Rights of women restricted in all spheres: NHRC study

Published on May 25, 2022 09:43 AM IST

This study has recommendations for all the enlisted gaps to guide the law-making and law-implementing agencies

ByNeeraj Chauhan

New Delhi: In the first such study of the Constitution, legislation, schemes, policies, etc, vis-à-vis the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has concluded the rights of women remain restricted in all spheres of life in India, including social, economic and political.

The CEDAW, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 18, 1979, gives all member states a template to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. India ratified CEDAW in 1993.

NHRC ascertained the status of implementation of CEDAW in India and gaps between its articles and Indian provisions that ensure the protection of rights of the women. It examined 33 articles of the Constitution, 54 legislation, 63 policies, reports, schemes, programmes, advisories, memorandums of understanding, rules, and regulations, etc.

“This study gives various recommendations for all the enlisted gaps to guide the law-making and law-implementing agencies and is expected to be of value to the lawmakers, executives, civil society, academicians and students of gender studies, human rights and related disciplines,” said an official, requesting anonymity.

NHRC has identified major gaps in the realisation of equality and non-discrimination towards women, their abysmal representation in upper echelons of law-making, poor employment, and education opportunities, and unfriendly laws.

On women’s participation in key roles, the study said that “despite reservations for women as Independent Directors under the Companies Act, 2013, there are only a few women in leadership positions, especially at the board level and many positions are lying vacant.”

While 48.5% of the Indian population is women, only 27.4% are in the workforce. Similarly, women hold only 10.33% of seats in Lok Sabha and 8.8% in Rajya Sabha. In 2021, 8.5% of lawmakers in the state legislative assemblies were women. “The data shows that there is a continued low representation of women in the upper echelons of law-making,” said the study. Only a few women get a chance to represent the country at international levels or to work for international organisations. “The women representing the State at the international level, including in delegations, postings, assignments, committees, commissions, multi-lateral agencies are also very low.” The study added India has had a sole woman member of the CEDAW committee for 30 years.

CEDAW’s Article 2 (f) says member states are supposed to take all appropriate measures to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs, and practices which constitute discrimination against women.

NHRC found several customs and practices that perpetuate discrimination against women in India are out of the purview of the legislative framework. It said there are no scientific reasons for the age of marriage for women to be 18 and for the men 21. NHRC has recommended a uniform age for both. A bill brought in December 2021 to fix 21 as the uniform age of marriage for women and men was referred to a parliamentary standing committee.

NHRC noted only the father is the natural guardian under the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act. It said the mother should also be a natural guardian as is the father under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act.

The study found violence against women, particularly community-sanctioned, is still prevalent in rural areas and targets mainly women belonging to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes. NHRC also noted that it is “a prevalent practice in private sector organisations to terminate pregnant women to avoid giving maternity benefits to them.”

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