In simple words, gender neutrality emphasizes equal treatment of men and women socially, economically, and legally with no discrimination on the grounds of gender. Gender neutrality describes the idea that policies, language, and other social institutions should avoid distinguishing roles according to an individual’s sex or gender.
In the past, the condition of gender neutrality in India and the status of women was quite bad. In ancient India, epics and Puranas equated women with property. Manu dictated that a woman would be dependent on her father in childhood, on her husband in youth and when her lord is dead, to her sons.
Women were victims of illiteracy, segregation in the dark rooms in the name of purdah, forced child marriage, indeterminable widowhood, the rigidity of fidelity and opposition to the remarriage of widows turning many of them into prostitutes, polygamy, female infanticide, violence and forced to follow Sati and the denial of individuality.
As society got more civilized the perspective of the world towards women started to change. The first leader of independent India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said “You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women”. The fight for gender equality in India began in the 20th century. Western-educated leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and others initiated this struggle by stating that a woman is completely equal to men in all aspects.
During the struggle of independence, we have seen powerful women leaders like Rani Laxmi Bai who sacrificed her life for this nation and millions of other women, housewives and widows, students, and the elderly who joined the national movement for the same cause.
Women like Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit– the first women (and the first Indian) president of the United Nations General Assembly, Savitribai Phule– started India’s first school for girls, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay– social activist and Indian freedom fighter, Captain Prem Mathur-the first woman pilot in India, Sarojini Naidu– the Nightingale of India, Sucheta Kriplani– the first woman Chief Minister in India, Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi– to date, the only female Prime minister of India, Justice Anna Chandy– the first female judge in India, and the first woman in India too become a High Court judge.
Mahatma Gandhi stood for women’s rights. He had immense faith in the inherent power of women, he emphasized it by saying- “complete emancipation of women and her equality with man is the final goal of our social development, whose realization no power on earth can prevent”.
In the modern era, the situation improved to some extent but there’s an urgent need for correct implementation of the concept of gender neutrality in India. Equality should be in real terms, not just in our thoughts and books. The liberties which are given to boys by birth should be the same for girls too.
Male or female should become only a matter of words, in our conscious mind, both should be the same, with equal rights and equal duties. From home to school to the workplace, everyone should be treated equally irrespective of their sex. In corporate the world, female employees earn less than similarly qualified men employees because of gender bias.
But fundamentally, this is against fairness and equality. The overall objective of gender neutrality is a society in which women and men enjoy the same opportunities, rights, and obligations in all spheres of life.
Gender neutrality is linked to sustainable development, educational attainment and political empowerment. There is a need to make the world a better place for current and future generations. This can only happen when everyone is valued as equals that we can really achieve a brighter future, full of ideas and inputs from people across society.
RIGHTS OF WOMEN IN INDIA
Countries like the UK and the USA which established themselves way before India gained its independence from the British, for many years women in these countries were not allowed to vote during the elections and faced discrimination in several other situations.
They didn’t have the power and right to vote in the elections. After a long time when women started revolting against this law, they finally won the battle that they were fighting for and they finally got the voting rights in the elections, women of the UK gained the right to vote in 1918 and women of the USA gained the right to vote in 1920.
The battle was difficult for women of the UK because they fought for it more than two centuries after the first elections took place and more than a century when the first elections took place in the United States of America. This gives a basic idea of how much time it takes for enacting Judiciary and legislation to make sure there is gender justice in India. We are still long ahead to achieve what is termed as ‘equality’ in the sphere of gender.
RIGHTS OF MEN IN INDIA
India is a country with varied customs, a variety of religious communities, and a history that goes back to centuries. India’s Constitution has been seen as a central element for social growth with the democratic principle of equality. India’s sustained political freedoms are exceptional among the developing countries of the world; yet, given socio-economic developments, there is unprecedented misery, religious and social class-related brutality, separatism, or other social prejudices still widespread in the region.
Women in India are safeguarded by the different statutes in India and they can file complaints against anyone for the infringement of their rights. Despite having equal fundamental rights given to men and females, the rights of men are not enunciated as compared to women. In part 3 of the Indian Constitution, men can avail of his fundamental rights throughout India regardless of their religion, race, gender, place of birth. Most of these rights guarantees liberties to men so they can live without coercion and harassment.
The need for gender neutrality in India is of high requirement in the rape legislation as from the beginning women are only considered as the victim may be due to patriarchy prevalent in the society.
Even due to the rise of women empowerment and feminism, the concept of gender neutrality laws was hindered. Most of the provisions of IPC which states about offence against women allude men only as a criminal. It is right that from the Tukaram case to Nirbhaya case that men were the only perpetrator but the Central Government should accept the JS Verma committee suggestion for making some laws gender-neutral but that was also rejected.
Now the situation has changed, many PIL(s) have been filed in various High Court(s) and Apex Court for making rape laws to be gender-neutral. In 2017, Sanjiv Kumar had questioned the legality of existing rape laws which only consider men to be the perpetrator in Delhi High Court. It was mentioned that now the scenario is changed and is requisite from the society to think “beyond the male-on-female paradigm”.
Centre in its application submitted that the laws related to rape should not be altered as some sections are requisite to keep a check on the rising crime against women. Similarly, Apex Court dismissed the PIL by Rishi Malhotra where PIL mentioned making rape laws to be made gender-neutral as there are no laws to protect males from sexual harassment. The case was Rishi Malhotra v. Union of India.
CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS FOR WOMEN
Our Constitution not only focusses on awarding equivalent rights to women but also focusses on how to empower them in society so that they don’t face any sort of discrimination and segregation financially, economically and politically.
Even though some Articles like 14, 15, 16, 39 and 42 of the Indian Constitution that provides the concept of gender justice like equality before the law or equal protection of the law; no discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, religion, caste, residential area or place of birth, and equal opportunity to every citizen of India in matters related to the employment sector. There are certain other articles also that especially promote the idea of women empowerment. For instance:
- ARTICLE 51 (A)(e): There should be a sense of brotherhood among the citizens of India and there should be no practice related to hurting the sentiments of women.
- ARTICLE 243 (D)(3): One-third of the total number of seats should be reserved for women (including for women who come from disadvantaged sections like SC/ST) in Panchayats and is to be filled by direct election.
- ARTICLE 243 (D)(4): One-third of the total number of seats should be reserved for women as a chairperson in the office of Panchayat.
- ARTICLE 243 (T)(3): One-third of the total number of seats should be reserved for women (including for women who come from disadvantaged sections like SC/ST) in Municipality and are to be filled by direct election.
- ARTICLE 243 (T)(4): One-third of the total number of seats should be reserved for women (including for women who come from disadvantaged sections like SC/ST) in Municipality as Chairperson as the state’s legislature provides.
LEGAL PROVISIONS FOR CRIME AGAINST WOMEN
These are broadly classified into two categories:
Wrongful Acts that are identified as Crime against women under the Indian Penal Code, 1860:
- Kidnapping and Abduction (Sec. 363-373)
- Rape (Sec. 376)
- Molestation (Sec. 354)
- Physical and Mental Torture (Sec. 498-A)
- Sexual Harassment (Sec. 509)
- Attempts and Deaths related to Dowry (Sec. 302/304-B)
Some Special Acts and Provisions for the protection of the interests of a woman:
- The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961
- Women’s Reservation Bill, 2008
- The Employees State Insurance Act, 1948
- The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013
- The Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, 2018
Some of the Important policies and initiatives by the Indian Government for Women
- National Policy for Empowerment of Women, 2001
- National Commission for Women
- Reservation for Women in Local Self-Government
TRANSGENDER RIGHTS IN INDIA
The Fundamental Rights are given to both the genders (male, female) now they are officially given to the 3rd gender of the society (trans-gender). The Court has legally recognized the third gender as Transgender in both civil as well in criminal status. Now, they have the same fundamental rights and constitutional provisions as men and women of the society and now they can enjoy these in the same way. After the decriminalization of section 377 of IPC in the landmark judgment given by the Top Court in 2018 in the case of Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India. Certain bills that gave rights to Transgender persons are mentioned below:
- THE RIGHTS OF TRANSGENDER PERSON’S BILL, 2014:The third gender was legally recognized by the government on the order of the Supreme Court and asked them to reserve their seats for education and employment.
- THE RIGHTS OF TRANSGENDER PERSON’S BILL, 2015:A Private member’s bill was passed by Upper House regarding the right of a transgender person which defines transgender as a psychosomatic individual and stating about reservations.
- THE TRANSGENDER PERSONS (PROTECTION OF RIGHTS) BILL, 2016: The government opposed Rajya Sabha’s bill and introduced a new Transgender Person’s Bill (Protection of Rights) which defined transgender as Biotic Appearance and stating no reservations for them. The main crux of this bill was drawn from the landmark judgment given by the Top Court in the case of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) v. Union of India. Their legal identity was given to them in this case.
- TRANSGENDER PERSONS (PROTECTION OF RIGHTS) BILL, 2017: The bill was introduced to tackle social issues faced by the transgender and how to empower them in society.
Also read about LGBT EQUALITY IN INDIA : LOVE HAS NO GENDER
 Rishi Malhotra v. Union of India Writ Petition(s)(Criminal) No(s).7/2018.
 Navtej Singh Johar & Ors. v. Union of India thr. Secretary Ministry of Law and Justice W. P. (Crl.) No. 76 of 2016.
 trangder-E.pdf, http://126.96.36.199/billstexts/rsbilltexts/AsIntroduced/trangder-E.pdf
 National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.604 OF 2013
This article is written by Kush Bhardwaj and edited by Rupreet Kaur Dhariwal.