New Delhi, March 5 (High Commission of India): This International Women’s Day, as India’s women’s cricket team reaches the maiden T20 World cup final, a more silent but noticeable change is happening in India towards building a more equitable society one step at a time.
India has taken up the mantle to pass many socially progressive legislation in the last few months. The focus largely has been on vulnerable groups such as women, senior citizens and trans-genders to ensure their right to live a full and productive life with dignity and equality before law and in practice.
The principle of gender equality is already enshrined in the Indian Constitution in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles. The Indian Constitution not only grants equality to women, but also empowers the State to adopt measures of positive discrimination in favour of women.
India has been steadily making progress in the field of gender equality as more and more women are entering the field of higher education. Skilling and employment programs for women, along with micro-finance services, are reaching underprivileged rural women in distant corners of the country. Legislation to address sexual harassment, domestic violence and unequal remuneration is also being strengthened. The unique policy decision such as mandated one-third representation for women in positions of local leadership in village-level governance, equalizing land inheritance rights between sons and daughters has shown promising results. In January 2015, the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save Daughter, Educate Daughter) initiative to save and empower the girl child was introduced and is gathering momentum nationally.
With sustained economic growth, India has been able to lift more than 271 million people out of poverty between 2006 and 2016. The growth has also created more economic and decision-making opportunities for women which in turn has empowered them in making social and familial decisions such as the size of family, children’s immunization and education.
Expanding on these gains, the Indian government has passed and proposed a series of new legislation to protect and safeguard the reproductive rights of women, by dealing with matters like medical termination of pregnancy, regulations regarding assisted reproductive technology and surrogacy.
After conducting an extensive consultative process which was began in 2006 the Indian Parliament is currently debating the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) (Amendment) Bill, 2020 which will empower women with legal access to Termination of Pregnancy on the basis of self-certification. The bill also increases the term limit for termination of pregnancy for survivors of rape from 20 weeks to 24 weeks.
In February 2020, the Indian cabinet also approved the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) Regulation Bill 2020. India has become one of the major centers of this global fertility industry with reproductive medical tourism becoming a significant activity. While the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), including In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF), has given hope to a multitude of persons suffering from infertility, but it has also introduced a plethora of legal, ethical and social issues. The need to regulate the Assisted Reproductive Technology Services has mainly emerged to protect the affected Women and the Children from exploitation.
The bill makes provisions for safe and ethical practice of assisted reproductive technology services in the country. Through the bill, a National Board, State Boards, National Registry and State Registration Authorities respectively will regulate and supervise assisted reproductive technology clinics and assisted reproductive technology banks.
The donors will be supported by an insurance cover, protected from multiple embryo implantation and children born through Assisted Reproductive Technology would be provided all rights equivalent to a biological children.
The other path-breaking legislation in this field is the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2020 which proposes to regulate surrogacy in India by establishing a National Board at the central level and State Boards and Appropriate Authorities in the States and Union Territories. The Bill has been examined by the Select Committee and the report has been tabled in the Upper House of the Indian Parliament on 5th of February 2020.
The major benefit of the Act would be that it will regulate the surrogacy services in the country. While commercial surrogacy will be prohibited including sale and purchase of human embryos and gametes, ethical surrogacy to the Indian Married couple, Indian Origin Married Couple and Indian Single Woman (only widow or divorcee) will be allowed on fulfillment of certain conditions. As such, it will control unethical practices in surrogacy, prevent commercialization of surrogacy and will prohibit potential exploitation of surrogate mothers and children born through surrogacy.
Expanding the focus to other vulnerable groups groups like transgenders, the Government of India passed ‘The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019’ in India. The Bill will benefit the 4.80 lakh strong transgender community in India by seeking to mitigate stigma, discrimination and abuse against this marginalized section and bring them into the mainstream of society.
The bill ensures ‘non discrimination’ against a transgender person in educational institutions, employment, healthcare services etc and goes a step further by conferring upon the people the right to self-perceived gender identity.
The bill will make all the stakeholders responsive and accountable for upholding the principles underlying the Bill by setting up a National Council for Transgender Persons to advice, monitor and evaluate measures for the protection of their rights. More importantly, the bill provides a penalty as well as punishment in cases of offences and sexual harassment against transgender persons.
As per India’s Census of 2011, the senior citizens comprise 8.57% of the total population which will grow to 12.4% by the year 2026. To ensure their right to life with dignity the Senior Citizens Act, officially called the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, was enacted in 2007 by the Indian Parliament. This landmark legislation is now being amended to expand the rights of senior citizens and by providing for the registration of senior citizens’ care homes and home care service agencies and seeks to ensure that minimum standards are maintained at such homes.
In an attempt to bring the focus on women’s stories, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also announced that he will hand over his social media accounts (combined following of 130 million people) to “inspiring” women on International Women’s Day on Sunday 08 March 2020.