Women Rights in India

28 Nov 2022  Read 19386 Views

Women in India have enjoyed respect & relevance from Vedic days, they were referred as ‘sahadharmini’, meaning “equal partner”. So, focus on women's empowerment or women's education was never absent. However, as time passed it is believed that the Indian culture got contaminated with the Muslim influence, conservative Middle Eastern and British culture, and that the power and respect which women enjoyed were lost.

To date, India has a disproportionate sex ratio, as in several parts of our country, women are still treated as an inferior group compared to men. The sex ratio at birth increased sharply in the 1980s, with 108 boys born per 100 girls due to an increase in sex determination tests, then this gap increased even further in the 1990s with 110 boys per 100 girls born, which remained static until 2010. As per the 2011 census, the disproportionate sex ratio at birth was 111 boys per 100 girls. This article discusses the history of women empowerment, the constitutional and legal rights vested in women in India.

What is the sex ratio of men and women in India?

  • If we connect religion and sex ratio, then Sikh statistics in the year 2001 were 130 boys to 100 girls, but from 2019-21 it was 110 boys. 

  • For Hindus, it was 111 boys per 100 girls in 2001 and 109 in 2019-21. For Muslims, it was 107 in 2001 and 106 in 2019-21 per 100 girls. 

  • And for Christians, it was 104 in 2001 and 103 in 2019-21. These statistics show that the Sikh community saw the largest reduction out of all religious communities in India. 

  • With women being mistreated since the time of Mahabharata, it gets more important to educate men on women's empowerment and that our Indian Constitution also places them on equal footing as men. 

Who started women empowerment in India?

The history of women empowerment does not have a fixed date; It is a cumulative process. The British era brought several improvements in ensuring women empowerment, as in the West, women were treated equally as men. Before independence, in 1847, Peary Charan Sarkar, a former student of Hindu College, Calcutta and a member of "Young Bengal" set up the first free school for girls in India in Barasat, a suburb of Calcutta, followed by Savitribai Phule, who became the first woman educator in India (she started women empowerment in India) & Raja Rammohan Roy's efforts which led to the abolition of Sati. These reforms gave women the courage to glorify. 

Women empowerment post-independence

  • The Indian National Congress was one of the first political parties of India which raised its voice to demand women's political rights in 1917.

  • After independence, women in the 1970s challenged the inequalities and broke many stereotypes.

  • A few examples of women empowerment are Sarojini Naidu (Nightingale of India), Chandramukhi Basu (one of the first two female graduates in British India), Gunjan Saxena (first woman IAF to go to war), Indira Gandhi (First woman PM of India) etc. 

  • Ultimately women empowerment was incorporated into the Indian Constitution came into effect from 1950. (Hence, constitutional and legal rights for women in India).

Constitutional Rights to Women

  • The state shall not discriminate against any citizen of India on the ground of sex [Article 15(1)].

  • The state is empowered to make any special provision for women. (affirmative discrimination favouring women) [Article 15(3)].

  • No citizen shall be discriminated against or be ineligible for any employment or office under the state on the ground of sex [Article 16(2)].

  • Traffic in human beings and forced labour are prohibited [Article 23(1)].

  • The state to secure for men and women equally the right to an adequate means of livelihood [Article 39(a)].

  • The state to secure equal pay for equal work for both Indian men and women [Article 39(d)].

  • 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 39(e)].

  • The state shall make provisions for securing just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief [Article 42].

  • It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women [Article 51-A(e)].

  • 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(3)].

  • One-third of the total number of offices of chairpersons in the Panchayats at each level shall be reserved for women [Article 243-D(4)].

  • 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(3)].

  • The offices of chairpersons in the Municipalities shall be reserved for women in such manner as the State Legislature may provide [Article 243-T(4)].

Legal Rights to Women

  • Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005) is legislation protecting women in India from all forms of domestic violence of any kind physical, sexual, mental, verbal or emotional.

  • Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (1956) is legislation for the prevention of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation for the purpose of prostitution.

  • Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act (1986) prohibits indecent representation of women through advertisements, publications, writings, paintings, figures, or any other manner.

  • Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act (1987) provides for the more effective prevention of the commission of sati and its glorification on women.

  • Dowry Prohibition Act (1961) prohibits the giving or taking dowry at or before or any time after the marriage from women.

  • Indian Penal Code (1860) also contains provisions to protect women from dowry death (S. 304B), rape (S. 375, 376), kidnapping (S. 359 to 374), cruelty (S. 498A) and other offences.

  • Maternity Benefit Act (1961) governs women's employment in certain establishments for certain periods before and after childbirth and provides for maternity benefit and certain other benefits.

  • Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (1971) provides for the termination of certain pregnancies by registered medical practitioners on humanitarian and medical grounds.

  • Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act (1994) prohibits sex selection before or after conception and prevents the misuse of pre-natal diagnostic techniques for sex determination.

  • Equal Remuneration Act (1976) provides for payment of equal remuneration to both men and women workers for same work or work of a similar nature. It also prevents discrimination on the ground of sex, against women in recruitment and service conditions.

  • Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act (1939) grants a Muslim wife the right to seek the dissolution of her marriage.

  • Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act (1986) protects the rights of Muslim women who have been divorced by or have obtained divorce from their husbands.

  • Family Courts Act (1984) provides for establishing Family Courts for speedy settlement of family disputes.

  • Code of Criminal Procedure (1973) has certain safeguards for women such as obligation of a person to maintain his wife, arrest of woman by female police and so on.

  • Indian Christian Marriage Act (1872) contain provisions relating to marriage and divorce among the Christian community.

  • Legal Services Authorities Act (1987) provides for free legal services to Indian women.

  • Hindu Marriage Act (1955) introduced monogamy and allowed divorce on certain specified grounds. It provided equal rights to Indian man and woman in respect of marriage and divorce.

  • Hindu Succession Act (1956) recognizes the right of women to inherit parental property equally with men.

  • Minimum Wages Act (1948) does not allow discrimination between male and female workers or different minimum wages for them.

  • Mines Act (1952) and Factories Act (1948) prohibits women's employment between 7 P.M. to 6 A.M. in mines and factories and provides for their safety and welfare.

  • Other legislations safeguarding women’s rights:

    • Employees’ State Insurance Act (1948)

    • Plantation Labour Act (1951)

    • Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act (1976)

    • Legal Practitioners (Women) Act (1923)

    • Indian Succession Act (1925)

    • Indian Divorce Act (1869)

    • Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act (1936)

    • Special Marriage Act (1954)

    • Foreign Marriage Act (1969)

    • Indian Evidence Act (1872)

    • Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act (1956)

  • National Commission for Women Act (1990) established a National Commission for Women to study and monitor all matters relating to the constitutional and legal rights and safeguards of women.

  • Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal). Act (2013) protects women from sexual harassment at all workplaces both in the public and private sector, whether organised or unorganized.

Cases on rights of women

  1. Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma (2020)

SC ensured that the rights of women in the Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) are protected & that the daughters in a HUF shall have equal coparcenary rights (birthright in ancestral property). This is irrespective of the fact that the daughters were born before the amendment done to the Hindu Succession Act in 2005.

  1. Shayara Bano v. Union of India (2017)

The SC established a 5-Judge Constitution Bench in 2017, to hear the case. The Bench considered the case from May 11 to May 19, 2017 & the majority of the 3:2 vote held that the talaq-e-biddat custom was "manifestly arbitrary" and unlawful. Justice Nazeer and Chief Justice Khehar dissented on the grounds that the Right to Religion protected talaq-e-biddat and that Parliament should have drafted legislation to control the practice.

  1. The Secretary, Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya (2020)

In this case, the Supreme Court granted a permanent commission to the women in the Indian Armed Forces. Permanent commission means a career in the armed forces till retirement whereas; in short service commission, the army permits 10-year service with an option of a 4-year extension. Under Agnipath, Agniveer recruits will serve for 4 years. After this case, women now are eligible for ranks, benefits, pension, and other schemes in the forces provided to the male officers.

  1. Mackinnon Mackenzie v. Audrey D’costa (1987)

The Supreme Court in this case delivered its first judgment on the Equal Remuneration Act. The respondent had alleged lower pay than her male colleagues by her company.


If we dream of India becoming a superpower and developing, it is significant that we first treat women equally. Our government is constantly working to make India more suitable for women to ensure them equal opportunities and growth. Therefore, the SC has also made it mandatory to provide admission to the National defence academy for women or Permanent Commission in the army. So many criminal law amendments were made to ensure stringent punishments to the offenders committing crimes against women. The Indian government also declared that Military schools also will be available for women from now onwards.So, just like these steps, more initiatives are being taken to boost women empowerment in India.

About the Author: Kakoli Nath | 230 Post(s)

Kakoli Nath is a legal Content Manager at Finology Legal who pursued BBA.LL.B (5 years integrated course). She is a patent analyst & had also done advanced certification in Forensics Psychology and Criminal Profiling from IFS, Pune.

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