reasons for Low Women Representation in the Legal and the Political System
She went on to discuss the problems with the underrepresentation of women in politics and the legal system.
- Patriarchal society: Women’s access to education, opportunities, and decision-making positions, including legal and political careers, may be restricted by India’s patriarchal society.
- Stereotyping and Bias: Stereotypes regarding women’s competency, leadership potential, and aptitude for particular professions may deter women from pursuing careers in politics or the legal field.
- Lack of Affirmative Action: Despite the existence of some affirmative action programs, the representation of women in both areas may be hampered by the absence of comprehensive and unified regulations.
- Infrastructure: The lack of restrooms, childcare facilities, and small, congested courtrooms are all obstacles.
She stated that throughout the previous 70 years, no real effort had been made to adequately represent women. Both the 108th and 112th amendment bills to the Constitution—providing for a 33 percent Lok Sabha reservation and a 50 percent reservation in urban local bodies—remain unenacted. Comprehensive measures that take these fundamental issues into account are needed to improve women’s representation in the legal and political institutions.
Women in India have bravely and continuously campaigned for their rights despite the country’s strongly embedded patriarchal structure, helping to determine the course of social progress and gender equality. Women have overcome institutional barriers and broken conventional conventions thanks to their tenacity and fortitude, which has sparked a transformative path towards a more egalitarian society.
These ongoing struggles reflect the resilience of women in the face of adversity, fostering a society where gender equality is not merely a concept, but a reality forged through collective determination and unwavering commitment.
Dr Shalu also gave some examples where women fought for their rights Like the Secretary, Ministry of Defense vs Babita Puniya & Ors. (2020),
Air India Vs. Nargesh Mirza, Vineeta Sharma v Rakesh Sharma and many more.
VAW and Interpretation of Laws
India has long been concerned about violence against women (VAW), which has prompted a dynamic process of interpreting and revising laws to better address and combat this problem. The interpretation of VAW laws has changed over time, reflecting how society has come to view gender dynamics, justice, and women’s rights.
Indian courts have been instrumental in expanding the definition of violence within the current legal systems to include not just physical harm but also emotional, psychological, and financial abuse. Due of the complex shapes VAW can take, a more thorough strategy for addressing it has been developed as a result of this interpretation.
She explained about a recent incident where in Punjab and Sind Bank v Durgesh Kuwar, the apex court while rescinding a transfer order of a woman bank employee who had alleged sexual harassment held that, “sexual harassment at work violates women’s fundamental right to equality, their right to live with dignity and to practice any profession.”
Also, In Delhi Domestic Working Women’s Forum vs Union of India the Supreme Court gave broad guidelines to assist victims of rape and hold the state accountable to provide legal assistance to women, The Court also directed that compensation should be provided to the women victims.
Finally, she stated that violence against women (VAW) continues to be a serious issue around the world, with both triumphs and challenges. VAW and its intolerance have become much better known over time thanks to awareness efforts, legal changes, and support networks. Efforts like hotlines, shelters, and counseling programs have given survivors crucial support. Women’s safety is still not given enough priority in some communities, and underreporting of events is still a problem. In order to ensure that everyone lives in a world that is safer and more just, combating VAW necessitates ongoing efforts in education, policy, and social change.
Acknowledgements: Riya is a Research Intern at IMPRI.
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