Gender equality and the emancipation of women is still an ongoing process around the world. Sexism and misogyny are still persistent, backed by cultural practices and fundamentalism. The important leverage women have is legal protection against injustice, inequality, and violence. There have been major legal developments this year that were meant to uphold women's rights.
Here are some rulings that have paved the way for the executive and the legislature to take major steps to ensure women's rights.
This year, the Supreme Court held that daughters also have equal coparcenary (joint-heirship) rights in Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) property.
As per the cultural norms, a coparcenary consists of a ‘propositus'; a person (traditionally a man) at the top of a line of descent and his three lineal descendants, sons, grandsons and great-grandsons.
In the landmark judgment in Vineeta Sharma v. Rakesh Sharma (2020) daughter steps into the coparcenary. Apex court clarified that since the right in coparcenary is by birth, father coparcener doesn’t need to be living as on 9.9.2005.
This is one of the most important judgments in favour of women's rights long-denied rights. Children can claim a deceased parents' government job on compassionate grounds.
However, Bhuvaneswari V Puranik's writ reminded how married women are excluded from gaining such rights.
In 2017, she filed for a job on compassionate grounds in the office of Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee at Kuduchi in Belagavi District but the joint director denied it.
The Joint Director argued that she was married and no longer a part of her father’s home.
In the landmark judgment, Karnataka High Court ruled that a married daughter has the same right to her deceased parent's job as a married son.
Court added that married daughters’ exclusion from the extent of the definition of ‘family’ under the Karnataka Civil Services Rules 1996, was illegal, discriminatory, and unconstitutional. Furthermore, Justice M Nagaprasanna stated how shameful it is that a daughter of the house is considered an outsider the moment she marries despite all the things bestowed upon women by nature.
This year, the Supreme Court ruled that all women army officers are eligible to be appointed in commanding roles and entitled to permanent commissions.
The Ministry of Defense through their legal defence argued how women cannot be given commanding roles because male officers will not listen to them.
The Ministry called permanent commission and commanding positions a greater challenge owing to the hazards of service “owing to their prolonged absence during pregnancy, motherhood and domestic obligations."
The SC ruled that such notions are flawed and in violation of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
The Rajasthan High Court division bench ruled in favour of a minor girl's right to abort a foetus, setting aside a regressive rule by the single judge bench that called for the unborn foetus's right to life.
The minor was raped and unfortunately conceived as a result. She filed for the right to terminate her pregnancy when the Single Judge Bench of the High Court (Rajasthan) held that the fetus in the womb has the right to life as enriched under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
However, the division bench ruled that "a woman’s right to make reproductive choices is also a dimension of ‘personal liberty’ as understood under Article 21 of the Constitution of India."
Especially in the context of those cases where she didn't consent to sexual activity or the misuse of contraception. In India, it is legal to terminate a pregnancy until 20 weeks.
The Gujarat High Court observed that the two-finger test conducted during medical examination is unconstitutional because it is an unscientific and intrusive method of physical examination.
Two-finger test, also called ‘PV’ – Per Vaginal, is a process where a medical examiner puts his or her fingers inside a woman's vagina to check if their hymen is intact or not. Absence of hymen is regarded as a sign of sexual activity.
However, this test has been slammed in several contexts.
Presence of hymen does not indicate virginity because hymen need not always break during intercourse. Added to that, the hymen can break due to other reasons like a sudden fall or activities such as cycling or horse riding. Some women are born without a hymen.
When it comes to the context of sexual assault, the court ruled that "section 155 of the Indian Evidence Act, does not allow a rape victim’s credibility to be compromised on the ground that she is “of generally immoral character."
While labeling the two-finger test as "unconstitutional", the court defined it as a violation of the "right of the victim to privacy, physical and mental integrity and dignity."
The Bombay High Court ruled that sex work is not a criminal offence, in a case against three sex workers who were detained from a women’s hostel in Uttar Pradesh.
In the case, HC ruled that adult women have the right to choose their vocation.
Under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, the sexual exploitation or abuse of a person for commercial purposes is an offence.
The Delhi High Court ruled that women cannot be coerced into a marriage they are not interested in, judging in favour of a 26-year-old woman.
Women can stay away from their parents, the court ruled. She cannot be forcefully taken away by the parents of the police. The girl was then released back to the resident of a social activist.
The Supreme Court ruled that “sexual harassment at work violates women’s fundamental right to equality, their right to live with dignity and to practise any profession.”
The court observed this while dismissing a transfer order of a woman who alleged sexual harassment committed by her senior.
The United Arab Emirates took a massive step to uphold women's rights by scrapping a law defending "honour" killings, in a major reform of the country's criminal system.
Under the law, earlier, families who committed honour killing were given lenient punishment, arguing that they were protecting their honour or acted over the same notion.
Now, honour killings will be treated the same way as murder with a prison sentence of over 20 years of life.
Denmark's legal system has reworked the definition of rape in a landmark move. Justice Minister Nick Haekkerup said that rape is defined as any sexual intercourse without consent as opposed to making it necessary for survivors to prove their attacker used violence.
The definition of rape is mostly limited to a violent act by "a stranger in the dark." Intimate partner violence is rarely addressed.
Denmark was also slammed for propagating rape culture with over 11,000 cases reported in a year.
The United Kingdom has removed or outlawed the 'rough sex defence' in its domestic abuse bill, which is also a major victory for women's rights.
Earlier men used 'rough sex' defence to get a lenient sentence in rape and murder cases or sexual intercourse that lead to the death of the woman.
The Social justice organisation, 'We Can’t Consent To This' (WCCTT), documented at least 60 dead women and several others injured in such cases.