Violence Against Women and Response of Women’s Movements in India

Session Report
Aasthaba Jadeja

An informative and elucidating online panel discussion on “Domestic Violence and Abuse: Challenges and Responses” was an initiative of the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), at the IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi held on December 19, 2022. The program included an insightful and enriching discussion delivered by eminent speakers, Advocate Gayatri Sharma, Prof Vijaylakshmi Brara, Dr Tara Nair, Adv Celin Thomas, Dr Keerthi Bollineni, and Anchita Ghatak. Prof Vibhuti Patel chaired the session. The session was opened with introductory and welcoming remarks from Professor Vibhuti Patel and was further moderated by her.

On the first day, our second speaker, Professor Vibhuti Patel, Vice President, Indian Association for Women’s Studies, proceeded with the session by delivering a presentation on Violence Against Women and Response of Women’s Movements in India.

She began by noting that the movement for women’s rights and the battle against violence targeting women originated during the 19th-century Social Reform Movements, continued through the Freedom movement in the first half of the 20th century in India, and persists today.

When discussing women’s rights as human rights, the focus shifts to addressing inequality and the necessity for gender equity rather than mere equality. Achieving this equity requires the presence of a fair legal system. The Constitution safeguards women from violence through the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

In the context of the post-pandemic era, new challenges have emerged, including an increase in child marriages and the emergence of innovative forms of violence against women. Additionally, she highlighted the absence of comprehensive policies catering to the needs of adolescent girls aged 14 to 18. A substantial number of these young girls abandon their education due to societal perceptions, leading them into early marriages.

 Sexual Harassment at Workplace

Prior to the enactment of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act in 2013, there was a notable rise in instances where women, particularly those in temporary positions within white-collar jobs and informal sector organizations, lodged complaints of sexual harassment. However, the awareness regarding workplace sexual harassment had existed well before the establishment of this legal provision.

The Indian government unanimously approved the Women Empowerment Policy in 2001, designating the year as a focal point for women’s empowerment efforts. This policy significantly influences women’s lives across different age groups, encompassing welfare initiatives, enhanced access to legal protections, raising awareness, and promoting women’s participation in influential roles.

The #MeToo movement underscored the necessity of collective responses to workplace sexual harassment. Furthermore, it facilitated a crucial shift in assigning blame from the victims to the accused individuals.

Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic(Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 2002 (PCPNDT) 

Professor Patel discussed the origins of the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 2002, which began to take shape shortly after the 1975 Emergency. She elaborated on the extensive research and advocacy efforts that contributed to the development of this legislation. Moreover, she highlighted that the identified gaps within the act were effectively addressed through the initiation of multiple Public Interest Litigations (PILs) by Women’s Organizations operating in different urban centers. This underscores the significance of active engagement and collaboration among various entities within the realm of laws and policies.

Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019

The enactment of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act was a direct outcome of extensive grassroots mobilization carried out by diverse groups and individuals. It’s essential to grasp the significance of the intersectionality between factors like caste, class, and religion in this context. The process of publicly identifying as a transgender individual might present distinct challenges for someone from a lower caste and socioeconomic background compared to an individual from an affluent upper caste family.

It’s crucial to recognize that individuals within the transgender community and those on the fringes of society encounter active discrimination from various social institutions. This leaves them with minimal support, pushing some into activities like begging or sex work for survival. Advocates have also highlighted the stark inequality in sentencing for rape cases involving transgender individuals, resulting in just a two-year imprisonment compared to the potential ten years for others. They’ve also underscored the insufficient government investments towards the genuine empowerment of transgender individuals.

Legal Awareness about Violence against Women

Professor Patel proceeded to outline a comprehensive array of legal provisions and regulations designed to combat various manifestations of violence against women. These will be thoroughly examined in subsequent sessions of the course. Those laws include,

●      Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961

●      Indecent Representation of Women (prohibition) Act, 1986

●      Prevention of Immoral Trafficking (Women and Children) Act, 1987

●      Sati Prevention Act, 1987, to prevent widow burning and its glorification

●      Protection of Children from Sexual Assault Act, POCSO, 2012

●      Prevetion of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013

●      The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Amendment Act, 2002

●      Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, 2005

●      Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008

●      Amendments in Indian Evidence Act which respect to rape, sexual violence, 2012

●      Child Marriage Prohibition Act, 2016

●      The Prevention of Witch-hunting Act, Orissa(2013), Rajasthan (2015)

●      The Transgender Persons(Protection of Rights) act, 2019

●      Need for a separate law on ‘Honour Killing’

In addition, she brought up the creation of a sign language system specific to violence amid the pandemic. This would enable women to seek assistance discreetly, considering their proximity to potential perpetrators. She also emphasized the importance of making laws accessible in local languages, ensuring women can comprehend their rights effectively.

Agenda for Action

She concluded by highlighting the requirement for legal reforms that emphasize establishing responsive systems and frameworks to ensure the safety of women. It is essential to promote greater representation of women in influential positions to challenge existing power imbalances. This initiative should go beyond symbolic gestures and focus on creating a comprehensive system where women’s perspectives are genuinely heard and valued, without suppression. Another critical aspect is enabling women to achieve financial autonomy, alongside establishing ‘OneStop Crisis Centers’ that alleviate the burdens faced by women. 

Enhancing the visibility of gender-based violence within data systems is imperative. Utilizing modern communication platforms can effectively disseminate awareness and knowledge concerning violence against women, including relevant legal provisions. It is crucial to hold the government and criminal justice mechanisms accountable for addressing violence against women.

Acknowledgement: Aasthaba Jadeja is a research intern at IMPRI.

Read more session reports on web policy learning events conducted by IMPRI:

Legal Perspectives on Violence Against Women in India

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