The Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Initiative (“LCWRI”)’s mission is the empowerment of women through law. This is based on the belief that law is an instrument of social change and can be used in different ways to further the constitutional and human rights of women. Since its inception in 1998, the LCWRI has been actively engaged with the entire legal regime of addressing the rights of women in law.
The LCWRI provides legal inputs to the women’s movement. The LCWRI through its experience of providing legal aid to survivors of sex based discrimination, violence, abuse and crimes, has realised the need to analyse the working of the laws and investigate ground realities when it comes to implementing laws relating to women. At the LCWRI, our objective has always been to find out the efficacy and relevance of legislation and legal systems and recommend its better use, as well as to initiate and spearhead law reform processes, whenever required. Law reform recommendations are formulated by keeping in mind the lived realities of women. The recommendations put forth by the LCWRI are directed not only towards recognising equality rights of women but also towards creating an enabling environment in which such rights can be asserted. The LCWRI’s efforts in creating legal awareness are guided by the overall objective of empowering women.
The work of the LCWRI has in the past years have focused on a wide range of issues such as domestic violence, sexual harassment at the workplace, sexual assault, reproductive rights, trafficking / commercial sexual exploitation, violence faced by victims of religious intolerance etc. Our most successful campaign has been the enactment of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act in 2005. The success of this campaign heralds in a new era of law making in which the demand for a law is articulated by the civil society and the content of the law is arrived at through a consultative process directed at consensus building. This successful experiment, at the initiative of the LCWRI, has demonstrated that the process of law making is no longer the sole preserve of the state but is participatory with civil society.
1. Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is a manifestation of inequality within the home. It is therefore, not enough to advocate for the implementation of laws criminalising domestic violence. There is a need to create an enabling environment in which a woman is able to assert her rights and seek legal recourse. It is, therefore, essential to address the inequality within the home and recognise rights that counter such inequality to enable women to seek legal action. Given the lack of support a woman is provided with, it is unlikely that a woman will ever resort to legal remedies unless she is assured, at a minimum, of a right to reside in her home. This has a bearing on property and matrimonial rights of women that are currently within the realm of separate personal laws of religious communities. The right to reside that has been recognised through our campaign for a civil law on domestic violence is applicable only in circumstances of violence.
2. Personal laws
The Indian Constitution separately recognises the right to religion. The right to religion, as provided in the Constitution, is not an absolute right but subject to limitations based on public order and morality as well as non-derogation of other rights guaranteed under the Constitution. It is under the auspices of protecting the right to religion that discriminatory personal laws have been upheld by the Supreme Court. As women’s lives are mostly confined to their homes, the continuance of such discriminatory laws is a major impediment in pursuing the goal of substantive equality. The LCWRI has, persistently engaged with the regime of personal laws, through litigation and advocacy initiatives, in order to achieve the goal of substantive equality of women. The position taken in this regard is that while religious rights of communities have to be respected, it cannot be to the detriment of women’s equality rights.
3. Sexual harassment at the workplace
Equality rights of women have to be recognised not only within the home but also in her interactions with the outside world. A woman’s right to a safe working environment is an essential pre-requisite for her engaging with economic processes that are not confined to the home. Hence, the LCWRI has engaged in providing legal aid to women facing sexual harassment at the workplace. Lessons learnt from this aspect of our work were translated into the creation of legal literacy materials and a comprehensive law on sexual harassment was bought into force.
4. Public interest litigation/ social action interventions
Since 1978 there has been a substantial amount of public interest litigation undertaken on behalf of women, children and bonded labour. Public interest litigation has been an essential component of the LCWRI project from its very inception, focused as it is on legal change. Some of the major PIL’s and social action litigation filed by the LC are Geeta "Hariharan v Reserve Bank of India (AIR 1999 SC 1149), Daniel Latifi v Union of India (AIR 2001 SC 3958), Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT) & Ors v. Union of India (AIR 2001 SC 2007), MASUM and Dr Sabu George v Union of India and other (AIR 2018 SC 578), Anweshi Women’s Counselling Centre v State of Kerala, National Aviation Co. India Ltd. v. Regional Labour Commissioner, Bar Girls Case, Indian Young Lawyers Association & Ors. v. the State of Kerala, Shayara Bano & Ors. v. Union of India & ors. (AIR 2017 SC 4609), Rajesh Sharma v. State of Uttar Pradesh (AIR 2017 SC 3869), Nyaydhar v. Union of India, Ministry of Home Affairs & Ors., Joseph Shine v. Union of India ((2018) 2 SCC 189) and Sunita Tiwari v. Union of India