Throwback 2018: Here's how the year was 'For The Women'

Whether it is about the Me Too movement or policy changes, the year 2018 has seen a remarkable upsurge in empowering women across India

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With women in huge numbers coming forward and starting the ‘Me Too’ wave, 2018 has remarkably been the ‘Year of Women’. But it isn’t so just because of the movement that got everybody talking. Women from all walks of life have contributed their bit in driving a mindset change in a patriarchal society. Even some policy changes on the national as well as on the global level have been a lot about women. With feminism and gender equality driving conversations, the year rightfully deserves the title. 

Here are the highlights that would interest any feminist: 


#MeToo: Through a trend adopted from a campaign in the US in 2017, India has seen a lot of women coming forward and finally talking about sexual misconduct in the past one year. The movement picked up some momentum in the latter half of 2018 when Tanushree Dutta went public with an incident which happened 10 years ago, exposing Nana Patekar. This further led to a lot of women coming forward to talk about the beasts in the Bollywood industry and exposing some other prominent names in India. Vikas Bahl from Phantom films, Utsav Chakraborty from All India Bakchod (AIB), Sajid Khan, Alok Nath, Anu Malik and many others shocked the masses with the allegations against them. Another shocker was when India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, MJ Akbar, was accused by at least 10 women for scandalous reasons.
This started the ‘Me Too’ movement in India, where women from all age groups and even quite a few men collectively came forward in support of feminism and took to social media to share their stories and support each other. This was the biggest trend that took over social media in 2018. 

It has been remarkable to see them driving conversations about a topic most women shied away from till now because of social unacceptability and the judgemental eyes of the society, highly skewed towards a more patriarchal outlook.
But, now that we have started talking, what’s next?

The Global Impact: 

In November 2017, the World Economic Forum (WEF) had declared that it will take 217 years to bridge the economic gender gap. They had also mentioned that the need to bridge the economic gender inequality has emerged to be a major concern quite recently and that it is now more urgent than it has been a decade ago.
Ahead of the next annual meeting, WEF called 2018 as ‘The Year For Women To Thrive’ and challenged member countries to increase the participation of women in their labour forces, equivalent to that of men. Gender parity was expected to up the game for India’s GDP by 27%.

Another domain in which 2018 has impacted women globally is financial inclusion.
Rajasthan is the best example to universal financial inclusion for women with the Bhamashah ID system. It requires any family seeking access to welfare services to name a woman as head of the household and have her open a bank account.

From bitcoin technology to mobile banking systems, there has been major implications for the women in India, with UN Women implementing five-point strategic plan for 2018-2021. It ensured that women have “income security, decent work and economic autonomy.” Part of the agenda was also to support member states in increasing women’s access to digital education and training.


Triple Talaq:

2018 also witnessed a lot of hue and cry around Triple Talaq, with the Supreme Court criminalising the practice. The ordinance was passed by the Union Cabinet in September 2018.

President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to make instant Triple Talaq a punishable offence.  This gathered mixed responses. Where several Muslim women came forward opposing the patriarchal practice and seemed happy with the move, All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) didn’t take it up very positively. The Parliament is now to pass the bill in the next 6 months. 

For the latest developments, a fresh bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 17, 2018 to make Triple Talaq a penal offence. No sooner than the bill was tabled, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) claimed that the motive behind the move is politically driven and is not to safeguard the rights of the Muslim women. They have further demanded the bill to be sent to a select committee, and that they should hear out the opinions of the Muslim community on it. 

It was on December 27, 2018 that the reworked bill was passed in the Lok Sabha. Some stringent provisions were compromised with in the legislation. However, the opposition, who wanted the bill to go through a select committee, was not quite convinced.
The Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad mentioned that the bill should not be seen through the "prism of politics" but humanity.


Sabrimala Verdict:
Another topic that drew a lot of attention in 2018 was Kerala’s Sabrimala temple. After the long standing controversy over the entry of women inside the temple, the Supreme Court verdict finally favoured women, allowing them to enter the premises.
A five-judge bench of the Court, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, with a 4:1 verdict, mentioned that banning entry of women in the temple is sheer discrimination on the grounds of gender and violates the rights of Hindu women.

Four judges on the bench ruled in favour of lifting the ban on women entering the Sabarimala temple. The verdict allowed women from the age group 10 to 50 years to offer prayers in the temple. 

However, there exists a different school of thought, questioning the desire of the women to go to the temple. Delving a little deeper in mythology, the devotees (both men and women) argue that the females keep out of the temple in order to protect the deity’s (Lord Ayyappa) celibacy. They say that the ban on women's entry in the temple had a more mythological and historical context rather than gender discrimination. 

Whether to celebrate the verdict or not is now a personal choice. But, what we cannot ignore is the rising consciousness towards gender equality. 

But as the debate goes on, a socio-religious trust recently asked women of menstrual age to refrain from visiting the Lord Ayyappa Temple to cater to the  interests of the followers and ensure societal harmony. So, despite the verdict, the society has a long way to go to not succumb to gender biases. 


Rape Laws Ordinance (for the minors):

After the outrage the nation saw over the the Kathua rape case, where an eight year old minor was brutally raped and murdered, the Union Cabinet cleared an ordinance allowing courts to pronounce death penalty for the guilty convicted for raping children within 12 years of age. 

It seeks to amend the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Evidence Act, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Protection Of Children From Sexual Offences (POCSO). This is to introduce a new provision to provide capital punishment to the rapists. 

With the constant rise in the rape cases in India, it was high time for the Government to make a strong move against those accused. Although India has a long way to go to ensure safety of women and little girls, this can be seen as a start. 


Striking down the Adultery Law: 

Under the colonial-era Adultery Law, a woman involved in an extramarital affair could not be punished but a man who has consensual sexual intercourse with the wife of another man without his consent was liable to be punished. The law was struck down by the Supreme Court as ‘it treats the husband as the master’ and women like the property of their husbands. However, Adultery still calls for an apt ground for a divorce, irrespective of one’s gender.  

The Modi Government had supported the colonial-era law on the grounds that it preserved the sanctity of marriage and served a public good.
“Protecting marriage is the responsibility of the couple involved. If one of them fails, there is a civil remedy (divorce law) available to the other. Where is the question of ‘public good’ in a broken marriage?” asked Dipak Misra (Chief Justice Of India) during the hearings.

The Central Government was also open to making the law gender-neutral by allowing a woman’s prosecution for having sex with a married man. However, SC has refused persistently to allow the prosecution of women.


Section 377 Verdict: 

Another major thing that made a mark in the year 2018 was decriminalising gay sex and extending support to the LGBTQ community, safeguarding their rights and freedom of choice. 

Although this was not specifically focused towards uplifting woman, we cannot ignore how the verdict impacted all the genders. 
"LGBT Community has same rights as of any ordinary citizen. Respect for individual choice is the essence of liberty; LGBTQ community possesses equal rights under the constitution. Criminalising gay sex is irrational and indefensible," mentioned Chief Justice Dipak Misra, who headed the bench with the five judges hearing this case. 

The Court had been hearing petitions against the ban somewhere around July. This began an emotional debate over the right to freedom and privacy. 

Irrespective of whether you’re a man or a woman, there is no law holding you back from following your sexual orientation. However, even the Supreme Court supports the gay community and treats it as natural, the society still has a long way to go make it socially acceptable. 


Equal Pay Parity in the Bollywood industry:

Where many Hollywood celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone, came forward to speak about pay disparity on the basis of gender in the West, many Bollywood actors also expressed their concerns on the topic. 

Many prominent names including Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Arjun Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Kangana Ranaut, Anushka Sharma, Radhika Apte, Vidya Balan, Jaya Prada, Sonakshi Sinha, Sonam Kapoor, Aditi Rao Hyadri, Ranbir Kapoor and  Mallika Dua spoke up about various instances where they witnessed wage parity in the Bollywood industry. 

Shahrukh Khan had addressed the issue back in 2015 when he mentioned that we can start bridging the gender pay gap providing equal pay for men and women. He said, “In our company (Red Chillies Entertainment), we believe in putting female stars’ names before the male stars’ names. These are insignificant things in comparison to what needs to be done, but having said that, when I see women working in Bollywood or other industries, I feel there is a certain movement of equality.”

With many expressing their views time and again on wage disparity, Sonam Kapoor recently raised the issue in Karan Johar’s chat show ‘Koffee With Karan’. She said, "It's not fair. Why is it that Bebo (Kareena Kapoor) and I don't get enough money than John and Varun. Don't you think it's time? Bebo has given ‘Ki & Ka’, and I have done ‘Neerja’. Bebo has proved herself over and over again as someone who has had a brilliant run in films. I think it is about time, as women, as actors, as artists that we get our due."


Maternity Law (Amendment) Act, 2017:

With reference to the Maternity Law (Amendment) Act, 2017, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley mentioned an increase in the provision of Maternity Leaves from 12 weeks to 26 weeks in the Union Budget in February, 2018.
However, the implementation of the Amendment has been inadequate and ineffective. The Ministry of Labour and Employment had, reportedly, received complaints that women in the private sector are having their employment contracts terminated on dubious grounds when they applied for maternity leave under the amended Maternity Benefit Act.

In order to try tackling this problem, the Ministry proposed the Maternity Leave Incentive Scheme on November 16, 2018. According to the scheme, seven weeks' wages would be reimbursed to employers who employ women workers with a wage ceiling up to ₹15,000.00 per month and provide them maternity benefit of 26 weeks paid leave, subject to certain conditions. The scheme is currently in draft stage and will be improvised. Also, this scheme would actually serve as an incentive for private employers to hire more women employees.


Beti Bachao Beti Padhao:

In the year 2018, PM Narendra Modi made a major change in the already existing Beti Bachao Beti Padhao and expanded the programme from the 161 districts to all the 640 districts in India. 

He interacted with 200 women and their daughters on March 8, International Women’s Day and condemned female infanticide and addressed various other issues. He also  launched the National Nutrition Mission along with the pan-India expansion of the scheme, in order to bring down the numbers of stunting, malnutrition and anaemia among children, women and adolescent girls in India. 


Interest Free Loans to Self-Help Groups:

BJP Government also sanctioned interest-free loans to self-help groups in 2018. This is to support women to develop financially and become independent, helping their families to live a comfortable life. Soon after, many women from these groups established self-employment units, irrespective of their caste, creed and religion.

India Economic Survey 2018 goes Pink:

The Economic Survey 2017-18, which was released in the Parliament ahead of the Union Budget 2018, had women-centric issues at its core. In a rare departure from the tradition, the survey was tabled pink to lay emphasis on gender and son meta preference. The survey had an entire chapter titled, “Gender and Son Meta-Preference: Is Development Itself an Antidote?”
The Economic Survey 2018 highlighted that while the preference for male child has led to a skewed sex ratio in India, the issue is much deeper, focusing on various topics such as the Need for more Women Centric Reforms, Feminisation of Agriculture with the increasing number of women in multiple roles, such as cultivators, entrepreneurs, and labourers.


Going pink in context, 2019 is starting off on a gender neutral and gender equal note, with women coming forward as more empowered and independent. Where India has a long way to go to beat patriarchy, some changes are starting to make a difference already. 

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