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Fighting stereotypes: On the Handbook on Combating Gender Stereotypes

  • Published
    18th Aug, 2023


The Supreme Court (SC) of India has taken an important step by releasing guidelines to take on harmful gender stereotypes that perpetuate inequalities and laid down a set of dos and don’ts for judicial decision-making via writing, the Handbook on Combating Gender Stereotypes.

Changes introduced through ‘Handbook’:

  • To break gender-based norms: A host of derogatory and seemingly mild adjectives have been dropped too while referring to women.
  • Words changed: Instead of “affair”, it will be notified to say a “relationship outside of marriage”; similarly, for “adulteress”, the preferred usage is a “woman who has engaged in sexual relations outside of marriage”.
  • Significance: It will lead to exclusion and discrimination, it identifies common presumptions about the way sexual harassment, assault, rape and other violent crimes which are viewed skewed against women.

Breaking Stereotypes against Women:

  • Considering consent of women as ‘priority’: One of the stereotypes the Court shatters is women who do not wear traditional clothes and smoke or drink are asking for trouble, and drives home the important point of consent.
  • Giving equality in abilities: Courts should take social realities and other challenges facing women seriously. It is wrong to assume that women are “overly emotional, illogical, and cannot take decisions”.
  • Women’s bodily rights: It is also a stereotypical presumption that all women want to have children.

Need to address Issues for women in Indian society:

  • Making women financially independent: In a largely patriarchal society, girls are often forced to pick marriage as a way out to avoid social stigma, and not education and a career.
  • Burden of ‘Caregiving’: Fundamental changes need to be made to shun all stereotypes that women are more nurturing and better suited to care for others, and should do all household chores.
  • Way forward: The handbook could also be a catalyst for change right down to the societal level.
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