Understanding women under ‘laws’

Understanding women under ‘laws’ – A comprehensive analysis for UPSC Civil Service Examination


Women are said to be the ultimate strength and support behind the success of an individual. But, there are a lot of discriminations and differentiations in the name of gender. Women empowerment in developed countries is far better than in developing and underdeveloped countries. In western countries, the right to vote for women was extended gradually. For example, in the USA women got voting rights in 1920, 1928 in Britain, 1936 in USSR, 1945 in France, 1948 in Italy and 1971 in Switzerland. Globally, one in four girls does not attend secondary school and one in five girls is married before her 18th birthday. At the current pace, it will take more than 100 years to reach global gender equality. This topic is important to UPSC civil service exam as it is related to Mains GS2.

Subject wise insight for UPSC civil service exam (Prelims and mains)

Mains GS2 – Governance, Indian Constitution, Polity, Social Justice.

Women in India

The situation of women is not so great in developing countries like India, where some cases of harmful patriarchal traditions, including child marriage and female genital mutilation, take place. Women constitute about 49% of India’s population. India earns the moniker of the youngest nation in the world; however, a substantial proportion of women and children lag on many social indicators like health, education, economic opportunities, which place them at a vulnerable position. To uplift the dignity of the women, whose identity and sufferings are hidden under the roof, several laws are created and implemented. Let us see India’s approach to the development of women.

National Commission for Women

The National Commission for Women was constituted on 31st January 1992 at national level under the National Commission for Women Act, 1990. The main aim of this commission is to safeguard and promote the rights and interests of women. The Commission also constituted Expert Committees to study various relevant issues such as the ‘Prevention Protection of Women from (Publicly Dehumanizing and Stigmatizing) Atrocities Bill, 2014’, ‘Violence against Women of Minority Communities in India’, ‘Social, Economic and Political Empowerment of Women in the North East States’ and ‘Discrimination faced by Dalit Women and Suggested Action Plan’.

NCW had initiated a pilot project, ‘Save Home, Save Family’ with Delhi police in 2008. This project is intended to support police personnel at the police station level to enable them to deal with women issues effectively. Phase II of the project has been initiated in March 2009 for setting up three special cells for women and children in Delhi. The project order was renamed as ‘Violence Free Home- a Women’s Right’ on 14 March 2012.

The functioning of the Commission is divided into six cells. They are

  1. Complaint and investigation cell
  2. Research and studies cell
  3. Legal cell
  4. NRI cell
  5. Public relations cell
  6. North East cell

NCW’s project with TISS

The National Commission for Women, in collaboration with Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and Delhi Police, had started a project to empower women and also to help women survivors of violence in both public and private life. The project entails the placement of trained social workers for providing psycho-legal services for women aggrieved by violence at all District Headquarters. At present, 24 social workers have been appointed at the district level. They are located in Crime Against Women (CAW) cells of Delhi Police. The progress of the work of these cells is reviewed by the Commission and Delhi Police jointly.

The project is now being replicated in 22 districts in seven states (Bihar, Assam, Meghalaya, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Tamil Nadu) on a pilot basis. This will promote the support mechanism for women victims of domestic violence and create a systematic grievance redressal mechanism within the police/criminal justice system. Memorandum of Understanding between the National Commission for Women and Tata Institute of Social Sciences for the project in 7 States has been extended up till 31st March 2021.

During 2019-20, the 15 Crime Against Women Cells in each Police District of Delhi were inspected by Members of the Commission. The Commission, in its endeavour to facilitate and ensure immediate relief to women subjected to acid attacks, continued monitoring of the cases of the acid attack, including payment of compensation to the victims in different parts of the Country.


Committee on Empowerment of Women

This committee was constituted in 1997 and consists of 30 members (20 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha). It considers the reports of the National Commission for Women and examines the measures taken by the Union Government to secure status, dignity and equality for women in all fields.

Gadgil Committee

The Committee on Policy and Programmes was constituted in 1988 under the chairmanship of V.N. Gadgil. This committee recommended for the  Reservation for women to make the panchayat raj institutions very effective. This act provides for the reservation of not less than one-third of the total number of seats for women. Further, not less than one-third of the total number of offices of chairpersons in the panchayats at each level shall be reserved for women. Reservation of one-third seats (both members and chairpersons) for women in panchayats at all the three levels was made as a compulsory provision.

Constitutional Provisions for Women and Children

  • Article 14 – Guarantees equality before the law as well as equal protection of the law to all.
  • Article 15 – The State shall not discriminate against any citizen and this article allows the State for making any special provision for women and children.
  • Article 15(1) – Prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex etc.
  • Article 15(3) – Special provision enabling the State to make affirmative discriminations in favour of women.
  • Article 16 – Guarantees equality of opportunity in matters of public employment and that no citizen shall be discriminated against in matters of public employment on the grounds only of sex, religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, place of residence or any of them.
  • Article 21A -The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age 6-14 years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine.
  • Article 24 – No child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment.
  • Article 39(a) – The State shall direct its policy towards securing all citizens men and women, equally, the right to means of livelihood.
  • Article 39(d) – Equal pay for equal work for both men and women.
  • Article 39(e) – Enjoins the State to ensure that the health and strength of workers, men and women and the tender age of children are not abused and that the citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength.
  • Article 39(f) – Enjoins the State to ensure that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and conditions of freedom and dignity and that the childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and moral and material abandonment.
  • Article 42 – The State shall make provisions for ensuring just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief.
  • Article 45 – The State shall endeavour to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years.
  • Article 46 – Directs the State to promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people and to protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation
  • Article 47 – Directs the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people
  • Article 51 (A) (e) – Protect the dignity of women by stating that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women and also makes it the duty of every citizen of India to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.
  • Article 243 G –  Provides for the institutionalization of child care by seeking to entrust programmes of women and child development to Panchayat (item 25 of Schedule 11), apart from education (item 17), family welfare (item 25), health and sanitation (item 23) and other items with a bearing on the welfare of children.
  • Article 243 (D) (3) & (T) (3) – Guarantees reservation of not less than one-third (including the number of seats reserved for women belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes) of the total number of seats to be filled by direct election in every Panchayat/Municipality for women and such seats to be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in a Panchayat/Municipality.
  • Article 243 (D) (4) – Guarantees reservation of not less than one-third of the total number of offices of Chairpersons in the Panchayats at each level for women.
  • Article 243 (T) (4) – Guarantees reservation of offices of Chairpersons in Municipalities for the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and women in such manner as the legislature of a State may by law provide.

Acts for the protection and development of women

  • By 73rd and 74th amendment act of 1992 Panchayati Raj system was established in India. This system gave grass-root level democracy. Rural women were not getting their due share in the development process. Social and political backwardness prevented them from taking part in decision-making but these amendments made provision for one third, reservation for women.
  • The Maternity Benefit Act  (1961) and the Equal Remuneration Act (1976) have been made to protect the interests of women workers.

Women-specific Legislation

The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956
  • The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 makes trafficking and sexual exploitation of persons for the commercial purpose, a punishable offence. This Act was signed in New York on 9th May 1950, for the prevention of immoral traffic. But it was enacted by the Parliament in the seventh year of the Republic of India.
  • The Act was amended twice in 1978 and 1986. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2006 aims to punish traffickers and provide for stringent punishment to offenders.
  • According to this act, anyone who recruits or transfers a person for prostitution by means such as threat, coercion or abuse of power commits the offence of “trafficking in persons”.
  • Practising prostitution within 200 m of any public place is illegal. It penalises any person visiting a brothel for the sexual exploitation of trafficked victims.
  • Trafficking in persons is punishable on first conviction with rigorous imprisonment for a minimum of seven years. On subsequent conviction, the offender would be imprisoned for life.
  • A special police officer, not below the rank of Sub-Inspector, shall be appointed to deal with offences under the Act.
The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (Amended in 1986)
  • In ancient times, the varadakshina (dowry) was offered out of affection and did not constitute any kind of compulsion or consideration for the marriage. But in course of time, it became a coercive element and it led to various social problems. To solve this issue, on 24th April 1959 the Dowry Prohibition Bill, 1959 was introduced in the Lok Sabha.
  • It was enacted by Parliament in the twelfth year of the Republic of India. The Dowry Prohibition Bill was passed in the Joint Sittings of both the Houses of Parliament and it became an Act – The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (28 of 1961) and it received the assent of the President on 20th May 1961. This act was amended in 1984 and 1986.
  • In this Act, “dowry” means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly at, before or after the time of the marriage.
  • If any person, after the commencement of this Act, gives or takes dowry, he shall be punishable with imprisonment not less than five years, and with fine which shall not be less than fifteen thousand rupees or the amount of the value of the dowry.
  • If any person demands dowry, he shall be punishable with imprisonment not less than six months, but which may extend to two years and with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees.
  • The State Government may appoint as many Dowry Prohibition Officers to prevent, protect women from this issue.
The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986
  • The Indecent Representation of Women Act, 1986 was enacted with the specific objective of prohibiting the indecent representation of women through advertisements, publications, writings, paintings, figures or in any other manner. It also prohibits selling, distribution, circulation of any books, pamphlets, and such other material containing indecent representation of women.
  • It was enacted by Parliament in the thirty-seventh year of the Republic of India.
  • Any person who indecently represents women shall be punishable with imprisonment for 5 years (maximum) and with a fine of ten thousand rupees, which may extend to one lakh rupees.
  • Any Gazetted Officer authorised by the State Government can examine, seize any advertisement or any book, pamphlet, paper, slide film, writing, drawing, painting, photograph, representation or figure which he has reason to believe contravenes any of the provisions of this Act.
The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987
  • Sati or the burning or burying alive of widows or women is revolting to the feelings of human nature and is nowhere enjoined by any of the religions of India as an imperative duty and it is necessary to take more effective measures to prevent the commission of sati and its glorification.
  • The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 was enacted by Parliament in the thirty-eighth year of the Republic of India.
  • Whoever attempts to commit sati shall be punishable with imprisonment for six months or with fine or with both. If any person commits sati, whoever abets the commission of such sati, either directly or indirectly, shall be punishable with death or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.
  • The State Government shall constitute one or more Special Courts for the trial of offences under this Act and every Special Court shall exercise jurisdiction in respect of the whole or such part of the State as may be specified in the notification.
Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005
  • Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA), 2005 is the key legislation of the violence occurring within the private space of the home. It was enacted by Parliament in the fifty-sixth year of the Republic of India.
  • Violence includes harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well-being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse.
  • The objective of the law is to prevent violence and provide immediate and emergency relief in case of such situations irrespective of the status of a woman’s relationship with the respondent. The Act recognises women’s right to live free from violence within the private space of their home.
  • The aggrieved person has the right to file a complaint under section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), wherever relevant and the right to get free legal services under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 (39 of 1987).
  • The State Government shall appoint several Protection Officers in each district
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (PREVENTION, PROHIBITION and REDRESSAL) Act, 2013
  • The Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 was enacted to ensure safe working spaces for women and to build an enabling environment that respects women’s right of equality of status and opportunity.
  • It was enacted by Parliament in the sixty-fourth year of the Republic of India.
  • According to this Act, no woman shall be subjected to sexual harassment at any workplace. The Act covers all women, irrespective of their age or employment status and protects them against sexual harassment at all workplaces whether organised or unorganised. Students, apprentices, labourers, domestic workers and even women visiting an office or a workplace are included in the Act.
  • To ensure the effective implementation of the Act, the Ministry has developed an online complaint management system titled Sexual Harassment electronic–Box (SHeBox), which provides an online platform to every woman for registration of complaints related to sexual harassment at workplace. This portal is an effort to provide a speedier remedy to women facing sexual harassment at the workplace.
  • During the pendency of an inquiry on a written request made by the aggrieved woman, the Internal Committee or the Local Committee, as the case may be, may recommend to the employer to (I)transfer the aggrieved woman or the respondent to any other workplace; or (ii) grant leave to the aggrieved woman up to three months; or (iii) grant such other relief to the aggrieved woman a may be prescribed.

Vishaka guidelines

Vishakha guidelines 1997 was formed by the Supreme Court and subsequently Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 and other laws have been enacted which are currently available for sexual harassment. Before 1997, a person facing sexual harassment at the workplace had to complain under section 354 of the Indian penal code 1860 that deals with criminal assault of woman to outrage women’s modesty’, and section 509 that punishes an individual/individuals for using a ‘word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman.

In 1990s, Rajasthan state government employee Banwari Devi, who tried to prevent a child marriage, was raped by the landlords of the Gujjar community. The rape survivor did not get justice from Rajasthan high court and the rapist was allowed to go free. This enraged women’s right group called ‘vishaka’ that filed year public interest litigation in the supreme court of India. This brought to the attention of the supreme court of India.

Vishaka vs the State of Rajasthan

In 1997, the Supreme Court passed a landmark judgement in the same Vishaka case laying down guidelines to be followed by establishments in dealing with complaints about sexual harassment. The court stated that these guidelines were to be implemented until legislation is passed to deal with the issue. The court decided that the consideration of international conventions and norms are significant for the interpretation of the guarantee of gender equality, right to work with human dignity in Article 14, 15, 19 (1)(g), 21 of the constitution and the safeguards against sexual harassment implicit therein.


It stated that rules and regulations related to contact of different Government and public sector should include rules prohibiting sexual harassment and provide for appropriate penalties in case of offences. The guidelines define sexual harassment as

  • Physical contact and advances
  • Demand for the request for sexual favours
  • Sexually coloured remarks
  • Showing pornography
  • Any other unwelcomed physical
  • Verbal and nonverbal contact of sexual nature
Rules governing women in prison

As per the State list provided in the Seventh Schedule of Indian Constitution, all issues related to prisons, reformatories, borstal institutions and other institutions of a like nature, and persons detained therein; arrangements with other States for the use of prisons and other institutions come under the domain of State Governments. The rules of incarceration are determined by following laws

  • Indian Penal Code, 1860
  • Prison Act, 1894
  • Prisoner’s Act, 1900
  • Identification of Prisoner’s Act, 1920
  • Exchange of Prisoner’s Act, 1948
  • Transfer of Prisoner’s Act, 1950
  • Prisoner (Attendance in Court) Act, 1955
  • Probation of Offenders Act, 1958
  • Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
  • Repatriation of Prisoner’s Act, 2003Model Prison Manual, 2003
  • Model Prison Manual, 2016
  • Empowerment of women is one of the highlights of Millennium Development Goals
Gender budgeting

Despite these gains, women still face several challenges. This can be seen particularly for women belonging to deprived and marginalized groups. To address these challenges and to promote mainstreaming of gender issues, India adopted Gender Budgeting in 2005-06 as a powerful tool to ensure that barriers to development were identified and addressed through policy and budgetary interventions. This came with the recognition that how Government budgets allocate resources has the potential to improve gender inequalities. Since then, Gender Budgeting (GB) has emerged as a strategy to ensure that public investments translate into better outcomes for women and girls. GB initiatives facilitate coherence between planning, budgeting and gender equality goals by intervening across the planning and budgeting cycle. The Government of India has been a pioneer in adopting GB at the National, State and Panchayat levels.

In 2005-06, the Ministry of Women and Child Development adopted ‘Budgeting for  Gender Equity’ as a Mission Statement. Since then, the Ministry as the nodal agency for Gender Budgeting has carried out various initiatives on gender-responsive planning and budgeting across the country.

Cyber Crime Prevention against Women and Children (CCPWC)

The Government of India is implementing a scheme, namely Cyber Crime Prevention against Women and Children (CCPWC) with a total outlay of Rs. 224.76 crore. A National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal ( was launched on 20th September 2018, which allowed citizens to report online content about Child Pornography/Child Sexual Abuse Material or sexually explicit content such as Rape/Gang-Rape Content. In consultation with the stakeholders, a revamped portal has been launched on 30th August 2019 to enable citizens to report all types of cybercrimes with special focus on cyber crimes against women and children.


Cyber security for women and childred

Other related Schemes
  • Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme
  • One-Stop Centre Scheme
  • Women Helpline Scheme
  • UJJAWALA: A Comprehensive Scheme for Prevention of trafficking and Rescue, Rehabilitation and Re-integration of Victims of Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation
  • Working Women Hospital
  • SWADHAR Greh (A Scheme for Women in Difficult Circumstances)
  • Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women (STEP)
  • Mahila E-haat
  • Mahila Shakti Kendras (MSK)
  • Mahila Police Volunteers

Mains GS2 – Governance, Polity and International relations

Sustainable Development Goals


The issue of gender equality has taken a center stage in the agenda for the development of our country. This is reflected through the set of goals and targets of Sustainable Development Goals, officially known as ‘Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ which came into effect from 1st January 2016. It consists of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 associated targets which are spread over the areas of social, economic and environmental dimensions of development. The Ministry of Women and Child Development is concerned with the SDGs in respect of empowerment of women and development of children.

SDG in India

The NITI Aayog has been entrusted with the responsibility of national targets and assigning them to Ministries/Dept. concerned for implementation. To monitor the SDG and its associated targets, a National Indicator Framework (NIF) comprising of 306 indicators has been developed by Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) in consultation with other Central Ministry/Departments, States and other stakeholders such as UN Agencies and Civil Society. In this regard, the Ministry of Women and Child Development is concerned with the National Indicators on SDG-1 ‘End Poverty in all its form everywhere’, SDG-2 ‘to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition, and double agricultural productivity in the next 15 years’ and SDG-5 ‘Achieve Gender equality and empower all women and children.

Gender Justice and Equality—Failures
  1. The regional disparities in life expectancy are indicated by the fact that a woman born in Kerala can expect to live 18 years longer than one born in Madhya Pradesh.
  2. In most countries, life expectancy among women exceeds that of men by about 5 years. In all but a few countries of the world, there are typically 1005 women for every 1000 men. Men outnumber women only in societies where women are specifically and systematically discriminated. In India, there are only 933 women for every 1000 men. This is the phenomenon of ‘missing’ women.
  3. Overall representation of women in public services is just 4.9 per cent.
  4. Political participation of women indicates that in 1952 there were only 22 women in Lok Sabha against 499 seats (4.41 per cent). In 1991, this increased to 49 seats as against 544 seats (9.02 per cent).
  5. Between 1995-2000, out of 503 judges of the High Court, only 15 were women.

Justice and equality for women



Guidelines for women empowerment
  • Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
  • Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
  • Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate.
  • Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.
  • Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed under the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences.
  • Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, by national laws.
  • Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women.
  • Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels

By various constitutional and legal provisions, committees, policies, programmes and schemes, we can conclude that illiteracy of women has decreased and their leadership skills have developed. They are coming out of the four walls and playing a decisive role in the development of the country. They have started to demand reservation in parliament. Nowadays, women have become more aware of their rights and gender bias is reducing gradually.   

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