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An Examination of Women's Advancements in the Indian Context after 48 Years of International Women's Day

Image Credits: The Quint


We all need to acknowledge the fact that ‘The freedom we as women assert today, was a far-fetched dream in the past’. This freedom which we take for granted now has its foundations rooted in the trajectorial history of women’s struggles, unheard and unvoiced earlier.


International Women’s Day is celebrated on 8th March every year. This day can be seen as a commemoration of women in history who made an effort to question and break the social, economic and political disparities prevailing within the society. It symbolically represents an enlightened sense of individuality and self-realisation for women, appearing in the public sphere and voicing their opinions. 


The origin of the day dates back to the early 20th century in the purview of the labour movements in North America and Europe. These movements advocated for the political rights of working women. Rallies and protests became the norm of the day demanding the right to vote, decent wages with an end to child labour.


At the onset of International Women’s Day, it becomes imperative to analyse the social, political and economic conditions of India, the susceptibility of women in the contemporary era, and the struggles undergone by women to achieve contemporary equality. Emplacing India as a participant in this International Women’s Day, let’s delve into the conundrum of developments which paved its way throughout the history of India and unravel the vacuum still prevailing in the nation.


Ages of Pioneering Women's Struggles in India


The incrementalist awareness of the deplorable conditions of women ushered in a wave of women's movements in the 19th century, influenced by Western first-wave feminism. Pioneered by men like Raja Rammohan Roy, and Ishvarchandra Vidyasagar as reformers, the movements advocated for basic fundamental rights for women such as education rather than a stark questioning of the patriarchal paradigm. Colonial laws like Wood’s Education Dispatch, Widow Remarriage and Abolition of Sati worked for the upliftment of women.  Here, the women didn’t stand active participation; rather, it was a simple mimesis of what men advocated for them. 


A reawakened sense of self-awareness emerged when women like Kamla Bhasin, and Sharmila Rege broadly envisioned and stood up for their fellow women. It was a period of ‘women fighting for women’, unlike passive reciprocity in the earlier phase. Several implications on caste and class on women were brought into light, and the subaltern nature of women in the post-colonial era was examined. It also empowered women to stand up against domestic violence, discrimination, and dowry. The more potent and radical transformation in notions of women’s rights movements is heralded from the 1990s continuing till date. 


Struggles Coming To Fruition: Constitutional and Legal Protections


The violence, the bloodshed and the constant criticism faced by women bore its fruits in the form of constitutional safeguards. The Indian Constitution which enforces universality, brings legality and becomes the sole coercive force in a country for rules to be obliged upon, ultimately entailed a spectrum of safeguards for women. 


Articles 14 & 15 talk about the rule of law and the right to equality, and prescribes an in-discriminatory approach and application on grounds of religion, race, caste, and most importantly, gender.


 Article 21 of the Indian Constitution entails the right to a life, a life lived in dignity. This stands extremely crucial to defending autonomy over one’s life, and abnegation of coercion from other individuals. According to my opinion, it helps to form the identity of a woman, where the ‘self’ does not conform, but rather interacts, questions and distinguishes oneself from the ‘other’. 


Furthermore, Article 16 guarantees equality of opportunity in workspaces. It underlines efforts to absolve one of the pertinent issues ie. the issue of the glass ceiling. One must break the conventional stereotypes and engross upon the idea of a ‘new woman’, a woman at par with men.


Article 42 renders a humane and just environment for women to work in, and special provisions for maternity relief. It empowers a structure that not only takes into account but sensitises the notion of womanhood. Article 51 A (e) further promotes renouncing practices derogatory to women. The practices, penetrating the cultural milieu of India that bases its customary appropriation upon women need to be abolished.


Various legislative acts came in the wake of judicial precedents like Vishakha guidelines which empowered institutions and workplaces to form committees in avoidance of sexual harassment at workplaces. A free and safe space for women was the core agenda of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act of 2013.


The Supreme Court also expands the scope of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act amidst the growing rape cases in the nation. The right to reproductive decisional autonomy should be envisaged within the scope of Articles 14 and 21, which calls for the right to privacy, self-determination and dignity.  Another landmark judgement renders equal rights of ancestral property to daughters as to sons, in the Hindu Succession Act. Given the increasing need for a Uniform Civil Code in India, it is expected to encompass people from all sects and religions. Representation of women in the legislative bodies is another concrete step towards gender equality.


The emanating questions of consensual divorce, abstaining from violent afflictions (especially intimate violence by partners), and the right to have safe abortions remain pertinent. According to the World Affairs Council of Greater Houston, “There are about 6 cases of rape and sexual assault per 100,000 people each year, boiling to the fact that only around 6% go reported; no acknowledgement of marital rape.”


A Call To Action


Amidst all the appreciative developments for women in the legal, political and official spheres, the question of dignity still permeates the analysis of the position of women in today's era. Malignant acts of rape, violence and resentment further exacerbate the situation. The idea of inclusivity today has been touched but not acted upon. A transformation in the legal sphere (legal and constitutional provisions empowering women) does not simply actuate a change in the cultural sphere. A change in perspective is a phenomenon which demands its share of time.



Edited By: Georgiana Madalina Jureschi

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