Women are the backbone of every society, as they deliver multiple roles, being a mother, a daughter or a capable colleague. In a country like ours, where women are treated as Goddesses, there are also certain sections where women have long been subject to the discrimination and tortures inflicted by the so-called patriarchal society.
Presence of a woman is a blessing as having women in our societies is the only reason for our existence and we must always endeavour towards protecting the rights and dignity of women, in every way possible.
In this article, we will be covering, in brief, major laws and rights, which every woman in our country must be aware about and must use, as and when required.
To begin with, let us look at the rights enshrined in the Constitution of India for protecting the rights and dignity of women, and further giving freedom from gender discrimination.
Rights of Women enshrined in the Constitution of India:
- Article 15(1) provides that the state shall not discriminate against any citizen of India on the ground of sex.
- Article 15(3) provides that the state is empowered to make any special provision for women i.e. the state can make affirmative discrimination in favour of women.
- Article 16(2) provides that no citizen shall be discriminated against or be ineligible for any employment or office under the state on the ground of sex.
- Article 39(a) urges the state to secure for men and women equally the right to an adequate means of livelihood
- Article 39(d) urges the state to secure equal pay for equal work for both Indian men and women.
- Article 39(e) provides that the state is required to ensure that the health and strength of women workers are not abused and that they are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their strength.
- Article 42 provides that the state shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief.
- Article 51-A (e) provides that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women
- Article 243-D(3) provides that one-third of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election in every Panchayat shall be reserved for women.
- Article 243-D(4) provides that one-third of the total number of offices of Chairpersons in the Panchayats at each level shall be reserved for women.
- Article 243-T(3) provides that one-third of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election in every Municipality shall be reserved for women.
- Article 243-T(4) provides that the offices of Chairpersons in the Municipalities shall be reserved for women in such manner as the State Legislature may provide.
Besides the constitutional provisions, the legislature has enacted various laws covering a number of aspects in order to encourage women to live with dignity and in fact walk a step ahead of men. Following are the major legislations:
- The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005
-This Act provides for more protection of the rights of women guaranteed under the Constitution who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
-This Act defined “Domestic Violence” in a broad manner, not only including physical violence but also other forms of violence such as mental abuse and torture to the mind of people.
- Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Protection, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
– This Act protects women against sexual harassment at workplace and gives women the rights to
file a complaint against the perpetrators and speedy redressal of the same.
-The Act makes it mandatory for the employer to constitute an Internal Complaint Committee (ICC)
within its organisation, which shall be an independent committee specifically dealing with sexual
harassment complaints and conducts investigation and further provide speedy redressal to such
victims, thereby making it a harassment free workplace.
- The Maternity Benefits Act, 1961
-The Maternity Benefits Act aims to protect and support the women employed at factories, shops commercial establishments etc. having ten (10) or more employee during their pregnancy and after delivery of the child, and entitles them of a “maternity benefit” i.e., full paid leave from work – to take care of themselves and their child.
-The Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Act of 2017, has further given women employees more rights and benefits. The said Amendment Act has extended the paid maternity leaves of women employees from 12 weeks to 26 weeks, and has further incorporated provisions related to work from home and creche facilities. The Amendment act also caters to the maternal instincts of adopting and commissioning women as well, by giving them maternity leave of 12 weeks from the date of receiving the child.
- Indecent Representation of Women Act, 1986
–This Act protects women from indecent representations by way of advertisements or in any publication, writings, shows, figures or any other manner whatsoever. It punishes the indecent representation of women, in any manner and in such a way as to have the effect of being indecent, or derogatory to, or denigrating women, or is likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality or morals. It further states that no person shall publish or cause to publish or cause to be published or arrange to take part in the publication or exhibition of any advertisement which contains indecent representation of women in any form.
Apart from the legislations and provisions aforementioned, here are some general rights which must be known:
1. Right to free legal aid
If a woman has been a victim of any crime and she visits the police station to file a complaint, she has the right to demand for free legal aid, irrespective of her income or financial status. This right is given to women by the virtue of Section 12(c) of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.
2. Right to Zero FIR
According to the concept of Zero FIR, a woman may file an FIR against the perpetrators at the nearest police station and thus puts a legal obligation on the police to begin investigation and take quick action without the excuse of absence of jurisdiction
- Right to no arrest
According to a Supreme Court ruling, a woman cannot be arrested after sunset and before sunrise, even when a lady constable is present. Except, in case the woman has committed a serious crime, the police require to get it in writing from the magistrate explaining why the arrest is necessary during the night.
- Right to not being called to the police station
According to section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code, women cannot be called to the police station for interrogation. The police can interrogate a woman at her residence in the presence of a lady constable and family members.
- Right to confidentiality
Under no conditions a rape victims identity of can be revealed. Neither the police nor the 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 offence.