International Women's Day 2024: Recent court orders and judgments upholding women's rights

We shine a light on how the Supreme Court and the High Courts have attempted to safeguard the rights of women in their various capacities, over the past year or so.
Women Rights
Women Rights

International Women's Day is a day to celebrate the achievements of women around the globe, acknowledge the challenges they face, and collectively strive for a world where every woman enjoys equal rights, opportunities and respect.

On this day, it is crucial to emphasise the contemporary legal advancements that have greatly influenced the stature of women in our nation. 

To this end, we shine a light on how the Supreme Court and the High Courts have attempted to safeguard the rights of women in their various capacities, over the past year or so.

From releasing a handbook on combating gender stereotypes, to insisting for a Permanent Commission for women officers in the Indian Coast Guard, here are some recent legal developments of note.

Combating gender stereotypes

On August 16, 2023, the Supreme Court issued a guidebook titled 'Handbook on Combating Gender Stereotypes' with the objective of aiding judges and the legal community in recognizing, comprehending and addressing stereotypes related to women. The 30-page handbook contains a collection of phrases and words that reinforce stereotypes, as well as suggested euphemistic language to use instead.

The detailed, yet succinct Handbook identifies common gender stereotypes, offers alternative words and phrases and explains common reasoning patters that stem from stereotypes. It also highlights binding decisions of the apex court that have rejected gender stereotypes in the past.

Some of these suggestions include using 'rape' instead of 'forcible rape'; 'raped' or 'sexually assaulted/harassed' instead of 'violated' or 'ravished'; and use 'sex worker' instead of hooker or prostitute.

Marital status of women and effect on employment

Gender bias continues to plague employment practices in India. The landmark precedent in Indian jurisprudence that dealt with issues related to gender-based discrimination in employment is Air India v. Nergesh Meerza. In this case, Air India's policy stipulating that air hostesses would retire on reaching the age of 35 or upon marriage, whichever occurred earlier, was challeged. The Supreme Court in its ruling, held that Air India's policies were discriminatory and violated the principles of equality guaranteed under Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution.

This landmark case played a crucial role in challenging gender-based employment practices and promoting the principles of equality and non-discrimination in the workplace. After nearly four decades, similar issues cropped up before the apex court, which once again upheld the stature of women.

Union of India vs. EX. LT. Selina John

The Supreme Court in February this year held that the rules making the marriage of women employees and their domestic involvement a ground for disentitlement would be manifestly arbitrary and unconstitutional. The Court also directed the Central government to pay ₹60 lakh as compensation to a woman nurse working in the military on the ground that she was illegally terminated from the service on the sole ground of her marriage.

Misha Upadhyay v. State of Uttarakhand & Ors.

In this case, the Uttarakhand High Court held that even as motherhood holds immense importance and is deeply rooted in our society, many women today lose their profession when trying to balance various roles, including that of a caregiver, homemaker, and a professional. The Court granted relief to a pregnant woman who was denied public employment due to her pregnancy.

Madhu v. State of Rajasthan & Ors

In this case, employment was denied to a woman from Rajasthan on account of her unmarried status. The woman challenged Condition No.2(A)(ii) in the State government's circular of 2016 concerning the selection and appointment with the engagement of Aanganwari Karyakarta, Mini Karyakarta and Helper. The said condition allowed only unmarried women to apply for the posts. Calling the said condition as ex-facie illegal, arbitrary and against the very scheme of the Constitution of India, the Rajasthan High Court struck it down. It observed that the condition was an entirely new front of discrimination, which was not even envisaged by the framers of the Constitution.

Homemaker - an asset to the family

Aravind Kumar Pandey v. Girish Pandey

A homemaker's deemed income can't be less than the minimum wage notified for a daily wager, the Supreme Court recently ruled while deciding a motor vehicles appeal. The Court also noted that the activities performed by a homemaker, if counted one by one, are of a high order and invaluable. In fact, it is difficult to assess such a contribution in monetary terms, the Court said.

Kannaian Naidu and others v. Kamsala Ammal and others

In another significant verdict, the Madras High Court held that a wife who contributed to the acquisition of family assets by performing household chores would be entitled to an equal share in properties, as she had indirectly contributed to its purchase. The Court also observed that the round-the-clock job of the homemaker without any holidays, cannot be equated less than the job of an earning husband who works only for 8 hours.

Permanent Commission for women in Indian Coast Guard

Though Short Service Commission (SSC) was granted to women in the Army since 1992, permanent commission still remained an unfulfilled dream for female officers. 28 years later, the government finally made the decision to grant permanent commission to women in the Army after a Supreme Court ruling.

Priyanka Tyagi v. Union of India & Ors.

Even after the aforesaid ruling, women in Indian Coast Guard were not allowed for permanent commission. Thus, a case was instituted before the Supreme Court. Recently, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud asked if the Central government was taking "a patriarchal approach" despite the extensive rulings of the apex court on the issue of granting permanent commission to women officers in defense services.

Addressing the Centre, the CJI orally remarked,

"You speak of 'Nari shakti'. Now show it here. You're in the deep end of the sea, in this matter…you must come up with a policy which treats women fairly...after 2009 no woman has been inducted …Why are you being so patriarchal? You don't want to see the face of women in the Coast Guard?”

The case is pending for further adjudication before the apex court.

Crime against Women

Bilkis Yakub Rasool v. Union of India & Ors.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court's ruling on the remission of 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case marked a pivotal moment at the start of the year. This case carried immense national importance, sparking nationwide outrage when the rape convicts were granted release through remission. The Top Court's intervention not only reinstated the public's trust in the Judiciary but also was a reminder to the wrong doers that the judiciary is at watch of the offenders and no one can escape from the hands of the Courts. 

In RE: Inhuman Condition in 1382 Prisons

Moreover, recently the Hon’ble Supreme Court has initiated action on its own accord regarding the concerning rise in pregnancies among female inmates in prisons nationwide. This move follows closely after a notable petition was presented to the Calcutta High Court, highlighting the disturbing pattern of women prisoners getting pregnant while being held in correctional facilities throughout West Bengal State.

In Janak Ram v. The State     

The Hon’ble Calcutta High Court while upholding the conviction order of the Trial Court, has ruled that addressing unknown lady as ‘darling’ is patently offensive and against modesty of a woman.


Recent developments before our courts reflect a commitment to gender equality and the recognition of women's rights as being fundamental. Apart from the above, it is also worthwhile to mention that this year, a record-breaking 11 women lawyers were designated as Senior Advocates. This surpasses the total number of women Senior Advocates appointed to date.

It is essential to continue advocating for and implementing policies that promote the well-being and empowerment of women across all spheres of life. The evolving legal landscape is testament to India's dedication to creating a more just and inclusive society for women. The Indian judiciary, being a strong advocate for women empowerment, must augment itself with more women jurists on both the Bar and the Bench, and realise the true meaning of the term ‘Nari Shakti’.

K Geethika is a Research Associate cum Law Clerk working at the Supreme Court of India.

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