Unraveling Feminism’s Impact on Legal Systems and Structures

Session Report
Trisha Shivdasan

The Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute,
New Delhi conducted a Three-Day Immersive Online Certificate Training
Course on ‘Feminism: Fundamentals, Facets and Future’ from February 23rd to
25th, 2023. 

The course, spread over three-consecutive days, introduced the participants to the origins
and trajectory of feminism, its contemporary and European aspects, intersectional feminism,
feminist theory in India, and the intersection of law and feminism. It initiated a dialogue on
the fundamentals and core values of feminist theory and encouraged a feminist
consciousness within the participants. 

On the third day our first speaker, Dr. Saumya Uma, Professor, Jindal Global Law School
and Director, Centre for Women’s Rights (JGLS),
opened the conversation by talking about
the intersection of law and feminism, exploring key principles and their application in
analyzing legal ramifications for women. The talk covered various dimensions of feminism,
emphasizing the need to view law through a feminist lens.

Introduction:

Dr. Uma set the stage by defining feminism as a movement towards an equal society free
from discrimination and exploitation. She emphasized that patriarchy, the systematic
subordination of women, is the common ground that unites women globally.

Feminist Theory:

The speaker delved into feminist theory, highlighting its focus on interrogating gender
inequalities along intersectional lines. Feminist theory seeks to effect change in areas where
power differentials create inequality.

Who Is a Feminist?

Dr. Uma addressed the question of who can be a feminist, asserting that anyone recognizing
and actively opposing sexism, gender-based discrimination, male domination, and
patriarchy is a feminist. Both men and women can be feminists, and women can also
perpetuate patriarchal norms.

Feminisms in Plural:

The session emphasized the plural nature of feminisms, recognizing diverse historical,
cultural, and contextual realities that shape feminist movements. The speaker highlighted
how the articulation of feminism varies based on local situations and issues.

Forms of Women’s Subordination:

Dr. Uma outlined various forms of women’s subordination, including devaluation,
discrimination, disregard, control, exploitation, humiliation, and oppression. The impact of
these forms manifests in silencing and reinforcing patriarchal power, eroding women’s self-
esteem and confidence.

Interconnection with Law:

The speaker explored the historical role of law in women’s subordination, noting that male-
centric perspectives have traditionally shaped legal frameworks. Feminist perspectives aim
to unmask and challenge inequalities embedded in laws, judicial interpretations, and societal
structures.

Critique of the Law:

Feminist critiques extended to statutes, procedural and evidentiary standards, judgments,
institutions, and programs/policies. The session highlighted examples such as the
Restitution of Conjugal Rights, judgments on domestic violence, and the inadequacies in
relief packages.

Feminist Advocacy Initiatives:

Positive developments were acknowledged, such as the Domestic Violence Act and the
Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2013. Dr. Uma underscored the importance of women’s
lived experiences in shaping laws, citing the Vishakha judgment on workplace harassment as
a prime example.

Positive Judgments:

The session concluded by celebrating positive judgments that advanced women’s rights,
including Vishakha, Joseph Shine, and the Sabarimala case. Dr. Uma emphasized the dual
role of feminist critique – addressing shortcomings while acknowledging and promoting
positive legal developments.

In summary, Dr. Saumya Uma’s session provided a comprehensive exploration of the
intricate relationship between feminism and the law. The talk served as a call to action for a
nuanced understanding of legal concepts and a continuous commitment to challenge and
reshape legal frameworks through a feminist perspective.

Acknowledgment: Reet Lath is a research Intern at IMPRI.

Read more event reports of IMPRI here:

Feminism Unbound: Navigating Intersectionality Across Global Frontiers

Syncretic Feminism: Exploring Gender Justice and Reproductive Rights

Authors

  • IMPRI Desk
  • IMPRI

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