The Indian judiciary plays an important role in interpreting and applying the
law. In a country where gender disparity is so common whether be it in the
education sector, health sector or employment sector to name a few, the
judiciary plays a pivotal role in empowering women and filling this gender gap.
Although several provisions have been embodied in our Indian Constitution for
protecting and preserving the rights of women and for safeguarding their
interests, but many are still unaware or ignorant about their rights, which are
provided to them by the law. Even if , they are made aware or well versed with
the whole scenario , a very few have economic resources and courage to obtain
No one can ignore the significant role being played by the judiciary in this
direction helping her to get what is due to her as a matter of right. In many
judicial pronouncements , the judiciary has shown its innate desire to help the
deprived and underprivileged section of the society i.e. the women who face the
brunt of sexual violence in silence while giving a whole new dimension to
There should be no discrimination between men and women. Women should know their
fundamental and social rights which they get once they are born. There should
be respect and dignity towards women and they should have equal rights in
society and other judicial works.
Mahatma Gandhi, once quoted that:
There is no occasion for women to consider themselves subordinate or inferior
Indian Constitutional law and ordinary law through judiciary has been working as
a saviour of women from atrocities. The principle of gender equality is
enshrined in the Indian Constitution in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights,
Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles. The Constitution not only grants
equality to women, but also empowers the state to adopt measures of positive
discrimination in favour of women.
Gender Gap Index:
For India to maintain its position as a global growth leader, more concerted
efforts at local and national levels, and by the private sector are needed to
bring women to parity with men.
While increasing representation of women in the public spheres is important and
can potentially be attained through some form of affirmative action, an
attitudinal shift is essential for women to be considered as equal within their
homes and in broader society.
World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index 2019-2020 measures the extent of
gender-based gaps in economic participation and opportunity, educational
attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. The report
particularly brings to light the alarmingly low level of women's participation
in the economy.
Among the 153 countries studied, India is the only country where the economic
gender gap is larger than the political gender gap. Only one-quarter of women,
compared with 82% of men, engage actively in the labour market (i.e. working or
looking for work):
one of the lowest participation rates in the world (145th). Furthermore, female
estimated earned income is a mere one-fifth of male income, which is also among
the world's lowest (144th).
India dropped four places, from 2018, to take the 112th rank in the World
Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index 2019-2020. In the health and survival
parameter, India's performance is dismal, ranking 150th out of 153 countries.
The Global Gender Gap report states that it will take us almost 100 years to
achieve gender parity worldwide.
Practically, there has been a very little change in the status of women compared
to the various discussions and debates held on women empowerment, or the
enactments and laws made in favour of women.
There have many cases of sexual harassment against women in India. Various
landmark judgments have been delivered by the Supreme Court wherein the legal
aspect of the nation has seen a great deal of milestone decisions.
The historic judgment of Vishaka vs. State of Rajasthan was the
outcome of a writ petition filed by certain social activities and NGOs to an
incident of brutal gang rape of a government development worker in a village of
Rajasthan. In this case, the Supreme Court observed that , in the absence of
domestic law occupying the field, to formulate effective measures to check the
evil of sexual harassment of working women at all work places the contents of
International Conventions and norms (CEDAW) are significant for the purpose of
interpretation of the guarantee of gender equality, right to work with human
dignity in Articles 14, 15, 19 (1) (g) and 21 of the Constitution
and the safeguards against sexual harassment implicit therein. The recent Sexual
Harassment Act as published in the Gazette of India had derived its origins
from this case.
The Vishaka case is, unique in many ways wherein the court not only acted
as the active guardian of fundamental rights and also provided temporary respite
to working women. The guideline extended the responsibility to eliminate
discriminatory sexual conduct to a larger society , in this case , the workplace
and obligated the employer to ensure a safe and healthy environment for women
The main aim of the court, while evolving these guidelines , was to ensure a
fair, secure and comfortable work environment to the extent possible , and also,
to eliminate situations where the protector could abuse his position and turn
predator. Vishaka's case was a quantum leap in expanding the principle
of fairness in procedure after Maneka Gandhi case wherein the court,
for the first time, had observed that right to equality would also include the
right not to be treated in an arbitrary manner. It was for the first time in
Vishaka case that the principle of fair and just procedure was expanded further
to include a gender justice procedure in furtherance of the constitutional goals
The critical advance made by the Vishaka judgement is the expansive
interpretation given to Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India ,
insofar as sexual harassment at the workplace has been held to be in violation
of the fundamental freedom of all women , as citizens , to pursue the business,
trade or profession of one‘s choice. It is within the framework of
constitutional law that the judgment operates , holding that:
“Each such incident results in violation of the fundamental rights of Gender
Equality and the Right to Life and Liberty. It is a clear violation of the
rights under Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the constitution. One of the logical
consequences of such an incident is also the violation of the victim‘s
fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g) to practice any profession or to carry
out any occupation , trade or business.
However , post-Vishaka case, and now with the passage of the 2013 Act,
sexual harassment at the workplace is categorically prohibited across all
workplaces, whether in the public or the private domain, whether rural or urban,
whether in the organised or unorganized sector.
In another case of Radha Bai vs. Union Terriority of Pondicherry, the
apex court awarded a lumpsum compensation of Rs. 3 lakhs for the loss of
reputation and honour of Ms. Radha Bai and for the agony she had to suffer in
the long battle against the Government of Pondicherry and the then Home Minister
of Pondicherry within one month from the date of the order. Thus we can draw an
inference that Supreme Court is taking these matters seriously.
In the case of Apparel Export Promotion Council v. AK. Chopra, it was
for the first time when Supreme Court had applied the guidelines laid down in
Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan. In this case, the Supreme Court upheld the
dismissal of an officer from Apparel Export Promotion Council. He was found
guilty of harassing at women at his workplace on the ground that it violated
Article 21 of Indian Constitution.
The court decisions in the Vishaka case and AK Chopra case were followed
by various High Courts in a number of cases on this sensitive issue for example
, in Shehnaz case wherein it was probably for the first time that any
High Court applied the court‘s guidelines with regard to sexual harassment at
Gender-based disparity in income is serious in India and exists across the
organised and unorganised sectors. In agriculture, building construction, etc.,
women are paid far less than men. Their employers justify this wage gap citing
differences in capability. And this discrimination continues in every aspect
whether in the education or health sector, the girl child is always treated
unequally. Indian society still hasn't been awakened to the importance of
empowering the women. The statistics still narrate a grim story of female foeticide, girl child discrimination and gender bias .
The need of the hour is to make a change in the mindset of the society. It is
not easy to change the culture of disregard for women which are so deep- rooted
in the Indian society. But it also does not mean that it is impossible to do so.
Only revolutions bring changes in a day, but reforms take their time. The idea
of women empowerment might sound hard. The Government of India is running
various welfare schemes and policies, both at State and Central levels for the
empowerment of woman.
Some of the major programs and measures include Swadhar (1995), Swayam Siddha
(2001), National Mission for Empowerment of Women (2010) etc. All such policies
and programs focus on social, economic and educational empowerment of women
across various age groups. Women should have access to resources, rights, and
entitlements. They should be given decision-making powers and due position in
Gender inequality has been a social issue in India for centuries. Although,
there has been no dearth of social, economic, political, legal and
Constitutional efforts made for the empowerment of women both prior to and post-
Independence; however, women in India continue to face atrocities such as rape,
dowry killings, acid attacks, human trafficking, etc. According to a global poll
conducted by Reuters, India is the “fourth most dangerous country in the world
In the words of Late Kofi Annan who served as the seventh Secretary- General of
the United Nations, There is no tool for development more effective than the
empowerment of women.
Hence all we need is a concentrated effort focused in the right direction that
would rest only with the liberation of women from all forms of evil.
- Apparel Export Promotion Council v. A.K. Chopra, 1999, 625 and Medha
Kotwal Lele v. Union of India, 2004 (5), SCALE 573 & 2013 (1) SCC 297
- https://www.iaspaper.net/women-empowerment-in-india/ as accessed on
- AIR 1997 SC 3011
- Article 14 of the Constitution of India reads as under: “The State shall
not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of
the laws within the territory of India.
- Article 15; a fundamental right in the Indian constitution prohibits the
discrimination by the state against any citizen on grounds only of caste,
religion, sex, race and place of birth.
- Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution of India guarantees right to
practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business to
all citizens subject to Article 19 (6) of the Constitution which enumerates
the nature of restriction that can be imposed by the state upon the above
right of the citizens.
- Article 21 of the Constitution of India states that no person shall be
deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure
established by law.
- The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and
Redressal) Act, 2013
- An Article by Ritu Gupta, ?Vishaka and Thereafter: A Critique of the
follow Upaction? Delhi Law Review, vol. XXX:2011
- Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597
- WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO 494 OF 2012
- AIR 1995 SC 1476; 1995 (4) SCC 141; 1995 (4) JT 34; 1995 Scale 842
- AIR 1999 SC 625.
- 1999, 2 LLJ 109 (Bom)
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