Home Essay/Articles SOCIAL ISSUE : WOMEN EMPOWERMENT
SOCIAL ISSUE : WOMEN EMPOWERMENT
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Monday, 08 April 2013 08:07


WOMEN EMPOWERMENT

GENDER EMPOWERMENT

Gender Empowerment is conceived as a process by which women can overcome many of the hurdles that they face such as education, work status, employment opportunities, health care, social security, position in decision making by virtue of their gender. Thus gender empowerment veritably implies empowerment of women to do away with subordination or discrimination and injustices done to them in male dominated society.

Measures taken by the Government of India include the establishment of the National Commission for Women(NCW), Rashtriya Mahila Kosh(RMK), launching of Indira Mahila Yojana(IMY), Balika Samridhi Yojana(BSY) and Rural Women’s Development and Empowerment Project(RWDEP). Formulating a National Policy for Empowerment of Women and Setting up a National Resource Centre for women are other efforts of the context undertaken by government in the interests of women.

PC-PNDT ACT

The PC-PNDT Act (Pre conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex selection) Act -1994) was enacted on 20 September 1994 with the intent to prohibit prenatal diagnostic techniques for determination of the sex of the fetus leading to female feticide. That is to say the preliminary object was to put a check on female feticide. No doubt the bare perusal of the Act indicates that it is a draconic act from the point of its effect on radiologists/sonologists. The Act does not offer any escape to the erring radiologist/sonologist.

The basic features of the PC-PNDT Act are:

  • Registration under Section (18) of the PC-PNDT Act.
  • Written consent of the pregnant woman and prohibition of communicating the sex of fetus under Section 5 of the Act.
  • Maintenance of records as provided under Section 29 of the Act.
  • Creating awareness among the public at large by placing the board of prohibition on sex determination.
  • The Act penalizes all the errants, either involved in sex determination or non-maintenance of records.

WOMEN AND KHAP PANCHAYAT

  • Khap is a cluster of villages united by caste and geography. It is as old as 14th century started by upper caste jats to consolidate their power and position. The main rule is that all boys and girls within a khap are considered siblings.
  • Khap panchayat governs the khap formed by same gotra (clan) families from several neighbouring villages. Khap panchayats are prevalent in Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and Parts of Rajasthan. Love marriages are considered taboo in areas governed by Khap panchayats.Those living in a Khap is not allowed to marry in the same gotra or even in any gotra from the same village. Many young couples have been killed in the past defying khap rules.
  • Khap panchyat imposes its writ through social boycotts and fines and in most cases end up either killing or forcing the victims to commit suicide. All this is done in the name of brotherhood and its honour. It is due to the inherent weakness of democratically elected Panchayati Raj institutions, Khap panchayats have been powerful. Even the government has not done much to control their power.
  • The 10-15 men who constitute a Khap settle disputes and control the lives of young people. Many village people also defend these caste panchayats as they deliver the verdict in one sitting whereas court cases drag for years. According to them, in many cases innocent people get harassed in the court and by police. Here as   everyone is known so they cross check everything to ensure neutrality.

WOMEN RESERVATION BILL

Women's Reservation Bill or the The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, is a pending bill in India which proposes to amend the Constitution of India to reserve 33 per cent of all seats in the Lower house of Parliament of India, the Lok Sabha, and in all state legislative assemblies for women. The seats to be reserved in rotation will be determined by draw of lots in such a way that a seat shall be reserved only once in three consecutive general elections.

The Upper House Rajya Sabha passed the bill on 9 Mar 2010. As of March 2013, the Lower House Lok Sabha has not yet voted on the bill.

SELF HELP GROUP

A self-help group (SHG) is a village-based financial intermediary usually composed of 10–20 local women. Most self-help groups are located in India, though SHGs can also be found in other countries, especially in South Asia and Southeast Asia.

Members make small regular savings contributions over a few months until there is enough capital in the group to begin lending. Funds may then be lent back to the members or to others in the village for any purpose. In India, many SHGs are 'linked' to banks for the delivery of microcredit. Self-Help Group may be registered or unregistered. It typically comprises a group of micro entrepreneurs.

Self-help groups are started by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that generally have broad anti-poverty agendas. Self-help groups are seen as instruments for a variety of goals including empowering women, developing leadership abilities among poor people, increasing school enrollments, and improving nutrition and the use of birth control.

PROTECTION OF WOMEN FROM DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT-2005

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 was brought into force by the Indian government from October 26, 2006. The Act was passed by the Parliament in August 2005 and assented to by the President on 13 September 2005. As of November 2007, it has been ratified by four of twenty-eight state governments in India; namely Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa.

Domestic violence is defined as follows:

For the purposes of this Act, any conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence if he,—

a) Habitually assaults or makes the life of the aggrieved person miserable by cruelty of conduct even if such conduct does not amount to physical ill-treatment; or

b) Forces the aggrieved person to lead an immoral life; or

c) Otherwise injures or harms the aggrieved person.

Nothing contained in clause (c) of sub-section (1) shall amount to domestic violence if the pursuit of course of conduct by the respondent was reasonable for his own protection or for the protection of his or another's property.

The salient features of the Protection from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 are as following:

  • The Act seeks to cover those women who are or have been in a relationship with the abuser where both parties have lived together in a shared household and are related by consanguinity, marriage or a relationship in the nature of marriage, or adoption; in addition relationship with family members living together as a joint family are also included. Even those women who are sisters, widows, mothers, single women, or living with the abuser are entitled to get legal protection under the proposed Act.
  • Domestic violence includes actual abuse or the threat of abuse that is physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and  economic. Harassment by way of unlawful dowry demands to the woman or her relatives would also be       covered under this definition.
  • One of the most important features of the Act is the woman’s right to secure housing. The Act provides for      the woman’s right to reside in the matrimonial or shared household, whether or not she has any title or rights    in the household. This right is secured by a residence order, which is passed by a court. These residence   orders cannot be passed against anyone who is a woman.
  • The other relief envisaged under the Act is that of the power of the court to pass protection orders that prevent the abuser from aiding or committing an act of domestic violence or any other specified act,      entering a workplace or any other place frequented by the abused, attempting to communicate with the         abused, isolating any assets used by both the parties and causing violence to the abused, her relatives and        others who provide her assistance from the domestic violence.
  • The draft Act provides for appointment of Protection Officers and NGOs to provide assistance to the woman       w.r.t medical examination, legal aid, safe shelter, etc.
  • The Act provides for breach of protection order or interim protection order by the respondent as a         cognizable and non-bailable offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year    or with fine which may extend to twenty thousand rupees or with both. Similarly, non-compliance or    discharge of duties by the Protection Officer is also sought to be made an offence under the Act with similar    punishment.

NATIONAL COMMISSION FOR WOMEN

The National Commission for Women (NCW) is a statutory body for women established in 1992 by Government of India under the provisions of the Indian Constitution, as defined in the 1990 National Commission for Women Act.

The objective of the NCW is to represent the rights of women in India and to provide a voice for their issues and concerns. The subjects of their campaigns have included dowry, politics, religion, equal representation for women in jobs, and the exploitation of women for labour.

The commission regularly publishes a monthly newsletter, Rashtra Mahila in both Hindi and English.

CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISION FOR WOMEN

Article 14: Equality before law The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.

Article 15: Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth

The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth or any of them.

No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to

  1. a. Access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment; or
  2. b. The use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public.

Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.

Article 16: Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.

No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State.

Article 21: Protection of life and personal liberty No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

Article 23: Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour Traffic in human beings and beggar and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.

Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from imposing compulsory service for public purposes, and in imposing such service the State shall not make any discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste or class or any of them.

Article 39: Certain principles of policy to be followed by the State The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing-

  • That the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood;
  • That there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women;
  • That the health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused and     that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength
  • That children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and   material abandonment.

Article 42: Provision for just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief The State shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief.

Article 45: Provision for free and compulsory education for children The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.

Article 51(e): to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.

SKEWED CHILD SEX RATIO

In India, the Child Sex Ratio is defined as the number of females per thousand males in the age group 0–6 years in a human population.[1] Thus it is equal to 1000 x the reciprocal of the sex ratio (ratio of males to females in a population) in the same age group, i.e. under age seven.

Obviously an imbalance in this age group will extend to older age groups in future years. Currently the ratio of males to females is generally significantly greater than 1, i.e. there are more boys than girls.

According to the decennial Indian census, the sex ratio in the 0-6 age group in India went from 104.0 males per 100 females in 1981, to 105.8 in 1991, to 107.8 in 2001, to 109.4 in 2011. The ratio is significantly higher in certain states such as Punjab and Haryana (126.1 and 122.0, as of 2001).

Impact of skewed child sex ratio

  • The impact of the current skewed sex ratio with more male children than females is already being felt in       some parts of India, and is likely to continue to be so felt.
  • Having less women of marriageable age will mean that a significant proportion of men will in the first instance have to delay their marriage. This will initially affect younger generations of men in their 20s.         These men will not only be in surplus within their cohort (age group), but they will also face competition           from a backlog of older, unmarried men, who will still be in the marriage market.
  • This problem will not be overcome simply by delaying marriage, due to the cumulative impact of the    skewed sex ratio over several generations. Thus a proportion of men will in due course have to forego   marriage altogether. The poorest males will be disproportionately affected by this marriage squeeze. This       may cause destabilization, and may translate into class-based tensions.

VERMA PANEL RECOMMENDATION FOR PREVENTION OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT OF WOMEN

Justice Verma Committee was constituted to recommend amendments to the Criminal Law so as to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault against women. The Committee submitted its report on January 23, 2013.

On December 23, 2012 a three member Committee headed by Justice J.S. Verma, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was constituted to recommend amendments to the Criminal Law so as to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault against women. The other members on the Committee were Justice Leila Seth, former judge of the High Court and Gopal Subramanium, former Solicitor General of India.

The Committee submitted its report on January 23, 2013. It made recommendations on laws related to rape, sexual harassment, trafficking, child sexual abuse, medical examination of victims, police, electoral and educational reforms. We summarise the key recommendations of the Committee.

Rape: The Committee recommended that the gradation of sexual offences should be retained in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC).

The Committee was of the view that rape and sexual assault are not merely crimes of passion but an expression of power. Rape should be retained as a separate offence and it should not be limited to penetration of the vagina, mouth or anus. Any non-consensual penetration of a sexual nature should be included in the definition of rape.

The IPC differentiates between rape within marriage and outside marriage. Under the IPC sexual intercourse without consent is prohibited. However, an exception to the offence of rape exists in relation to un-consented sexual intercourse by a husband upon a wife. The Committee recommended that the exception to marital rape should be removed. Marriage should not be considered as an irrevocable consent to sexual acts. Therefore, with regard to an inquiry about whether the complainant consented to the sexual activity, the relationship between the victim and the accused should not be relevant.

Sexual assault: Currently, “assault or use of criminal force to a woman with the intent to outrage her modesty” is punishable under Section 354 of the IPC with 2 years imprisonment.

The term outraging the modesty of a woman is not defined in the IPC. Thus, where penetration cannot be proved, the offence is categorized as defined under Section 354 of the IPC.

The Committee recommended that non-penetrative forms of sexual contact should be regarded as sexual assault. The offence of sexual assault should be defined so as to include all forms of non-consensual non-penetrative touching of a sexual nature. The sexual nature of an act should be determined on the basis of the circumstances. Sexual gratification as a motive for the act should not be prerequisite for proving the offence. The offence should be punishable with 5 years of imprisonment, or fine, or both.

Use of criminal force to disrobe a woman should be punishable with 3 to 7 years of imprisonment.

Verbal sexual assault: At present, use of words or gestures to “insult a woman’s modesty” is punishable with 1 year of imprisonment or fine or both under Section 509 of the IPC. This section should be repealed. The Committee has suggested that use of words, acts or gestures that create an unwelcome threat of a sexual nature should be termed as sexual assault and be punishable for 1 year imprisonment or fine or both.

Sexual harassment: Some of the key recommendations made by the Committee on the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2012 that is pending in Parliament are provided below:

  • Domestic workers should be included within the purview of the Bill.
  • Under the Bill the complainant and the respondent are first required to attempt conciliation. This is contrary      to the Supreme Court judgment in Vishakha vs. State of Rajasthan which aimed to secure a safe workplace   to women.
  • The employer should pay compensation to the woman who has suffered sexual harassment.
  • The Bill requires the employer to institute an internal complaints committee to which complaints must be       filed. Such an internal committee defeats the purpose of the Bill and instead, there should be an       Employment Tribunal to receive and adjudicate all complaints.

Acid attack: The Committee opined that the offence should not be clubbed under the provisions of grievous hurt which is punishable with 7 years imprisonment under the IPC. It noted that the offence was addressed in the Criminal Laws Amendment Bill, 2012 which is currently pending in Parliament. The Bill prescribes a punishment of imprisonment for 10 years or life. It recommended that the central and state government create a corpus to compensate victims of crimes against women.

Offences against women in conflict areas: The continuance of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in conflict areas needs to be revisited. At present, the AFSPA requires a sanction by the central government for initiating prosecution against armed forces personnel. The Committee has recommended that the requirement of sanction for prosecution of armed forces personnel should be specifically excluded when a sexual offence is alleged.

Complainants of sexual violence must be afforded witness protection. Special commissioners should be appointed in conflict areas to monitor and prosecute for sexual offences. Training of armed personnel should be reoriented to emphasise strict observance of orders in this regard by armed personnel.

Trafficking: The Committee noted that the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, 1956 did not define trafficking comprehensively since it only criminalised trafficking for the purpose of prostitution. It recommended that the provisions of the IPC on slavery be amended to criminalise trafficking by threat, force or inducement. It also recommended criminalising employment of a trafficked person. The juvenile and women protective homes should be placed under the legal guardianship of High Courts and steps should be taken to reintegrate the victims into society.

Child sexual abuse: The Committee has recommended that the terms ‘harm’ and ‘health’ be defined under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 to include mental and physical harm and health, respectively, of the juvenile.

Punishment for crimes against women: The Committee rejected the proposal for chemical castration as it fails to treat the social foundations of rape. It opined that death penalty should not be awarded for the offence of rape as there was considerable evidence that death penalty was not deterrence to serious crimes. It recommended life imprisonment for rape.

Medical examination of a rape victim: The Committee has recommended the discontinuation of the two-finger test which is conducted to determine the laxity of the vaginal muscles. The Supreme Court has through various judgments held that the two-finger test must not be conducted and that the previous sexual experience of the victim should not be relied upon for determining the consent or quality of consent given by the victim.

Police reforms: The Committee has recommended certain steps to reform the police. These include establishment of State Security Commissions to ensure that state governments do not exercise influence on the state police. Such Commissions should be headed by the Chief Minister or the Home Minister of the state. The Commission would lay down broad policy guidelines so that the Police Act according to the law. A Police Establishment Board should be established to decide all transfers, postings and promotions of officers. Director General of Police and Inspector General of Police should have a minimum tenure of 2 years.

Reforms in management of cases related to crime against women:

  • A Rape Crisis Cell should be set up. The Cell should be immediately notified when an FIR in relation to       sexual assault is made. The Cell must provide legal assistance to the victim.
  • All police stations should have CCTVs at the entrance and in the questioning room.
  • A complainant should be able to file FIRs online.
  • Police officers should be duty bound to assist victims of sexual offences irrespective of the crime’s        jurisdiction.
  • Members of the public who help the victims should not be treated as wrong doers.
  • The police should be trained to deal with sexual offences appropriately.
  • Number of police personnel should be increased. Community policing should be developed by providing       training to volunteers.

Electoral reforms: The Committee recommended the amendment of the Representation of People Act, 1951. Currently, the Act provides for disqualification of candidates for crimes related to terrorism, untouchability and secularism, fairness of elections, sati and dowry. The Committee was of the opinion that filing of charge sheet and cognizance by the Court was sufficient for disqualification of a candidate under the Act. It further recommended that candidates should be disqualified for committing sexual offences.

Education reforms: The Committee has recommended that children’s experiences should not be gendered. It has recommended that sexuality education should be imparted to children. Adult literacy programs are necessary for gender empowerment.

 

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