Advancing Gender Equality in India: Constitutional Safeguards and Women's Rights

Advancing Gender Equality in India: Constitutional Safeguards and Women's Rights

Advancing Gender Equality in India: Constitutional Safeguards and Women's Rights

Women and men are like two interdependent wheels composing a harmonious entirety, akin to components of a car. Their unity yields strength, while their division results in weakness, as each possesses attributes lacking in the other, thus completing one another. In familial dynamics, women assume multifaceted roles encompassing wife, partner, organizer, administrator, director, nurturer, financier, educator, healthcare provider, artist, and sovereign, underscoring their indispensability. Moreover, women play a pivotal role in driving socioeconomic progress.

Traditionally, in India, Bharat Mata symbolizes the embodiment of every Indian mother, deserving reverence and protection. However, stark realities prevail, as discriminatory laws and practices persist, perpetuating gender disparities globally. Despite commitments to eliminate discriminatory legislation, gender inequality persists across nations, impeding the realization of human rights of women in India. Legal frameworks continue to institutionalize gender-based discrimination, manifesting in various spheres including citizenship, health, education, parental rights, inheritance, and property rights.

International human rights instruments advocate for gender equality, prohibiting sex-based discrimination, and emphasizing state obligations to enact legislative reforms. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, asserts the inherent dignity and freedom of all individuals irrespective of gender. Echoing this sentiment, the Indian Constitution enshrines gender equality, empowering the state to implement affirmative action policies to uplift women. Legislative measures aimed at ensuring gender parity underscore the state's commitment to fulfilling its constitutional obligations (for brevity “the Constitution”).

Gender equality encompasses ensuring equal opportunities, rights, and responsibilities for men and women across societal domains. Empowering women economically, socially, and politically is imperative for national development and the promotion of human rights of women in India. The Constitution, through its provisions and amendments, emphasizes gender equality and mandates affirmative action to redress historical injustices and promote women's advancement within the democratic framework. Legislative initiatives and developmental strategies aimed at women's empowerment underscore the state's commitment to fulfilling its constitutional mandate

Indian Women and the Constitution

The laws for women in India are deeply rooted in the spirits and various articles of the constitution. The Preamble encapsulates the ideals and aspirations of the Indian populace, with the pursuit of "equality of position and opportunity" among its paramount objectives. The incorporation of the equality provision within the Constitution has been instrumental in advancing this noble aim[i]. This provision mandates equality before the law and equal protection under the law, regardless of race, religion, caste, sex, or any other differentiating factor. It explicitly prohibits discrimination based on these factors, thereby ensuring equal rights for all, including men and women alike.

Beyond ensuring gender equality, the Constitution empowers the state to employ affirmative action measures to address the longstanding socio-economic, educational, and political disparities faced by women. Fundamental rights enshrined, within the Constitution, guarantee equality before the law, prohibit discrimination based on religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth, and ensure equal opportunities for all citizens in employment matters. Articles 14, 15, 15(3), 16, 39(a), 39(b), and 39(c) of the Constitution hold particular significance in upholding these principles.

The legal safeguards ensuring women's rights in Indian constitution are outlined as follows:

  • Article 15(1) prohibits discrimination based on sex against any Indian national by the state.
  • Article 15(3) empowers the state to enact gender-specific provisions, facilitating positive discrimination in favor of women.
  • Article 16(2) prohibits segregation or unsuitability for any office or employment under the state based on sex.
  • Article 23(1) prohibits human trafficking and forced labor.
  • Article 39(a) mandates the state to secure equal means of livelihood for both men and women.
  • Article 39(d) mandates equal pay for equal work for both Indian men and women.
  • Article 39(e) mandates the state to protect women workers from exploitation and ensure they are not compelled by economic necessity to engage in unsuitable occupations.
  • Article 42 mandates the state to ensure just and humane conditions of work and maternity welfare.
  • Article 51-A (e) obliges every Indian citizen to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.
  • Articles 243-D (3) and 243-D (4) reserve one-third of seats and chairperson positions in Panchayats for females.
  • Articles 243-T (3) and 243-T (4) reserve one-third of seats and chairperson positions in Municipalities for females.

In the case of the Government of Andhra Pradesh v. P. V. Vijay Kumar[ii], the Supreme Court highlighted Article 15(3) as a recognition of the longstanding socio-economic challenges faced by women in India. The Supreme Court observed that Article 15(3) aims to eliminate these disparities and empower women to achieve effective gender equality. They emphasized that creating job opportunities for women is integral to this goal, asserting that any notion suggesting otherwise would undermine the essence of Article 15(3).

The Court further emphasized the principle of equality in employment in C.B Muthamma vs. Union of India[iii], wherein discriminatory practices within the Indian Foreign Service were deemed unconstitutional under Article 16. The Court emphasized the need for equality in employment, acknowledging exceptions only where demonstrably necessary.

Similarly, in Air India vs. Nergesh Meerza[iv], the Supreme Court declared discriminatory regulations regarding air hostesses' retirement and age limits as unconstitutional, reaffirming that discrimination based solely on sex is impermissible under Articles 15(1) and 16(2). Additionally, Article 39 underscores the principle of equal pay for equal work for both men and women, forming a cornerstone of constitutional directives. This principle, though not explicitly articulated as a fundamental right, has been upheld in various judgments such as Randhir Singh vs. Union of India[v]Bhagwan Das vs. State of Haryana[vi], and R.D. Gupta vs. Lt. Governor, Delhi Administration[vii], underscoring its alignment with constitutional provisions.

Unique Indian Women's Rights

Property Rights: In many Indian families, women traditionally lack ownership of property and are often excluded from parental inheritance. Weak enforcement of protective laws further restricts their access to land and property. Despite variations based on religion and tribe, efforts towards gender equality in property rights have progressed, notably through The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act of 2005. The Hindu Succession Act of 1956 initially did not grant inheritance rights to women, yet sons held independent shares in ancestral property, while daughters' shares were contingent upon their father's share. Amendment in 2005 rectified this disparity, ensuring equal status for women. Though legislative advancements have been made, certain religious communities await similar reforms.

Equal Pay Rights: The Equal Remuneration Act, of 1976 prohibits gender-based discrimination in salary, ensuring working women receive equitable pay compared to men.

Dignity and Decency Rights: Women are guaranteed dignity and decency, particularly in legal procedures where medical examinations must be conducted in the presence of another woman if the accused is female.

Workplace Harassment Rights: The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act empowers women to report workplace harassment to an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) within three months[viii].

Domestic Violence Rights: Section 498A of the IPC safeguards wives, live-in partners, or female household members from various forms of cruelty and domestic violence, punishable by imprisonment and fines.

Free Legal Aid Rights: Female rape victims are entitled to free legal assistance under the Legal Services Authorities Act, with the Legal Services Authority arranging legal representation.

Protection from Night Arrest: Except in extraordinary circumstances authorized by a first-class magistrate, women cannot be arrested after sunset without specific protocols, including interrogation in the presence of a female constable and family members.

Virtual Complaint Rights: Women can file complaints via email or written correspondence, with police assistance provided if necessary, ensuring access to justice in cases where physical presence is challenging.

Protection from Indecent Representation: Depictions of women in any indecent or derogatory manner, likely to corrupt public morality, are punishable offenses.

Protection from Stalking: Section 354D of the IPC allows legal action against individuals who persistently follow, contact, or monitor women against their wishes.

Zero FIR Rights: Introduced by the Supreme Court[ix], Zero FIRs enable immediate filing of complaints regardless of jurisdiction, preventing offenders from evading accountability.


In conclusion, while India's cultural fabric reveres women symbolically, systemic gender disparities persist due to entrenched discriminatory laws and societal norms. Despite this, legislative reforms and judicial interventions have made significant strides in advancing gender equality. The Constitution serves as a cornerstone, embodying principles of gender parity and mandating affirmative action to rectify historical injustices.

Taking the vision and ideals of the Constitution into consideration, the legal precedents set by the judicial bodies including the Supreme Court and various High Courts of the country further bolster this commitment, emphasizing the need for job opportunities for women and condemning discriminatory practices. Specific rights, such as property sharing, equal pay, workplace harassment protection, and safeguards against domestic violence, signify progress toward gender empowerment. However, challenges remain in translating these rights into tangible improvements due to cultural barriers and implementation gaps. To address these challenges effectively, collaborative efforts across legislative, judicial, societal, and individual levels are imperative. Empowering women economically, socially, and politically is not only a matter of rights but also vital for sustainable development. Through concerted action and advocacy, and spreading awareness of women’s rights in India can realize its vision of a more inclusive and equitable society where women's rights are fully upheld, ensuring a brighter and fairer future for all.

[i] India Const. art 14.
[ii] (1995) 4 SCC 520
[iii] AIR 1979 SC 1868
[iv] AIR 1981 SC 1829
[v] AIR 1982 SC 877,881