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News: There is a burgeoning movement for gender inclusivity during the past few years. In solidarity, citizens have begun asserting their gender identity by specifying their personal pronouns (she/her, he/his, they/them, etc.). This trend has been, in fact, reflected in the context of Indian Parliament.
Role of Women in the Struggle for Indian Independence and in the Post Independent India
Thousands of women across profession, class, caste, and religion participated in the struggle for India’s Independence.
At a time when women formed only 1.7% of the total members of the United States Congress and 1.1% of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, India was leading the way in the fight towards more inclusive world democracies with 5.5% women representation.
India has also seen a woman as the Prime Minister, and a woman as the President of India
What are the gender issues in the Parliament of India?
There are systemic issues due to which the Parliament of India continues to alienate women.
The number of women representatives is still considerably small. Further, the Parliament as a workspace continues to be built exclusively for men.
There is a lack of gender-neutral language in the Parliament of India. The Parliament refers to women in leadership positions as Chairmen instead of chairperson. For example, the Vice-President of India is referred as the ex-officio Chairman, as per the rules of procedure of Rajya Sabha.
In law-making, there have hardly been any gender-neutral Acts. For example, women in profession like policing are referred to as policemen.
Most of the ministerial replies to questions asked by the Women Parliamentarians are given with the use of the salutation “Sir” instead of (sir/madam).
What are the trends of gender-neutrality in the law making bodies in India and across the world?
Internationally, even mature democracies that legalised universal suffrage after India, such as Canada (1960 for Aboriginal women), Australia (1962 for Indigenous women), and the United States (1965 for women of African-American descent), have successfully adopted a framework for gender-inclusive legislation and communication.
In 2014, the Rules of Procedure of the Lok Sabha were amended to make it entirely gender neutral. Since then, each Lok Sabha Committee Head has been referred to as Chairperson in all documents.
When Parliament and government offices reinforce gender biases through stereotypical language in their communication. It sends the wrong message to the people of India.
The Supreme Court judgment in National Legal Services Authority vs Union of India , 2014, has given impetus to gender identity and has given the movement greater impetus.
There should be political will to amend legal documents to make them inclusive for all genders.
In the 21st century, the Indian Parliament needs to send the right message for citizens to follow. It can begin with an amendment to the Constitution and the entire reservoir of laws. Thereafter, the Parliament can shift its focus on other deeper issues like women empowerment, aspirations and growth of its woman workforce etc.
The Parliament must lead to sensitivity, equal treatment, and appreciation for the people of India, regardless of gender
The Indian Parliament can conduct gender audits. For example, in 2018, the U.K. Parliament conducted a gender audit to understand its culture, environment, and policies as a workspace.
Source: The post is based on an article “A man’s Parliament striving for an inclusive India” published in the “The Hindu” on 18th June 2022.