Women and Society
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”
~ Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
The evolution of human rights is dependent upon the progression of mankind because of its dynamic nature. These rights find their roots in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (hereinafter referred to as ‘UDHR’) which recognizes the inalienable rights of any human. It forms a base of the existence of freedom, justice, and peace in the world. Article 2 of the UDHR provides for the equal treatment of ‘everyone’ without any discrimination with regards to race, color, sex, language, etc. But the question is: Are all women able to exercise these rights with freedom? Not all women are able to succeed because of gender inequality, coercion, violence etc. These matters have often been overlooked by the people despite the explicit mention of the provisions of equality and non-discrimination in various Covenants, Treaties, Constitutions, Statutes, and Rules.
In the Indian scenario, it is pertinent to highlight the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act 2005 and the evolution in the coparcenary system by bringing both men and women on an equal footing. Section 6 of the Act brought about a drastic change which gives the same coparcenary rights to both son and daughter of the coparcener. But does the existence of this law completely curtail the possibility of discrimination against women? Not at all. This is because of the existence of a patriarchal society for a long time. Any family which believes in male dominance in the society would prefer to opt for testamentary succession i.e., succession through will, rather than intestate succession i.e., devolution of property without a will. The proposition of testamentary succession, though it is legal and valid, encourages discrimination against women more often than not, because people may “will away” their property only in favor of sons or brothers while avoiding wives or daughters.
Another aspect that is laid down under UDHR and the Constitution of India is the principle of ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’. Article 23(2) of UDHR and Article 39(d) read with Article 14 of the Constitution embodies this principle to ensure equality of payment between both men and women. Despite all these efforts by policymakers, gender equality in India is still a pie in the sky. According to the World Economic Forum’s report on Global Gender Gap (2021), India has slipped from the rank of 112 (in 2020) to 140 (in 2021) on a scale of 156 countries. Moreover, India closed its gender gap by 66.8% in 2020 which has again widened the gap and it currently stands at 62.5%. The gender gap is not only limited to the inequalities in equal pay. It also includes health, education, and political inequalities and this crisis ultimately puts the women at an adverse end. Eventually, there remains a huge gulf between theory and practice. The theory states equality, equal pay, indiscrimination, but in the pragmatic sense, it is predominantly discrimination and injustice.
Nevertheless, despite these negatives, there is always a ray of hope. The social system of patriarchy has been embedded in the history of most countries for centuries and cannot vanish overnight by enacting a provision or a statute or a convention. The mindsets of individuals hold supremacy over anything else in the matter of discrimination against a category of people based on sex or gender. This pertains to the evolution in the morality aspect which is totally divergent from the evolution in law. According to Hans Kelsen, a legal philosopher, the law is a coercive order which is dynamic, but morality can either be static or dynamic. Morals, like the sense of male dominance, which originated centuries ago, are static and can only evolve over a period of time because of the involvement of the mental aspect of people.
If you want to change the world, try starting it with yourself! and for that each individual of this country should contribute to ensure equality to women in all aspects. Focused efforts need to be made to promote women’s rights and bring them on par with men. Some steps that could be considered are a) giving better access to education to girl children; b) expansion of platforms allowing women to achieve economic success; c) putting an end to sexual violence against women; d) ensuring equal pay for equal work; e) promoting the participation of women in leadership roles; f) respecting the choices which an individual makes; g) giving proper value to an individual’s work irrespective of the gender. If we are successful in implementing even few of these steps, I am confident that the status of women in this country is secure.
Author: Jaanvi Singh, School of Law, Bennett University