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Gender Sensitization: Equality has no gender

By Mahalakshmi Pavani      Dec 10, 2023      0 Comments

“Gender equality includes protection from sexual harassment and right to work with dignity, which is a universally recognized basic human right…” –Vishakha vs. State of Rajasthan (1997) 6 SCC 241 (Para 10)

The pursuit of equality extends beyond the contours of the law and the courtroom. This imperative is not exempt from the hallowed halls of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, where the principles of justice and equality permeate the very fabric of the courtroom. Consequently, the tryst for social, economic, and legislative equality is more than cerebral, it trickles to the very core of people’s socialization.

The common perception of the Vishakha judgment having brought monumental change regarding the safety of women in our country Is wholly misconceived, however, the cataclysmic changes were only propelled by the plight of a young woman having been brutally raped and shroud in the repercussions of a gory gang rape. It is only then that there came about a complete overhaul of all laws pertaining to children, women and juveniles. It took India 16 long years to enact substantial amendments and bring about acts for the safety of women at workplace. Realization and concern dawned on the Parliamentarians that the women were not safe in the country.

The corridors of justice at the Supreme Court echo not only with legal deliberations but also with a commitment to creating a workplace that embodies the principles of justice, equality, and inclusivity. The same has been brought to a reality by the exemplary role and classic benchmark set up by the Supreme Court Gender Sensitization and Internal Complaints Committee (GSICC) continuously working and striving hard towards creating an atmosphere promoting equality, non-discrimination, gender sensitivity and gender inclusivity. It works to promote and facilitate measures to create a healthy and comfortable work environment that is respectful and supportive of all genders and identities, and completely free of sexual harassment.

In 2013, the Parliament passed the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.  Subsequently, the Supreme Court framed Gender Sensitization and Sexual Harassment of Women at Supreme Court (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Regulations in 2013 followed by Gender Sensitization and Sexual Harassment of Women at Supreme Court (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Guidelines, 2015 for protection of women against sexual harassment in the Supreme Court. Under clause 4(2) of The Gender Sensitization and Sexual Harassment of Women at the Supreme Court of India (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Regulations, 2013, the then Chief Justice of India, P. Sathasivam, constituted a Gender Sensitization and Internal Complaints Committee (GSICC). The GSICC was supposed to have 7-13 members including: (i) one or two judges of the Supreme Court, and (ii) up to two outside members (having experience in social justice, women empowerment, gender justice etc. among others) to be nominated by the Hon’ble CJI.  The Regulations required the majority of the members of GSICC to be women.

By general definition, the term ‘Gender sensitization’ refers to the process of raising awareness, understanding, and sensitivity about gender-related issues, roles, and inequalities. It aims to promote equality, challenges all types of stereotypes, and creates an inclusive, equitable and respectful environment for all genders. However, in many societies, unfortunately, gender biases and stereotypes have been tightly woven into the very fabric, so much so that the bigoted mindset of people, manifest into incidents of discrimination, reinforcing unequal opportunities, harassment and violence towards women and trans-persons who identify themselves as women on account steadfast resistance by them against their unsolicited overtures.

Hence, Gender Sensitization seeks to address these prominent issues by:

- Challenging the Stereotypes
- Promoting Equal Opportunities
- Preventing Discrimination and Harassment
- Encouraging Inclusive
- Language: Language plays a crucial role in reinforcing stereotypes. Gender sensitization promotes the use of inclusive language that respects and acknowledges all genders.

- It is pertinent to mention here that in August this year, a handbook on gender sensitive glossary on behalf of Supreme Court was launched by our Hon’ble Chief Justice Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, which in itself, has served as a useful judicial Torch-light for the new and upcoming generation of young judges at the district and Magistrates level. If we go through the handbook, it is a well- woven set of judicially and socially acceptable norms that Courts should be wary of while remarking orally or while writing in judgments, being mindful of not using stigmatized or colloquial terms that would be patriarchal and misogynistic in order to completely eradicate gender insensitivity. 

It is the astute judicial craftsmanship of our Chief Justice, reflecting his keen and probing sense of social understanding. This handbook is an effective attempt to extricate all forms of expressions full of misogyny, patriarchy and social stigma; hence it also acts as a guide on the language we must employ to describe and infer the experiences of (sexually) assaulted women or victims of non-sexual forms of violence.

Moreover, several additional objectives achieved by the Gender Sensitization include :-

• Fostering Empathy and Understanding: It encourages individuals to empathize with the experiences and challenges faced by people of different genders.

• Addressing Intersectionality: Gender sensitization recognizes that gender intersects with other aspects of identity, such as race, class, and sexuality, leading to unique experiences and inequalities.

• Promoting Consent and Respect: Gender sensitization teaches the importance of consent, respect, and healthy relationships leading to the creation of a safe space. It helps combat harmful attitudes and behaviours that contribute to gender-based violence.

• It must be appreciated that Dr. Sukhda Pritam, who is presently Member Secretary of GSICC under the aegis of Hon’ble Ms. Justices Hima Kohli and B.V. Nagarathna has taken commendable steps towards gender sensitization through various programmes and workshops conducted regularly from time to time. These initiatives are designed to sensitize judges, lawyers and court staff about the nuances of gender-related matters, ensuring a more informed and empathetic approach in their professional roles. Workshops often address topics such as unconscious bias, gender-based violence and the importance of diversity on the bench.

SUGGESTIONS:

Currently, there is a burning need to make people aware, propagate and consciously spread the entire idea of gender sensitization which can be promoted through various means such as Training Programs to be conducted regularly at all schools, colleges, and workplaces. We can also make an attempt to integrate gender sensitization as a subject as a part of the academic curriculum at both schools and colleges, where regular interactive workshops & seminars can be held at schools/colleges in order to educate young generation about Gender Sensitization.

Here, I suggest the SCBA & the High Court Bar Associations (HCBAs) that every new member inducted in the SCBA & the HCBAs must within a year of enrolment in the respective Bar Associations should be mandatorily made to take up and participate in these workshops which can be conducted by seasoned practicing Senior Lawyers who can give lectures/seminars for appropriate behavior in cramped places such as a Court Room and impact the norms of social interaction amongst peers.  

Another concern which I would like to flag with the Chief Justice is that gender neutral washrooms being a path-changing step, one has to then ponder over whether the contours of who can be a complainant in workplaces that have common or gender-neutral toilets which needs to be scanned on the administrative side. The Definition of Complainant needs a relook.

CONCLUSION:

Renowned British Actress Emma Watson also appointed as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, in July 2014, had stated in her UN Speech campaigning for the launch of ‘HeForShe’ Movement on 21st Sept, 2014 where she aptly mentions:-

“Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong….it is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideas. If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are, we can all be freer, and this is what HeForShe is about. 

It's about freedom. I want men to take up this mantel so that their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice, but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too, reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves.”

The Supreme Court Gender Sensitization and Internal Complaints Committee stands as a testament to the judiciary's commitment to justice, equality, and a workplace free from discrimination. It has traversed a remarkable path, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of workplace dynamics within the Indian judiciary. It has become an integral force in shaping the ethos of the Indian judiciary fostering inclusivity and respect. As it continues its journey existing as a cornerstone in the ongoing pursuit of justice, equality, and cultural transformation, it promises to remain as a dynamic and evolving institution, exemplifying the pursuit of a more inclusive and equitable legal landscape. 

One can hope that as these initiatives evolve, the committee contributes not only to the well-being of court employees but also to the credibility and integrity of the justice system, reinforcing the Supreme Court's pivotal role in shaping a just and egalitarian society.

Therefore, it is high time that we, being the responsible and active members of the legal fraternity under the wise and noble guidance of the Hon’ble Judges of the Supreme Court, High Court and District Courts need to consider, contemplate and re-evaluate the ideas/suggestions that I have tried to put forward regarding the enhancements we can incorporate in our persevering journey towards peak-perfection levels of Gender Equality, Gender Empowerment & Gender Sensitization.

Mahalakshmi Pavani
Senior Advocate
Member GSICC



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