FEMINISM: A GATEWAY TO PRO-WOMEN POLICIES

Sanchita Bera

Introduction

Every woman has the same equal legal status as that given to a man, but her legal status has largely been controlled by her social position in the society in which she lives. Law is an instrument of social change that can only equate the position of women in the society, when the message behind the legislation has been well received, understood, interpreted, and then implemented. The duty of determining the extent to which the legislation equating the position of women in the society succeeds is partially upon men, because the very notion of gender equality starts from one’s home when men treat the women at home equally and with respect. Only then there will be a change in the society, which will, in-turn, bring social transformation. The effect of pro-women policies has been tortoise-paced by many famous scholars who encouraged the patriarchic approach. For example, Aristotle viewed that male is more fitted to rule than female[1]. But there were other liberal scholars like Hegel and Rousseau who glorified tenderness and motherhood amidst women, denying them political power[2], but their writings did not show-case positive pro-women approach towards the policies of the State. H.L.A Hart’s concept of the minimum content of natural law had some scope which accommodated sympathetic response to human vulnerability, while Ronald Dworkin’s analysis of principles underpins rights, the elements of justice, fairness, and morality, rather than mere social expediency, and discernible[3]. Here both Hart and Dworkin were expanding the scope and elements of human rights in various forms, but they lacked the essence of including women within their understanding of human rights. All the elements of human rights were devoid of women’s rights. Right from the ebb of human civilization women were subjected to ill-treatment and inequality by men which were portrayed in the earlier policies of the State.

Meaning of Feminism

One meaning of Feminism is ‘the belief in full social, economic, and political equality for women’[4]. But, the term ‘feminism’ has many different uses and its meaning is often contested. For example, some writers use the term ‘feminism’ to refer to a historically specific political movement in the United States and Europe; other writers use it to refer to the belief that there are injustices against women, though there is no consensus on the exact list of these injustices[5].

Why do we need a pro-women policy?

The following are the reasons why we need pro-women policies:

  1. Women as incomplete agents in democratic participation are likely to be marginalized by male majoritarianism;
  2. Women’s subordination in a socio-legal regime should be countered by anti-subordination, interpretation, and dominance analysis; and
  3. A patriarchal social construction that makes power to dictate freedom can be tackled by empowerment as the true method of feeling women[6].

Examples of pro-women policies applicable in India

  1. Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
  2. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006
  3. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971
  4. The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961
  5. The Maternity Benefit Act, 1861
  6. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), 1979 (International Convention)

Highlighting the reasons behind the need for pro-women policies 

The Age of Enlightenment brought to center the concepts of rationality, individual choice, and equal rights and opportunities[7]. The feminist movements started challenging the patriarchal society through liberal, radical and cultural ideas. Liberal feminism believed that women and men were rights-bearing autonomous human beings with equal opportunity to make rational and self-interested choices. The core liberal feminists like Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Wendy Williams resorted to rational scrutiny analysis of gender discriminations and argued against unequal opportunities and unequal pay for women in public spheres. According to Wendy Williams, belonging to a sex is a prerequisite for the application of anti-discrimination law’s protection, and hence, the male-female classification is both discontinuous and complementary. She preferred equality based on the similarity between the sexes to special treatment based on sexual differences[8]. Here, the liberal feminists did bring the concept of equality into the realm of both public and private spheres (public sphere indicates the work-life and other life outside the premises of the house and private sphere indicates household activities performed and restricted to women), but they also believed that for the application of the concept of equality, women have to behave and act as men only then the women would enjoy the benefit of the equality theory. This has been indicated in the thought process of Wendy Williams because she believes that instead of giving special treatment to women based on their body structure, they should be treated similarly when the women stand equal to men in all spheres. The Radical feminists focus on women as a class that is dominated by another class viz. men, look to the differences between women and men that contributed to inequality, and assert for an anti-subordination approach to overcome maleness of law. Going beyond arguments of equality, they challenge the structure of society and law and deeply criticize patriarchic culture and mores. For example, they regard that the law on rape, by looking to the factor of women’s consent, undermines the reality of male aggression. Prostitution law, by avoiding only commercialization of the service of sex workers, treats women only as sex objects. Pornography law ignores the following aspects: abuse of women in the pornography production industry, treatment of women as objects of bodily pleasure, and incremental consequences of pornography on sexual crimes[9]. Here, the radical feminists are strongly opposing the patriarchal approach of society, but they seem to rule out the entire male community from the situation. The fact cannot be forgotten that although male domination has caused women to silence their voice, not all males have the same thought process, so pointing out the entire male community for the discerning life of women is not quite right. Feminist women were able to stand strong because their movement was supported by feminist men. Cultural feminists consider that women, because of their different life experiences, are more caring, more relation-conscious, and have a distinct moral vision. According to them, women’s essential connectedness with children and family members should be properly respected, and the law should support women-valued relationships. Robin West of this school of thinking viewed political and conceptual barriers as the greatest obstacle to women’s freedom. She said, “Feminist must first and foremost counter a profound power imbalance, and the way to do that is through law and politics”[10]. Here, the cultural feminists direct the cause behind women’s lack of free will upon children and family the family of every woman plays an important role in giving her rights and free will, but they forget that both the family and the society play an equal role not only the proper implementation of the pro-women policies but also allow her to enjoy equal rights that are awarded to men. Looking into the main objectives of the three types of feminists: Liberal feminists focus on the ‘theory of equality’, Radical feminists focus on the ‘domination by male class and maleness in law’ and Cultural feminists focus on ‘family and children’. Hence, to overcome these stumbles, women require pro-women policies that will support their struggle in achieving their rights and freedoms.

Conclusion

From the above discussions, the following can be concluded: Firstly, the reason behind the rise of the feminist movements was to abolish the existing discrimination and inequality faced by women both in public and private spheres. Secondly, the movements catalyzed pro-women policies, creating opportunities for women to put forward their wants and needs. Thirdly, feminism, which gave birth to pro-women policies can only be successfully implemented when the power imbalances existing in the society are removed and the division between public and private spheres is abolished. Lastly, the pro-women policies can also be triumphant when women learn to raise questions against discrimination and arouse gender justice.


[1] P. Ishwara Bhat, Law & Social Transformation 517 (Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 1st edn., 2020)

[2] P. Ishwara Bhat, Law & Social Transformation 518 (Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 1st edn., 2020)

[3] P. Ishwara Bhat, Law & Social Transformation 518 (Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 1st edn., 2020)

[4] What is Feminism? https://www.britannica.com/topic/feminism (Visited on April 10, 2021)

[5] Feminist Philosophy, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminist-philosophy/#WhatFemi (Visited on April 10, 2021)

[6] P. Ishwara Bhat, Law & Social Transformation 520-521 (Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 1st edn., 2020)

[7] P. Ishwara Bhat, Law & Social Transformation 517 (Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 1st edn., 2020)

[8] P. Ishwara Bhat, Law & Social Transformation 518 (Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 1st edn., 2020)

[9] P. Ishwara Bhat, Law & Social Transformation 519 (Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 1st edn., 2020)

[10] P. Ishwara Bhat, Law & Social Transformation 520 (Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 1st edn., 2020)

This article has been authored by Sanchita Bera, pursuing her Masters in Law at The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. Presently working as a Contributing Author at TBL.

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