The sixteen days of activism (from 25 th November to 10 th December) to end violence against women provide us an opportunity to review laws and their enforcement in the spirit for which they were enacted. Judiciary has played an important role in securing the rights of women and creating awareness regarding their rights and entitlements. This limited series by Anuja Gulati would discuss how our courts have played a pivotal role in ensuring gender justice by passing landmark judgments that have recognized women’s right to equal status and opportunities.

The Constitution of India guarantees every individual the right to dignity, optimal growth and a life free of discrimination. In spite of this, violence against women and girls is widespread and manifests itself in various forms and occurs both in public and private spaces. It is an outcome of gender-based inequalities and discrimination perpetuated because of the social and cultural norms that endorse male supremacy and authority leading to unequal power relations between men and women.

While violence denies women the right to survival, well- being and development, the fact is that most violence goes unreported because it occurs within the most intimate and trusted relationships. The denial of opportunities and exposure to women to voice their concerns and discuss the issue of violence has further made it a private or personal issue.

25th of November, the day of the assassination of the Mirabal sisters who raised a voice against the oppressive rule of Rafael Trujillo is observed each year as International Day for elimination of violence against women. The 10th of December is observed annually as the World Human Rights day, to honor the UN General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation of the Universal declaration of Human rights on this date. The period between 25th November, the International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women and 10 th December, the International Human Rights Day, is observed as the 16 days of activism on gender based violence, to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights.

While violence denies women the right to survival, well- being and development, the fact is that most violence goes unreported because it occurs within the most intimate and trusted relationships.

The constitution of India protects rights of women and all vulnerable sections of the society and also promotes equality of Status and opportunity for all. The Fundamental rights deal extensively with the issue of equality. Article 14 states that all citizens of the Country are equal before law and will have equal protection of Law.

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Article 15 lays down that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, sex or place of birth. It also guarantees that no citizen shall on any of the above grounds be subject to discrimination or restriction with regard to accessing public spaces. Article 15(3) in fact permits States to make special provisions for women and children to safeguard their rights. Considering the fact that women have been discriminated for centuries, the Article provides scope to take affirmative action to alleviate women from exclusion in politics, education, employment, etc. in an effort to bring them at par with men.

Article 16 deals with equality of opportunity in matters of public employment. It gives women the same rights as men in relation to access to jobs, conditions of employment, relationships at work and opportunity for capacity building and career progression.

Article 21 deals with the right to life and personal liberty. The Apex Court has however clarified that right to life is not merely a physical right but includes in its ambit the right to live with human dignity. This has been interpreted in various judgments, as the right to basic necessities, right to lead a life of dignity, the right to be free from discrimination and violence, etc.

Article 23 and 24 of the Constitution deal with the right against exploitation. Article 23 prohibits human trafficking and forced labour, to which women are generally subjected to.

The Directive Principles of State Policy that provide guidelines for formation of laws and policies also contain beneficial provisions for women like Article 39 (a) which calls upon States to secure for men and women equally the right to and adequate means of livelihood; Article 39(d) which aims to secure equal pay for equal work for men and women and Article 42 which states that provisions shall be made for securing just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief. Article 243 D and T also make it mandatory to reserve seats in Panchayats and Nagarpallikas for women.

The fundamental duties cast a duty on all citizens through Article 51A (e) to renounce all practices derogatory to women.

Various provisions have also been made with regard to offenses against women under the Indian Penal Code and the Indian Evidence Act. Several Laws have also been enacted to promote women’s right to equality and address the issue of discrimination and enable them to lead a life of dignity.

Thus the Constitution of India has made an attempt to not only talk of the concept of equality but has also gone a step ahead to ensure that special provisions can be made and affirmative action taken to deal with discriminatory practices.

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Anuja Gulati is a Gender Consultant at Population First

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