Women’s rights, as a term, typically refers to the freedoms inherently possessed by
women and girls of all ages, which may be institutionalized, ignored or illegitimately
suppressed by law, custom, and behavior in a particular society. These liberties are
grouped together and differentiated from broader notions of human rights because they
often differ from the freedoms inherently possessed by or recognized for men and boys,
and because activism surrounding media clic this issue claims an inherent historical and traditional
bias against the exercise of rights by women.
Issues commonly associated with notions of women’s rights include, though are not
limited to, the right: to bodily integrity and autonomy; to vote (universal suffrage); to
hold public office; to work; to fair wages or equal pay; to own property; to education; to
serve in the military; to enter into legal contracts; and to have marital, parental and
religious rights. Today, women in most nations can vote, own property, work in many
different professions, and hold public office. These are some of the rights of the modern
woman. But women have not always been allowed to do these things, similar to the
experiences of the majority of men throughout history. Women and their supporters have
waged and in some places continue to wage long campaigns to win the same rights as
modern men and be viewed as equals in society.
Evolution of women’s rights in India
Position of women in ancient India
The position of women since long has been pitiable in all aspects of life and her
subjection by males has been throughout a matter of history. She could not feel
independent, and act as so, barring a few exceptions.
The women in Vedic period enjoyed equal status with men and independence in action.
Not only they had the place of honour, but were entitled to participate freely in social
activities. They were allowed to pursue the academic attainments and shared the family
life with full vigour. They were free to select their conjugal partner and exercised free
will in entering into the matrimonial bondage.
The privileges that women enjoyed in the Vedic period were short lived and the position
of women began to decline from the latter Vedic period onwards. Post Vedic period saw
the emergence of Manusmrithi. The injunctions of Manu merged the wife’s individuality
with that of her husband and recommended strict seclusions for women and rigorous
discipline for widows. While glorifying motherhood and allowing women all freedom in
the management of the household, he permitted child marriage and polygamy. In the
Dharma-shastra women are unambiguously equated with the sudras. Even the Gita
places women, vaisyas and sudras in the same category and describes them as being of
sinful birth. Moreover women lead a life in abject misery. The women were denied the
right of equal opportunity in the field of education as well as in employment. The
inhuman system of .Sati. was prevalent as a compulsory custom. Widows were not only
precluded from remarrying, but they were also not allowed to live after the death of their
husband. There also existed the system of Purda, were the women had to cover her face
and body with a robe when she was to be seen in public. These were not only deprivation
of the rights of women but were also social evils which plagued the ancient Indian
society. The other evils which affected the women in ancient India were child marriage,
female infanticide, Dowry system etc.
During the British rule, many new rules were being legislated to abolish certain social
evils which have direct impact on the rights of the women. Many social reformers during
this period including Raja Ram Mohan Roy worked hard for the abolition of the system
of sati and reinstated in its place the right of widows to remarry. More emphasis was
given to provide opportunities for improving the plight of women like improving
opportunities for female education etc.
After Independence, most of the social evils like Sati system, child marriage, female
infanticide etc which affected the rights of women adversely were abolished. More laws
were enacted to provide women equal status with man in the field of education and
employment opportunities, laws were also enacted for preventing discrimination against
women on the basis of gender. Constitution of India also provides for provisions in order
to protect the rights of women. Reservations were made in the public sector to increase
the ratio of women population and to bring it in par with the male population. The Indian
penal code has also adopted stringent measures to deal with crimes against women. Penal
punishments were incorporated for dealing with the crimes of rape, marital violence
against women, prostitution etc. The Dowry Prohibition act also provides for punishment
in giving and accepting of Dowry. Recently a bill was enacted to prevent harassment of
women in their work places.
International conventions for the protection and promotion of women rights
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
(CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an
international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines
what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action
to end such discrimination.
The Convention defines discrimination against women as “…any distinction, exclusion
or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or
nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital
status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental
freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”
By accepting the Convention, States commit themselves to undertake a series of
measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including:
To incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish
all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against
women; Establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection
of women against discrimination; and to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination
against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.
The Convention provides the basis for realizing equality between women and men
through ensuring women’s equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public
life — including the right to vote and to stand for election — as well as education, health
and employment. States parties agree to take all appropriate measures, including
legislation and temporary special measures, so that women can enjoy all their human
rights and fundamental freedoms.
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