Current Concerns Regarding Women: Health and Legal Implications
The article sheds light on the alarming rates of gender-based violence, emphasizing an overview of the key issues impacting women's health.
The article 'Current Concerns Regarding Women: Health and Legal Implications' sheds light on the alarming rates of gender-based violence, emphasizing an overview of the key issues impacting women's health and briefly provides the legal framework that acts as an ongoing effort to improve the position of women in various spheres.
1) The Concept of Women’s Issues
The concept of women's issues refers to the unique challenges, experiences, and inequalities faced by women in various aspects of life, including social, economic, political, and cultural domains. Women's issues are rooted in gender inequality, which manifests in different forms and affects women's rights and opportunities. Historically, women have been marginalized and discriminated against based on their gender. Some common women's issues include:
- Gender-based violence
- Economic inequality
- Reproductive rights
- Political underrepresentation
- Unequal access to education
- Stereotyping and discrimination
- Health disparities
a) Gender Role Stereotyping and Women’s Issues
Women who are treated differently due to stereotyped expectations, attitudes, or behaviours are said to be discriminating against them. Just a few illustrations
The Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Food drew attention to the stereotypes about how women should behave in the home, which frequently leads to a division of work that leaves women with insufficient time and lower levels of education.
The CEDAW Committee has noted how persistent practices including violence and coercion are a result of conventional beliefs that regard women as inferior to males.
Both the CRC and the CEDAW Committee acknowledged that harmful practices are multifaceted and include gender and sex-based stereotypes.
The investigation of cases of violence and punishment of perpetrators are supported by patriarchal notions and stereotypes that adversely affect their objectivity and impartiality, as stressed by the Special Rapporteurs on violence against women and the independence of judges and lawyers.
The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health additionally pointed out that sexual and reproductive rights are frequently restricted as a result of societal norms that are frequently based on stereotypes about the need to control women's independence, particularly with regard to sexual identity and life.
2) Women and Health
Women in India have limited access to healthcare considering the sociocultural environment there. The most important manifestation of this element has been women who come from rural areas and poor socioeconomic strata. Levels of earnings and educational background, as well as "attitudes towards marriage, age of marriage, the value associated with fertility and sex of the child, the structure of family organizations and the ideal position demanded of Women by social conventions," are all interrelated economic and sociocultural factors that have an impact on women's health. We must therefore consider the issue of women's health in light of the surrounding circumstances. In this part, we'll look at some significant aspects of women's health in India.
A) Sex-ratio and Life Expectancy
The sex ratio, or the number of women for every 1,000 men, is a key sign of the standing of women in society. According to census data, the ratio of girls to males is constantly dropping even while the number of women has climbed from 117 million in 1901 to 329 million in 1981 and 495 million in 2001. In 1901, there were 972 females for every 1,000 males, but by 1971, that number had decreased to 930. With 934 females to 1,000 males in 1981, the female sex ratio has very slightly increased. In 1991, it fell even more to 927. And it increased to 933 in 2001, a small increase.
Similar to this, although both sexes now have longer life expectancies, the disparity between them is growing. The average lifespan in 1921 was 26 years for both genders. Male life expectancy rose to 47.1 years by 1961–1971 while female life expectancy remained at 45.6 years. Women's life expectancy increased throughout the course of the decade, rising from 44.7 years in 1971 to 54.7 years in 1980.
The estimated age at birth in 1980 was 54.7 years for women and 54.1 years for males, respectively. The life expectancy between 1995 and 2000 was 64.9 for males and 61.9 for women. However, age-specific death statistics show that female children and adults have greater mortality every five years until they are 35 years old. The disparate sex ratio of newborn infants and the high female mortality rate are both contributing factors to the low female sex ratio and the poor life expectancy of women. Infant mortality, maternal death during childbirth, and early childhood neglect are the main causes of female mortality.
National Family Health Survey Data (2019-2021) indicated that there has been a rise in the overall sex-ratio having risen to 1,020 which was previously declining. Still, the sex ratio at birth is low around 929 indicating a preference for the male child.
B) Early Marriage and the Health of Women
Women's health suffers when they marry young. Many girls get married when they are still teenagers. 53.3 per cent of women who are currently married and under the age of 18 were married in 1991, according to the census. And according to the National Family Health Survey (1993–1994), 33% of women were already married by the time they turned 15. Teenage pregnancy and other physiological issues are the results. In 1981, 43 percent of females between the ages of 15 and 19 and 7 percent of girls between the ages of 10 and 14 were married (Government of India, 1988).
As a result, 50% of girls are exposed to sexual activity and reproductive processes when they are teenagers. Due to malnutrition, excessive job demands, illiteracy, and lack of knowledge about sex behaviour, these pregnant women face a high risk of death. These teenage women are responsible for 10 to 15% of all births each year. However, the majority of their infants are malnourished, underweight, and at risk of dying.
According to the National Family Health Survey, 40% of the world’s 60 million child marriages take place in India. According to the International Centre for Research on Women, India has the 14th highest rate of child marriage in the world,
C) Pregnancy and Women’s Health
In India, women have 8 to 9 pregnancies on average and spend about 80% of their reproductive years nursing their babies. According to a study, nursing women and pregnant women in the low-income category both lack 1,000 calories. Only 3-5 kilogrammes, or significantly less than the required weight, are gained during pregnancy by women in lower socioeconomic classes. In India, 15 to 20 percent of all maternal deaths are directly attributable to anaemia during pregnancy. According to the official report, there are 400 to 500 maternal deaths for every 100,000 births. However, in some rural areas, this number can reach 1,000–1,200. Again, in both rural and urban locations, deliveries were performed by untrained individuals in over 71% and 29% of cases, respectively.
Medical cessation of pregnancy services is not offered in the majority of rural locations. In addition, women are unaware of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971, which legalised abortion. As a result, incompetent individuals continue to perform illegal abortions, creating major issues with abortion-related mortality and morbidity.
India accounts for a large proportion of global maternal deaths, with many women dying from preventable causes during pregnancy and childbirth.
3) Women and Law:
One of the major issues in the women's movement has indeed been the pursuit of legal equality for women. The women's movement has been dedicated to challenging and changing these discriminatory laws and practices, advocating for equal rights, opportunities, and protections for women under the law. The key issues of child marriage, widowhood, and women's property rights were at the centre of the movements for women's rights in India during the social and religious reform movements of the nineteenth century. The Hindu Code Bill was the main topic of discussion regarding women's legal equality during the Indian Constitutional debate and the liberation war. After Independence, we entered a period of legal reform, marked by progressive, daring legislative measures that helped turn constitutional promises and guarantees into legislation and therefore helped to advance the legal status of women.
Many laws were passed during the post-Independence era with the intention of enhancing women's social position and putting an end to discrimination and oppression against them. While significant progress has been made, there are still ongoing efforts to address remaining disparities and achieve full legal equality for women. Some of the statutes of Women are below:
a) Marriage, Dowry, and Divorce:
Significant new laws and revisions to existing laws have been introduced in independent India in these areas.
The practice of polygyny, in which a man might have multiple wives at once, was very common in traditional India. Polygyny has only been progressively declining during the last few decades. For all employees of the Indian government, polygamy is prohibited. Except for Islam, all other religions' laws recognise monogamy. According to Islamic law, a husband's right to have four wives and children by those spouses is a contractual right.
Due to an increase in incidences of young married women dying and being labelled "dowry victims" during the beginning of the 1980s, several nonprofit organizations have been more concerned about speaking out against the practice of dowry. They have compelled the government to act firmly against the dowry custom. The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 was revised twice, once in 1984 and once more in 1986, to tighten its enforcement.
The court now has the authority to intervene based on its own knowledge or in response to a complaint from any recognized welfare organization under this statute. For the purpose of conducting an investigation, the offence has been made cognizable. As per Section 304-B of Dowry Death,
"Where the death of a woman is caused by any burns or bodily injury or occurs otherwise than under normal circumstances within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that soon before her death she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband for, or in connection with, any demand for dowry, such death shall be called "dowry death", and such husband or relative shall be deemed to have caused her death."
The personal laws clearly distinguish between a wife's right to divorce and a husband's right to divorce. If the woman has engaged in adultery, the husband may file for divorce in Christian law. But in order to seek a divorce, the wife must demonstrate a second offence (incest, bigamy, cruelty, or desertion) in addition to adultery. Similarly to this, Muslim law gives the husband complete discretion over whether to end the marriage.
b) Property and Inheritance:
In terms of property and inheritance, women are given a lower standing. Women have very limited ownership rights under Hindu Laws and the Indian Succession Act, 1925, which is applicable to all minority communities.
The Mitakshara and the Dayabhaga Schools, are governed by the Hindu Succession Act of 1956. Women's positions were ones of dependence and scant property rights. In 2005, parliament amended the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 to give daughters equal rights to inheritance and make them coparceners, on par with sons in a family
The son receives two-thirds of the estate, whereas the girl only receives one-third, even among Muslims. When a guy passes away and only leaves his daughter, she only receives half of his estate. The rest is given to distant relatives. Widows experience the worst. She only receives one-fourth of the estate in the case of a husband's death without children. If there are kids, she only gets an eighth.
If a spouse passes away in the Christian community without leaving a will, his widow is only entitled to one-third of his property, or Rs. 5000. The remainder is split between his sons or the brother of his father, who are his lineal male descendants. If someone passes away without any kindred but has lineal descendants, just half of his estate passes to the widow. The remainder can be claimed by distant relatives.
Additionally, among the Parsis, a son's part of his father's estate is double that of a daughter. When a woman predeceases her husband, the daughter and son receive the mother's property equally, but the daughter does not have the same rights when she inherits the father's property.
C) Work, Remuneration and Maternity Benefits
The Equal Remuneration Act of 1973 mandates that men and women receive equal pay for performing the same or similar work. Additionally prohibited by this law is sex discrimination both during and after hiring. However, the unorganized sector, where the majority of women work, is not covered by this Act.
Maternity leave is offered to women who work in factories, mines, plantations, and government and semi-government organizations under the Maternity Benefit Act of 1861. In accordance with the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act of 1970 and the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act of 1979, provisions are also provided for crèches to care for the children of women employed as contract employees.
D) Crime against Women
Women are the targets of many different types of crime. It can start even before a child is born, as well as during maturity and other life stages. Let's look at some of the significant laws passed to end crime against women.
Domestic violence is a prevalent crime against women in India, occurring across various socio-economic backgrounds. Women experience physical, emotional, and verbal abuse within their own homes. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, was enacted to provide legal protection and support to victims of domestic violence.
Sexual Assault on Women
In modern Indian society, violence against women, both within and outside the home, has been a major problem. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 1983, was updated by the Parliament in response to the increasing prevalence of violence against women. This amendment makes cruelty done by the spouse or his relatives a crime, giving legal status to domestic abuse.
Sex Determination Test
The preference for male children in certain sections of Indian society, coupled with the dowry system and cultural factors, contributed to the rise in sex determination tests. In response to this alarming trend, the Government of India enacted legislation to address the issue.
The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, commonly known as the PCPNDT Act, was passed in 1994 and amended in 2003. This law prohibits sex determination tests and regulates the use of prenatal diagnostic techniques to prevent the selective abortion of female fetuses. The PCPNDT Act also makes it illegal to advertise or promote sex determination tests.
4) Problems related to the implementation of the law
In India, a number of progressive legislations have been passed and important revisions have been made to the emancipation laws for women. However, much of the progressive legislation does not have the opportunity to be fully expressed within the context of society's current beliefs and practices. According to the CSWI research, some
"pend provisions in the law are definitely influenced by the established patriarchal system, the dominant position of the husband, and the social and economic background of women."
We have looked at how women are treated and their place in the current sociocultural environment, as well as the emergence of women's studies. The legal standing of women and their physical health are crucial modern female issues. We discussed the reasons behind women's low sex ratio as well as the health issues associated with early marriage and pregnancy in the section on women's health. We reviewed the legal status of women in relation to the different laws passed in India about marriage, dowry, divorce, inheritance, the practice of sati, violence against women, work and remuneration, and indecent representation of women's bodies in order to control all evil practices and acts that disturb the life of women.
 Contemporary Women's Issues: Health and Legal Aspects, Available Here
 Contemporary Women's Issues: Health and Legal Aspects, Available Here
 Women And Law, Available Here