Women’s Sexual Rights in India
Shriya Sharma is a third year law student, brilliant at academics and exceptional at extra curricular. She is a strong supporter of women empowerment.
Women’s Sexual Rights in India
Sexuality is a core dimension of being human. For sustainable development, women and girls must have the freedom, the power, and the support to demand and access their sexual and reproductive rights. They must be able to take and give consent to decisions around their bodies and lives, such as choose when and whom to have sex with; decide if and with whom to get married; choose when and if to have children; and determine when and what health and other information and services they require and access them. They must not face violence, discrimination, or exclusion because of the choices they make.
Statistics released by various surveys carried out nationally as well internationally reveal that:-
- As of 2014, there are approximately 5,62,25,000 women aged 15–19 living in India.
- Around 40% of women aged 18–24 reported having had sex by the age of 18. This proportion was higher in rural areas than in urban areas (48% vs. 24%) and in the poorest households than in the wealthiest (64% vs. 14%).
- Some 39% of 15–24-year-old women were aware that condom use reduces HIV risk, and 49% knew that having an uninfected partner also reduces risk.
- However, just 20% had comprehensive knowledge of HIV/AIDS, defined as knowing these two HIV-prevention methods, in addition to knowing that a healthy person can be HIV positive and being able to reject two common misconceptions about HIV transmission.
- Some 47% of the nation’s 20–24-year-old women were married before the legal age of 18. (as per Indian Miinistry of Law and Justice report 2014.)
- Fourteen percent of births among women younger than 20 were reported as wanted later (mistimed) or not at all (unwanted). Etc.
These statistics make it very important for people to advocate for the sexual rights of women and spread sex and reproduction related information amongst young girls.
Let’s first and foremost understand what women’s sexual rights are all about? Women’s Rights are the rights and entitlements that are claimed for women and girls worldwide.
And, sexual rights include and largely focus on – sexual pleasure and emotional sexual expression. The most prominent platform that has seen the struggle for sexual rights has been WAS Declaration of Sexual Rights.
The 1995 Beijing Conference on Women established that human rights include the right of women to be able to freely and without any coercion, violence or discrimination, have full control over and make decisions concerning their own sexuality and their own sexual and reproductive health. Many countries have interpreted this to be as the applicable definition of women’s sexual rights. (According to “Sweden’s international policy on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights”)
The UN Commission on Human Rights has established that if women had more power, their ability to protect themselves against violence would be strengthened. (as per – E/CN.4/RES/2005/41 and E/CN.4/RES/2005/84)
At the 14th World Congress of Sexology (Hong Kong, 1999), the WAS adopted the Universal Declaration of Sexual Rights, which includes 11 sexual rights:
- The right to sexual freedom.
- The right to sexual autonomy, sexual integrity, and safety of the sexual body.
- The right to sexual privacy.
- The right to sexual equity.
- The right to sexual pleasure.
- The right to emotional sexual expression.
- The right to sexually associate freely.
- The right to make free and responsible reproductive choices.
- The right to sexual information based upon scientific inquiry.
- The right to comprehensive sexuality education.
- The right to sexual health care.
This Declaration gave an influence on The Yogyakarta Principles (which were launched as a set of international principles relating to sexual orientation and gender identity on 26 March 2007), especially on the idea of each person’s integrity, and right to sexual and reproductive health.
In 2015 the U.S. government said it would begin using the term “sexual rights” in discussions of human rights and global development. When it comes to India, it is very important for every women to know these 10 important rights related to their sexuality:-
- RIGHT TO FREE LEGAL AID According to a Delhi HC ruling, whenever rape is reported, the senior house officer has to bring this to the notice of the Delhi Legal Services Authority, who then arrange a lawyer for the women. This protects the women from being misquoted and harassed.
- RIGHT TO PRIVACY Women who have been raped have the right to record their statement in private, in front of the magistrate, and if they want, in the presence of a lady constable, where no one else can hear. Under sec. 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the police will have to ensure the victim’s privacy without pressurising her to report in front of a bigger crowd.
- RIGHT TO UNTIMELY REGISTRATION There are many reasons as to why women would postpone going to the police to lodge a complaint and the police cannot refuse to lodge the complaint no matter how late it is because a women’s dignity comes before everything else.
- RIGHT TO VIRTUAL COMPLAINTS According to the guidelines issued by the Delhi Police, women have the privilege to lodge a complaint via email or a registered post. If, for some reason, they cannot go to the police station, they can lodge their complaint by sending an email/registered post addressed to a senior officer of the level of Commissioner of Police. The police officer then directs the SHO(Station House Officer, whose ranking is above the sub inspector and below DSP) of the police station to the location where the incident occurred to verify the complainant and subsequently lodge a FIR.
- RIGHT TO ZERO FIR Many a times, the SHO of a police station sends away the rape victims away because they don’t want to take any responsibility. Seeing this problem becoming very prominent, SC took cognizance of it and in its ruling specified that a rape victim can get her FIR registered in any of the police stations in the city under the ZERO FIR ruling.
- RIGHT TO NO ARREST There are many cases of women being harassed by the police at the wee hours of the night. However, this can be avoided if women exercise their right to no arrest after sunset and before sunrise even if there is a woman constable accompanying the police officers. This right has been clearly stated in a supreme court ruling.
- RIGHT TO NOT BEING CALLED TO THE POLICE STATION Under section 160 of the CrPC women can refuse to go the police station for interrogation as the police can interrogate her at her residence in presence of a woman constable and her family and her friends.
- RIGHT TO CONFIDENTIALITY In no circumstances can the identity of the rape victim be revealed, neither by the police nor the media. In fact, section 228-A of IPC the disclosure of a victim’s identity is a punishable offence. This is done to prevent victimization or ostracism of the victim.
- RIGHT TOWARDS CRIME AND NOT A MEDICAL CONDITION A victim of rape needs to be examined by section 164-A of the CrPC and only the report can act as a proof. However, a case of rape cannot be dismissed even if the doctors say that rape has not taken place because rape is not a medical condition but a legal term.
- RIGHT TO NO SEXUAL HARASSMENT Supreme Court had specified in one of its rulings that it is mandatory for every firm (public or private) to set up Sexual Harassment Complaints Committee to resolve matters of sexual harassment.
Thus, with these rights and various Supreme court and High court guidelines being in place the women have definitely been empowered and it’s now time for women to empower their own selves.
Opinions are of the writer.