Updated: Jul 18
About the Author:
Prof.(Dr.) Priya Sepaha
Director, Law Colloquy,
Author, Trainer, blogger, Youtuber
A woman should be taught to believe in protecting herself on her own and not to depend on a man for her protection. She has the power to protect the world and not just herself. A strong woman is the one who can dare to raise her voice for the cause she believes in and this strength lives in a corner in every woman’s heart, it just needs to be searched.
Our legal system has provided many rights and laws to protect women and keep on amending from time to time. In this write-up, I will discuss some of the key rights of the women which every woman should know.
1. Right to equality
The Constitution of India, Article 14 guarantees ‘Right to Equality’, which states that, "The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth."
2. Right to equal pay
Women are eligible to get equal pay under the laws of India according to the provisions listed under the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976. The Act prevents discrimination in terms of remuneration on the basis of sex when it comes to salary, pay or wages. Working women have the right to draw an equal salary, as compared to men.
3. Right to dignity and decency
In an event that the accused is a woman, any medical examination procedure on her must be performed by or in the presence of another woman.
4. Right against sexual harassment at the workplace
One of the very important rights of women is the provisions listed under The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2013. It provides a female with the right to file a complaint against any kind of sexual harassment at her place of work.
According to the Act, if she is facing any type of such problem, she can submit a written complaint to an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) at a branch office within a period of 3 months. This complaint further is taken up by the Local Complaints Committee (LCC) at a district level, ensuring investigations start regarding the same if proper action has not been taken against the employer. The complaint can also be filed by any of the woman's legal heirs on her behalf or any other person who has written permission given by her to make the complaint.
5. Right to complain about the demand of Dowry
The dowry system in India refers to the durable goods, cash, and real or movable property that the bride's family gives to the bridegroom, his parents, or his relatives as a condition of the marriage. In some cases, the dowry system leads to crime against women, ranging from emotional abuse and injury to even deaths. The payment of dowry has long been prohibited under specific Indian laws including the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and subsequently by Sections 304B and 498A of the Indian Penal Code. According to the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, taking or giving of dowry at the time of the marriage to the bride or the bridegroom and their family is to be penalised. The punishment could be imprisonment for a minimum of 5 years and a fine more than ₹15,000 or the value of the dowry received, whichever is higher.
6. Right against domestic violence
Due to the rampant increase of dowry death in India during the ’80s, section 498A was added to the Indian Penal Code to protect women from any domestic violence. The objective was to allow the state to intervene rapidly and prevent the murders of young girls who were unable to meet the dowry demands of their in-laws. It claims to provide protection to women against dowry-related harassment and cruelty.
According to the section 498 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, “Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. The offence is Cognizable, non-compoundable and non-bailable.”
7. Right to anonymity
The main objective of this right is to maintain the dignity of women and the reputation of the family. To ensure that her privacy is protected, a woman who has been sexually assaulted may record her statement alone before the district magistrate when the case is under trial, or in the presence of a female police officer.
8. Right to get free legal aid
The right to free legal aid covers victims of sexual assault. All female rape victims have the right to free legal aid, under the Legal Services Authorities Act or help from the Legal Services Authority who has to arrange a lawyer for her.
9. Right not to be arrested at night
There are many cases of women being harassed by the police at wee hours, but all this can be avoided if you exercise the right of being present in the police station only during daytime. “Even if there is a woman constable accompanying the officers, the police can’t arrest a woman at night. A woman cannot be arrested after sunset and before sunrise, except in an exceptional case on the orders of a first-class magistrate. Further, the law states, "The police can interrogate a woman at her residence in the presence of a woman constable and family members or friends". A woman can also not be detained at night at the police station without legal permission.
In addition, the law also states that the police can interrogate a woman at her residence only in the presence of a woman constable and family members or friends.
In case the woman has committed a serious crime, the police require in writing from the magistrate explaining the reason and urgency to arrest during the night.
10. Right to register virtual complaints
According to the guidelines issued by the Delhi Police, if, for some reason, a woman is not able to go to the police station, she can send a written complaint through an email or registered post addressed to a senior police officer of the level of Deputy Commissioner or Commissioner of Police. The officer then directs the SHO of the police station, of the area where the incident occurred, to conduct proper verification of the complainant and lodge an FIR. The police can then come over to the residence of the victim to take her statement.
11. Right against indecent representation
According to The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, a depiction of a woman's figure (her form or any body part) in any manner that is indecent, derogatory, or is likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality or morals, is a punishable offence.
12. Right against being stalked
After the 2013 amendment, Stalking under Section 354D of the IPC has been made a specific offence under this new section. If an offender follows a woman, tries to contact her to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest; or monitor the use by a woman of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication he may be punished with imprisonment of up to three years for the first time, and five years for the subsequent convictions. However, the offence is subject to certain exceptions like where a person can show that the acts done were in pursuance of some law, amounted to reasonable conduct or in order to prevention of some crime.
13. Right to Zero FIR
According to the Supreme Court ruling, to save the victim's time and prevent an offender from getting away Scot-free. An FIR that can be filed at any police station irrespective of the location where the incident occurred or a specific jurisdiction it comes under, the Zero FIR can later be moved to the Police Station in whose jurisdiction the case falls under.
14. Right to Prohibit Child Marriage
Child marriage has been an issue in India for a long time, because of its root in traditional, cultural and religious protection it has been a hard battle to fight. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 was made effective in 2007. The object of the Act is to prohibit solemnization of child marriage and connected and incidental matters. This act defines child marriage as a marriage where the groom or the bride is underage, that is, the bride is under 18 years of age or the boy is younger than 21 years.
The Act is armed with enabling provisions to prohibit for child marriage, protect and provide relief to the victim and enhance punishment for those who abet, promote or solemnize such marriage. Parents trying to marry underage girls are subject to action under this law. Since the law makes these marriages illegal, it acts as a major deterrent.
15. Right to marry under the Special Marriage Act, 1954
In India there are diverse religions and cast, therefore in family/personal law various provisions of marriage have been defined according to the religion. However, when people from different religion and foreigner want to get married they may perform under the Special Marriage Act 1954. The Act of the Parliament of India enacted to provide a special form of marriage for the people of India and all Indian nationals in foreign countries, irrespective of the religion or faith followed by either party. The Act originated from a piece of legislation proposed during the late 19th century. Marriages solemnized under the Act are not governed by personal laws.
It is not applicable to the state of Jammu and Kashmir and also extends to intending spouses who are Indian nationals and living abroad.
16. Right to dissolve her marriage
The Indian Divorce Act 1969 allows the dissolution of marriage, mutual consent, nullity of marriage, judicial separation and restitution of conjugal rights.
Family Courts are established to file, hear, and dispose of such cases.
17. Right to demand Maternity Benefit
Maternity Benefit Act, 1861 regulates the employment of women and maternity benefits mandated by law. It states that a woman employee who has worked in an organisation for a period of at least 80 days during the 12 months preceding the date of her expected delivery is entitled to receive maternity benefits, which includes maternity leave, nursing breaks, medical allowance, etc.
18. Right to Terminate Pregnancy
The Act came into effect into 1972, as amended in 1975 and 2002. The aim of the Act is to reduce the occurrence of illegal abortion and consequent maternal mortality and morbidity.
The MTP Act specifies –
who can terminate a pregnancy;
till when a pregnancy can be terminated; and
where can a pregnancy be terminated? The MTP Rules and Regulations, 2003 detail training and certification requirements for a provider and facility; and provide reporting and documentation requirements for safe and legal termination of pregnancy.
Termination of pregnancy is permitted for a broad range of conditions up to 20 weeks of gestation as detailed below:
When the continuation of the pregnancy is a risk to the life of a pregnant woman or could cause grave injury to her physical or mental health;
When there is a substantial risk that the child, if born, would be seriously handicapped due to physical or mental abnormalities;
When pregnancy is caused due to rape (presumed to cause grave injury to the mental health of the woman);
When pregnancy is caused due to failure of contraceptives used by a married woman or her husband (presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the woman).
19. Right against female foeticide
The main purpose of enacting the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994act is to ban the use of sex selection techniques after conception and prevent the misuse of a prenatal diagnostic technique for sex-selective abortions.
20. Right to an equal share in inheritance:
Women and men now have an equal share in the inheritance, thereby setting new rules and regulations, after the amendments made in 2005 to the Hindu Succession Act. The Supreme Court in the very recent judgment in 2018 held that daughters who were born before the enactment of the Hindu Succession Act 1956 are entitled to equal shares as a son in ancestral property. The ruling was rendered in an appeal filed by daughters challenging a decree in a partition suit, which excluded them from a partition.
According to Section 6 of the Act, when a coparcener dies leaving behind any female relative specified in Class I of the Schedule to the Act(which includes a daughter), his undivided interest in the Mitakshara coparcenary property would not devolve upon the surviving coparcener by survivorship but upon his heirs by intestate succession. Therefore, the interest of the deceased coparcener would devolve by intestate succession on his heirs, which included his daughters.
The Court also held that the daughters were entitled to the benefit of 2005 amendment as well, and on that basis also they were entitled to shares. It was settled in Prakash v. Phulavati (2016) 2 SCC 36 rights under the amendment are available to daughters living on the date of the amendment, irrespective of when they were born.
20. National Commission for Women Act, 1990
The National Commission for Women (NCW) is a statutory body of the Government of India, established in January 1992. Lalitha Kumaramangalam was appointed its Chairperson in 2014.
The NCW represents the rights of women in India and provides a voice for their issues and concerns. The National Commission for Women Act aims to improve the status of women and worked for their economic empowerment.