Trigger Warning: mention of rape, violence against women
Recently, a world population report titled ‘My Body Is My Own’ was published by the UNFPA. According to this report, nearly half of all women in 57 developing countries do not have right to make decisions regarding their own body.
It is hard to digest that in the 21st century, when we talk of gender equality and a world without any kind of discrimination. Yet, women are suffering to get rights over their own body.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill of 2021 talks about the termination period of pregnancy, but the law does not mention the woman’s right over her own body. As per this law, she needs the advice of doctors for termination of the pregnancy, which takes away her right to her body.
Marital rape in India below 15 years of age is considered a criminal offence under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), but it does not criminalize marital rape. To file a complaint, women need to file a case under the Domestic Violence Act of 2005. So, according to Indian law, marital rape is not a crime. There are many petitions in court against marital rape, but the court is still silent about this issue.
In Arnesh Kumar vs State of Bihar, it was established that criminalizing marital rape will be the collapse of the social and family systems amidst the already existing biased laws.
According to the report, only 55 % of women are fully empowered to make choices regarding the use of contraceptives and give consent. Only 75% of countries legally ensure full and equal access to contraception. Nearly half of all pregnancies in India each year are unwanted. In India, only 10-20 percent of people use contraceptives, and those include mostly condoms. The use of contraceptives is considered sinful in some religions as the use of contraceptives is prohibited and natural birth is encouraged.
According to UNICEF, approximately one in four young women in India were married before 18. One in three of the world’s child brides live in India. Of the country’s 223 million child brides, 102 million were married before turning 15.
India was among the first countries in the world to develop legal and policy frameworks guaranteeing access to abortion and contraception. Right of women to make reproductive choices as a part of personal liberty falls under under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
Section 354D of the IPC makes way for legal action to be taken against an offender if he/she follows a woman, tries to contact her to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest, or monitor the use of the internet, email, or any other form of electronic communication by the woman.
Section 354 of the IPC states that assault or criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty.
Many other acts like the Domestic Violence Act (2005), Child Marriage Restraint Act (1929), Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (2013).
The National Commission for Women reviews the constitutional and legal safeguards for women.
Women’s education needs to be amplified by increasing the gross enrolment ratio of girls in schools and colleges, so that they get knowledge of their basic rights and can take a stand for themselves.
Creating awareness about the use of contraceptives is necessary, especially in rural areas by creating a comfortable environment regarding the use of contraceptive methods.
India needs to revamp its academic curriculum and needs to introduce sex education as part of academic teaching. In India, most of the knowledge acquired about sex and the body is through adult sites that are freely accessible to anyone through the internet.
India needs to introduce a law against marital rape and must criminalize it under the Indian Penal Code. It could be a step forward towards gender equality and preventing against forceful intimate relations without her will.
Granting women their bodily autonomy is important to reduce unwanted pregnancies and violence against women. Bodily rights reflect empowerment of women and can improve the social status of women.
If our country needs to rise and improve its social condition then it needs to empower women as it would directly empower the family, which would result in a stronger Indian society. This can only start by giving autonomy to women over their bodies.
Women around the world denied fundamental rights over their body, which needs to be tackled to end gender-based violence and achieve UNFPA’s goal of gender equality by 2030.