This International Women’s Day, let’s not succumb to petty tokenism, but take a hard look at the past year where women have achieved great things, started movements and took a step towards gaining an equal footing in the Indian patriarchal society. Listed below are five positive milestones in the struggle for equal rights as they resulted in Indian society talking about issues which till then hardly managed to step into the national limelight. Topics like menstruation,which were always frowned upon, are now garnering national debate. Some of these campaigns are yet to achieve the desired results but they have started a national dialogue which is making people rethink their positions in the debate.
Women in combat roles
On 23 February, President Pranab Mukherjee announced that women will soon occupy combat roles in all sections of its army, navy and air force, indicating gender equality in one of the world’s most male-dominated professions.
“My government has approved the induction of women as short service commission officers and as fighter pilots in the Indian Air Force. In the future, my government will induct women in all the fighter streams of our armed forces," said Mukherjee
Only four countries around the world employ women in combat roles. They are United States, Israel, Germany and Australia, according to Al Jazeera.
According to a report in the Hindustan Times, the government approved an IAF plan in October 2015 making women eligible to fly warplanes from June 2017. Three women who had been training at the Air Force Academy were found suitable to fly warplanes and in the near future we can see them becoming India’s first female fighter pilots.
Government increases maternity leave in private sector to 26 weeks
Maternity leave has been an issue every would-be working mother has faced. For the longest time, women were afraid to step into work places for fear of pregnancy-related taboos. In recent times, we saw a ray of hope in form of an amendment, which gives women confidence to step into work places.
On 28 December 2015, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi, announced that the Ministry of Labour agreed to increase the maternity leave for women employed in private firms to six-and-a-half months.
According to the Maternity Benefit Act 1961, women were entitled to only 12 weeks of maternity benefits with full wages for the period of leave. Officials at the Women and Child Development Ministry were quoted saying in The Indian Express, that they will push to extend the leave to eight months or 32 weeks for women employed in both private and government sectors.
While we are glad about the announcement for maternity leaves, we can't say the same for paternity leaves. According to another report in The Indian Express, fathers with fewer than two children are allowed 15 days of fully-paid leave which can be combined with the others.
According to a report in The Guardian, since April 2015 parents in Britain enjoy 12 months of leave after the birth of the child; Sweden enjoyed that since 1974. Countries like Norway, Sweden and Iceland, have adopted a so-called daddy quota that reserves part of the parental leave period exclusively for fathers: if Dad does not take his allotted period of leave, the family loses it. We are lagging far behind the Nordic countries, but the process of catching up is on.
Practice of talaq-e-bidat
The case of the triple talaaq was in the news when Shayara Banu, a Muslim woman estranged from her husband , filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking it to declare the practices of talaaq-e-bidat (instantaneous triple talaaq), nikah halala (bar against remarriage with divorced husband without an intervening marriage with another man), and polygamy under the Muslim personal laws as illegal and violative of Articles 14, 15, 21 and 25 of the Constitution, reported India Today.
According to the report, she had been divorced by her husband by the way of triple talaaq after her family was unable to meet the demands for additional dowry.
On 29 February, 2016, the Supreme Court sought the response of the Centre on this petition where a bench of Justices Anil R Dave and AK Goel issued notice after hearing senior counsel Amit Singh and counsel Balaji Srinivasan.
Various noted scholars have said that talaq-e-bidat has no foundation in the Holy Quran but the Muslim Personal Law Board keeps insisting on the validity of the law. We are waiting for the day when this abominal law would be wiped out of existence.
Till date, many Muslim women have registered complaints of being abandoned by their husbands, especially without a legal procedure. This case is a reminder to the system for the work that needs to be done to give Muslim women a say in their own marriages. The decision to end a marriage should lie in the hands of both man and woman.
Gaining entry into the sanctum sanctorum – The Bhumata Brigade
The Bhumata Brigade led by Trupti Desai, mobilised some 150 women to enter the Trimbakeshwar temple on 7 March 2016. Campaigning against gender bias, the brigade sought to break the bar on female devotees entering the inner sanctum of the Lord Shiva temple in Nashik, according to a report by The Indian Express.
“On this auspicious day, we feel that the local administration will allow us inside the inner chamber of the temple and if we are restricted, it would be an insult to women on the eve of International Women’s Day and on the day of Maha Shivratri,” Desai was quoted saying as she left for Nashik on 7 March.
Desai had started a national dialogue on gender bias in the religious places of the country, when the brigade attempted to enter the inner chauthara at the Shani Shingnapur temple on 26 January, 2016. The brigade faced heavy opposition from the temple authorities and was stopped 70 km away from the shrine. The movement garnered a lot of support.
Soon afterwards on 28 January several Muslim women activists held placards demanding entry for females into the sanctum sanctorum of Haji Ali. On 3 February 2016, the Bombay High Court asked the Maharashtra government to give its opinion on a public interest litigation, challenging the decision of Haji Ali Trust to ban the entry of women in the sanctum sanctorum, according to a DNA report.
According to a report on indiatimes.com, there are still several religious places which restrict entry of women due to various reasons. These include Patbausi Satra in Assam, Lord Kartikeya Temple in Pushkar and Jain Temple in Ranakpur.
According to a report by India Today, the administering Travancore Devaswom Board prohibited women between 10 and 50 years (those of menstruating age) from entering the Sabarimala temple for the past half century. This customary ban has also been codified in Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965. The Kerala High Court had upheld the rules and allowed the Devaswom Board to enforce the ban.
The Right To Pray campaign has been supported by various other campaigns with similar objectives. The menstruation discussion which is usually tip-toed around has been brought to the forefront when discussing Right to Pray. Here is a campaign which is working towards normalising bleeding.
Happy To Bleed
In November 2015, to start a discussion on menstruation, a college student — 20-year-old Nikita Azad — started the movement “Happy To Bleed”. It started with a Facebook page and moved on to various social media platforms, where women started talking openly about their experiences and the stigma against menstruation.
According to a report in Firstpost, Nikita Azad first spoke up on the topic, in an open letter to the Travancore Devaswom Board president, Prayar Gopalakrishnan who had said that women could enter Sabarimala after machines are made that can scan whether a woman is menstruating or not; hence judge how pure they are. The Sabarimala shrine has historically been open to only male devotees because women experience menstruation and that is traditionally considered ‘impure’. The severe austerities and rituals that Sabarimala devotees are expected to perform before their pilgrimage cannot be performed by women because of their biology. These comments by the president sparked social media outrage A few hours after Azad started the movement, hordes of users started posting pictures of tampons and sanitary napkins with the hashtag Happy to Bleed.
The campaign which meant to normalise menstruation, acknowledged that bleeding is a natural activity and it is essential to fight against age-old practices which shame women for these acts of nature.
The campaign meant to get women talking about their bodies and their experiences. As a part of the Happy to Bleed campaign, on 16 February 2016, students moved the Supreme Court questioning the discrimination against them when it came to entering religious places.