Russia & India – Through the Prism of Women’s Rights

Guest Blogger Mari Davtyan reflects on women’s rights issues in India during her peer to peer visit.

What do we, Russians, know about India? During childhood, our parents read us stories of Kipling and we imagined India like a fairyland with huge and beautiful palaces, Maharajas, mysterious jungle, and elephants. In schools and universities we learn that India is one of the biggest countries of South Asia –  the second-most populous with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world. We also learn that for thousands of years Indian society was divided into castes. Despite prohibition of caste discrimination by the Constitution of Indian it still affects millions of Indians.

But what do we know about women in India? «Gang rape in India», «Woman killed for dowry», «Child marriage in India»…. These are the news we read about Indian women.

That’s what I thought when I was flying to New Delhi from Moscow.  Russia and India are such different countries with very different culture, customs and traditions – two different worlds. Is it possible to share an experience in this situation? But still our countries have the same problems (like every country in a varying degree): gender stereotyping, discrimination based on sex in politics, economic and family, violence against women.


My acquaintance with Delhi began on December 09, 2014. Delhi met me with warm winter, +24 C. If you’ve ever been in Moscow in December, you can imagine how happy I was! I had only 4 days to find answers on my questions. Thanks to my colleagues from Oxfam India and Center for Budget and Government Accountability (CBGA) I had very interesting agenda – 9 meetings with one of the best representatives of civil society of India and a day-long workshop “Campaigns on ending violence against women and girls in India”.

The progressiveness of Indian legislation was the first thing that amazed me. The Constitution of India not only guarantees equality to women but also adopts special measures to achieve equal opportunities for women and men. The State directs its policy towards securing for men and women equally the right to an adequate means of livelihood (Article 39(a)); and equal pay for equal work for both men and women (Article 39(d)). Not less than one- third of the total number of seats in the Panchayats is reserved for women.

The Criminal Code of India prohibits rape, homicide for dowry, dowry deaths or their attempts, molestation,  sexual harassment, importation of girls (up to 21 years of age).

India adopted acts which have special provisions to safeguard women and their interests:

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005

Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961

Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act,  2010

Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006

Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956

The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986

How did India achieve such a progressive legislation protecting women’s rights despite strong traditionalistic views of majority population? I think the answer is civil society. India’s civil society is very strong. Thousands of civil society organizations are very active. Women’s movement of India is striking. Women in cities and rural areas organize NGOs, unite in support groups and networks, do research, organize campaigns for citizens and trainings for stakeholders. Their voice is strong and loud, that’s why the Government lends an ear to them.

At the same time women’s rights are still violated in India. Women are under-represented in decision making in both governmental and business sectors especially at senior level, 92% of women work in the informal sector without any social insurance, women do not have an equal access to land, there’s a clear gender gap in wages, millions of Indian women suffer from gender stereotyping and violence. The implementation of laws is always a problem. But I’m sure India has made the most important steps to combat women’s discrimination. India has recognized the problem of discrimination against women at the national level and adopted specific legislation. Of course it takes time and finical resources to achieve successful implementation of the legislation. Today gender budgeting is actively developing in India. An equitable allocation of financial resources is essential component of the formation of gender equality. Many civil society organizations and experts do research in this area.  So I think Indians are going the right way.

What about Russia? I hope one day we will go the same way.


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