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Awareness on Woman Rights: International and Indian Perspective

A right is not what someone gives you;
it's what no one can take from you.
- Ramsey Clark. (6 th US Deputy Attorney General)

In order to live with dignity certain basic rights and freedoms are necessary, which all Human beings are entitled to these basic rights are called Human Rights. Human rights demanded recognition and respect for the inherent dignity to ensure that everyone is protected against abuses which undermine their dignity, and give the opportunities they need to realize their full potential, free from discrimination. Human rights belong to everyone, everywhere, regardless of nationality, sexuality, gender, race, religion or age. The foundation of modern human rights is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The 30 articles of the Declaration was adopted in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly, and over time these have been integrated into national laws and international treaties. The core values of the UDHR - human dignity, fairness, equality, non-discrimination - apply to everyone, everywhere.

India was a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A number of fundamental rights guaranteed to the individuals in Part III of the Indian Constitution are similar to the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Most of the economic, social and cultural rights proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been incorporated in part IV of the Indian Constitution. India has even ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on March 27, 1979. The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1989, however, was not ratified by India.

The term Human Rights has been defined under section 2(1)(d) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. According to the Act, “human rights” means the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India.

The advancement of woman has been the main focus of work of the United Nations. The Preamble of the UN Charter sets as the basic goal to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights in the dignity and worth of the human persons in the equal rights of men and women. The UN General Assembly in December 1979 adopted a Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The Convention is often described as an “International Bill of Rights of Women” andit was instituted on 3rdSeptember, 1981 and has been ratified by 189 states. The preamble to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women explains that despite the existence of other instruments, women still do not have equal rights with men.

The term “Discrimination against Women” is being defined under Article 1 of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women.The Convention is structured in six parts with 30 articles in total.

Following table is an overview of the Convention:

Part Articles Deals with
I 1 to 6 Focuses on non-discrimination, sex stereotypes, and sex trafficking.
II 7 to 9 Outlines women's rights in the public sphere with an emphasis on political life, representation, and rights to nationality.
III 10 to 14 Describes the economic and social rights of women, particularly focusing on education, employment, and health. Part III also includes special protections for rural women and the problems they face.
IV 15 & 16 Outlines women's right to equality in marriage and family life along with the right to equality before the law.
V 17 to 22 Establishes the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women as well as the states parties' reporting procedure.
VI 23 to 30 Describes the effects of the Convention on other treaties, the commitment of the states parties and the administration of the Convention.

Following are the Conferences on Women:

(i) Mexico City Conference, 1975.
(ii) Copenhagen Conference, 1980.
(iii) Nairobi Conference, 1985.
(iv) Beijing Conference, 1995.

Following were the objects of the Conference:
(i) Women rights are human rights;
(ii) Consideration of violation of women’s human rights;
(iii) To eradicate the conflict which arises due to certain customary practices, cultural prejudices and religious excessiveness.

Woman- is a word that conjures up a lot of images in our minds and brings out varied emotions as selfless love, nurturing and caring attitude. Who is a woman? The dictionary meaning of a woman is adult female human but this definition cannot do justice to the role of woman. A woman is much more than these words. A woman is a full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform. Understanding a woman is a mystery and it needs lots of perseverance and knowledge. A woman is the epitome of love, sacrifice, care and ability to nurture life. The quality of a woman can be understood with these thoughts “If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering there are men at the base.” Such is the power of a woman. The ability to nurture life makes woman the most powerful and strongest being. She can play different roles with ease be it that of a dutiful wife, obedient daughter, caring mother or adoring sister.

Women down the ages were not given their due respects yet they went on without complaints. Women since time immemorial had powers to bring a change. Women fought with all odds to emerge as a winner. History is replete with examples of courageous women like Lakshmibai, Indira Gandhi, Hellen Keller and so on. Women now are more empowered and aware of their rights and the society has accepted their stand. The society is changing and paving way for the growth of the women. The changes can be seen in the fields of education, healthcare, equality and job opportunity. The new decade has seen a marked change in attitude towards women at large. Women have made strides in every field like politics, space exploration.

Let me mention Nelson Mandela’s quote on National Women’s Day, in 1966:
“The legacy of oppression weighs heavily on women. As long as women are bound by poverty and as long as they are looked down upon, human rights will lack substance. As long as outmoded ways of thinking prevent women from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow. As long as the nation refuses to acknowledge the equal role of more than half of itself, it is doomed to failure”

The Indian perspective regarding women is more clearly explained by the Supreme Court in its various judgments. These judgments reflect the women’s strength. Each of these judgments should be viewed as the tryst of a woman to reassert her strength, to redefine the patriarchal laws. They show how a woman succeeded in being the voice of thousands of other women, how they stepped up as women and took the lead.There are numerous judgments of the Supreme Court of India but only a few are mentioned below.

Vishaka & Ors. vs. State of Rajasthan, (AIR 1997 SC 3011)
The Supreme Court decided that the consideration of “International Conventions and norms 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 petition resulted in what are popularly known as the Vishaka Guidelines. The judgment provided the basic definitions of sexual harassment at the workplace and provided guidelines to deal with it. It is seen as a significant legal victory for women's groups in India. Article 14 & 15 of the Indian Constitution provides provisions for the women.

Lata Singh vs. State of Uttar Pradesh, 2006 (6) SCALE 583
Noting that there was no bar to inter-caste marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice Ashok Bhan and Justice Markandey Katju observed that since there was no dispute about the petitioner being a major, she was free to marry anyone she likes or live with anyone she likes.

The court held that no offence had been committed by any of the accused. The judgment directs the administration and police authorities throughout the country to ensure that if any boy or girl who is a major enters into an inter-caste or inter-religious marriage with a woman or man who is a major, the couple are not harassed or subjected to threats and violence. The police should institute criminal proceedings against persons who threaten, harass, commit or instigate acts of violence on people who decide on inter-caste or inter-religious marriages.

D. Velusamy vs. D. Patchaiammal, (2010) 10 SCC 469
The Supreme Court in this case held that Live-in relationships will also come under Domestic Violence Act 2005. It is held that ‘not all live in relationships will amount to a relationship in the nature of marriage to get the benefit of the Act of 2005. It is held that ‘not all live in relationships will amount to a relationship in the nature of marriage to get the benefit of the Act of 2005. To get such benefit the conditions mentioned by us above must be satisfied, and this has to be proved by evidence. If a man has a `keep’ whom he maintains financially and uses mainly for sexual purpose and/or as a servant it would not, in our opinion, be a relationship in the nature of marriage’.

Sakshi vs. Union of India, AIR 2004 SC 3566
A Supreme Court Bench comprising of Chief Justice Rajendra Babu and Justice G.P. Mathur passed directions that must be adhered to while conducting trial of child sexual abuse or rape. They were as follows:
# Special arrangements such as a screen must be made so as to ensure that the victim or witness do not see the body or face of the accused.

# The questions for cross examination must be framed and given to the Presiding Officer of the Court who must then put them to the victim or witness in a language that is clear and not embarrassing.

# Adequate breaks must be given to the victims of child abuse or rape while they give their testimony in court.

The Petitioner NGO had also sought a declaration that all forms of penetration be included within “sexual intercourse” in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code. The Court however declined to redefine rape.

Delhi Domestic Working Women’s Forum vs. Union of India, 1995 SCC (1) 14
Four domestic servants had filed charges of indecent sexual assault against seven army personnel. The Supreme Court pointed out the defects of the existing system while dealing with rape victims, issuing 8 broad parameters while assisting victims of rape. The Bench comprising of Justice S. Mohan, Justice M.N. Venkatachalliah and Justice S.B. Mujmudar emphasised on the legal representation that needs to be provided at the police station. The Police should be under a duty to inform the victim of her right to representation before any questions were asked of her and that the police report should state that the victim was so informed. The advocate should be appointed by the Court, upon application by the Police. However, in order to ensure efficiency, advocates would be authorised to act at the police station before leave of the court was sought or obtained. The Court also mandated anonymity of the victim, along with formation of a Criminal Injuries Compensation Board

A woman has several rights, but these are the 10 legal rights which every woman should know:-

(i) Right to Free Aid

When a woman goes to the police station without being accompanied by a lawyer she is quoted wrong, ignored or humiliated for her statements. She should be aware of the fact that she has a right to get the legal aid and that she should demand for it. According to a Delhi High Court ruling, whenever a rape is reported, the senior house officer has to bring this to the notice of the Delhi Legal Services Authority. The legal body then arranges for a lawyer for the victim.

(ii) Right to Privacy

A woman who has been raped has a right to record her statement in private, in front of the magistrate without being overheard by anyone else. She also has a freedom to record her statement with a lady constable or a police officer in personal. Under section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the cops will have to give the privacy to the victim without stressing her in front of masses.

(iii) Right to Untimely Registration

There are many reasons as to why a woman would postpone going to the police to lodge a complaint. She considers her reputation, dignity of the family and threats from the culprit to take her life away. Police in any way cannot say no to register her complaint, no matter if it's too late to register. The self-respect of women comes before anything else. She cannot be denied of anything.

(iv) Right to Virtual Complaints

According to the guidelines issued by the Delhi Police, a woman has the privilege of lodging a complaint via email or registered post. If, for some reason, a woman can't go to the police station, she can send a written complaint through an email or registered post addressed to a senior police officer of the level of Deputy Commissioner or Commissioner of Police. The officer then directs the SHO of the police station, of the area where the incident occurred, to conduct proper verification of the complainant and lodge an FIR. The police can then come over to the residence of the victim to take her statement.

(v) Right to Zero FIR

A rape victim can register her police complaint from any police station under the Zero FIR ruling by Supreme Court. Sometimes, the police station under which the incident occurs refuses to register the victim's complaint in order to keep clear of responsibility, and tries sending the victim to another police station. In such cases, she has the right to lodge an FIR at any police station in the city under the Zero FIR ruling. The senior officer will then direct the SHO of the concerned police station to lodge the FIR. This is a Supreme Court ruling that not many women are aware of, so don't let the SHO of a police station send you away saying it "doesn't come under his area".

(vi) Right to No Arrest

According to a Supreme Court ruling, a woman cannot be arrested after sunset and before sunrise. There are many cases of women being harassed by the police at wee hours, but all this can be avoided if you exercise the right of being present in the police station only during daytime. Even if there is a woman constable accompanying the officers, the police can't arrest a woman at night. In case the woman has committed a serious crime, the police required to get it in writing from the magistrate explaining why the arrest is necessary during the night.

(vii) Right to not being called to the Police Station

Women cannot be called to the police station for interrogation under Section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code. This law provides Indian women the right of not being physically present at the police station for interrogation. In a ruling,the Supreme Court has laid down guidelines and had said that the police can interrogate a woman at her residence in the presence of a woman constable and family members or friends. So, the next time you're called to the police station for queries or interrogation when you have faced any kind of harassment, quote to exercise your right and remind the cops about it.

(viii) Right to Confidentiality

Under no circumstances can the identity of a rape victim be revealed. Neither the police nor media can make known the name of the victim in public. Section 228-A of the Indian Penal Code makes the disclosure of a victim's identity a punishable offense. Printing or publishing the name or any matter which may make known the identity of a woman against whom an offense has been committed is punishable. This is done to prevent social victimization or ostracism of the victim of a sexual offense. Even while a judgment is in progress at the high court or a lower court, the name of the victim is not indicated, she is only described as 'victim' in the judgment.

(ix) Right towards Crime and not a Medical Condition

A case of rape can't be dismissed even if the doctor says that rape has not taken place. A victim of rape needs to be medically examined as per Section 164A of the Criminal Procedure Code, and only the report can act as proof. A woman has the right to have a copy of the medical report from the doctor. Rape is crime and not a medical condition. It is a legal term and not a diagnosis to be made by the medical officer treating the victim. The only statement that can be made by the medical officer is that there is evidence of recent sexual activity. Whether the rape has occurred or not is a legal conclusion and the doctor can't decide on this.

(x) Right to No Sexual Harassment

It is the duty of every employer to create a Sexual Harassment Complaints Committee within the organization for complaints. According to a guideline issued by the Supreme Court, it is mandatory for all firms, public and private, to set up these committees to resolve matters of sexual harassment. It is also necessary that the committee be headed by a woman and comprise of 50% women, as members. Also, one of the members should be from a women's welfare group.

Following Acts were enacted in India for the legal protection of Women:-

1.The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956.
2.The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
3.The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986.
4.The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987.
5.Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
6.The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition And Redressal) Act, 2013.

“If we are going to see real development in the world then our best investment is women.” - Desmond Tutu. (South African Social Rights Activist and Retired Anglican Bishop)

“Because women comprise more than half of the human resources and are central to the economic as well as the social well-being of societies, development goals cannot be fully reached without their participation”
-Margaret Snyder and Mary Tadesse

In their Book “African Women and Development: A History”(1995, p.6)

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