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The Tamil Nadu National Law University (TNNLU), in collaboration with the Oxford Human Rights Hub, United Kingdom hosted a two day International Conference on Affirmative Action and the Sustainable Development Goal of Gender Equality between September 22-23, 2018.
The opening session was addressed by Justice Indira Banerjee of the Supreme Court of India, Professor Sandra Fredman, Director, Oxford Human Rights Hub, UK and Professor Dr Kamala Sankaran, Vice Chancellor, TNNLU.
Other dignitaries at the event included Justice S Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court and Justices MM Sundresh and TS Sivagnanam, of the Madras High Court
Prof Sankaran welcomed the attendees and observed that we have come a long way from mere anti-discrimination protests to Affirmative Action in the form of Sustainable Development Goals. She emphasised the significance of holding the conference in this University as Tamil Nadu has been a pioneer in social justice movements.
Prof Fredman followed with the words of appreciation and noted that it is the very first time that human rights were mentioned in Sustainable Development Goals. She thanked the Vice Chancellor and the University for arranging this collaboration and expressed her gratefulness be in India during this time.
Justice Banerjee commenced her address by congratulating TNNLU and the Oxford HR Hub for organising the conference. She observed that even though women constitute 50% of the world population, discrimination against them still exists all over the world. She reminded the audience that till the late 19th and earlier 20th century, women were able to secure several rights including the right to vote, maternity leave and right to work in humane conditions.
She also shared her experience of having decided a large number of cases of dowry deaths and cruelty against women. She pointed out that our Constitution is a woman friendly document as it includes Article 15(3) which enables Affirmative Action for women.
It was observed that people do not think of long term effects of unrestrained pattern of consumption and rapid rise in inequality in economic, social and environmental terms have left women with poor working conditions. She particularly noted that unpaid work such as caring for children and family by women is an important part of economic growth.
She expressed her distress over the ever-recurring news reports of rapes of women in India. Highlighting the additional aims to eliminate child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation, recognition of unpaid work, shared household, access to ownership and control over land and equal inheritance, she called for sound policies and legislations for gender equality.
Over the course of the conference, six technical sessions were conducted on the following themes,
1) Measuring Efficacy: Does Affirmative Action lead to Gender Equality? chaired by Prof MP Singh, Chancellor, Central University of Haryana and Dr. Rukmini Sen, Associate Professor, Ambedkar University, Delhi;
2) Beyond the Binary: Expanding the Definition of Gender under SDG 5, chaired by Justice S Muralidhar, Delhi High Court and Prof Sandra Fredman, University of Oxford;
3) Affirmative Action beyond the Legislature, chaired by Prof Vidhu Verma, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Dr. Meghan Campbell, University of Birmingham;
4) Affirmative Action in the Corporate Sector, chaired by Dr KV Nityananda, Indian Institute of Management, Tiruchirappalli and Prof TCA Anant, University of Delhi;
5) Theorizing Affirmative Action and Gender Equality, chaired by Prof Sandra Fredman, University of Oxford and Prof Kamala Sankaran, Vice-Chancellor, TNNLU; and
6) Achieving Gender Equality: Looking beyond Affirmative Action, by Prof Kamala Sankaran, Vice-Chancellor, TNNLU and Prof NS Soman, Dean of School of Legal Studies, Cochin University of Science and Technology
During the first session, Prof TCA Anant highlighted the importance of an accurate and adequate measurement framework to report progress on gender equality, which would facilitate policy formulation. Nomfundo Ramalekana, from the Oxford University, discussed the scope of SDG-5 and the intersectionality between gender and race. Prof Raghupathy of the Gandhigram Rural Institute analysed secondary data to demonstrate how high human development may not necessarily lead to greater representation of women.
In the second session Deekshita Ganesan and Mandakini J, from the Centre for Law and Law and Policy Research, raised important questions of whether ‘Transpersons’ need to formally identify as the third gender to avail of the affirmative action measure. Notably, Jasmine Joseph, from TNNLU highlighted the difference of opinion between the Transgender community and the Government, which believes that screening is necessary for ensuring that only people who meet the criteria avail the benefits.
Highlights of the third session included the comparison drawn by Dr. Puneeth, from JNU, between the ratio of a number of women in the higher Judiciary with that of women in the lower Judiciary. He also analysed the models of affirmative action preferable for the higher judiciary. Dr Rukmini Sen dealt with the affirmation of equal leadership opportunities, reservation and the need for plurality in the administration of academic sphere.
Students Diksha Dubey and Ashi Jain looked at the efficacy of affirmative action for women under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
In the fourth session, students Janaki, Kanmani and Mrinalini questioned the efficacy of reservation guaranteed to women in Corporate Boards under the Companies Act, 2013. Anindita Jaiswal, Ph.D. researcher at the University of Edinburgh, explored the various possible approaches to addressing the issue of gender in corporate leadership with the combined use of soft law and hard law.
Rishika Sahgal, from the Oxford University, drew parallels between three issues, namely that of reservation, the gender wage gap and the Equal Remuneration Act of 1976. She proposed a transition from the existing ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’ test, which is based upon the factors of work of same and similar nature, to a more accommodative and all-encompassing factor(s) of the same skill, effort and responsibility.
In the penultimate technical session, Dr. Urs Lindner of the University of Erfurt, Germany, endorsed the building of an equality framework for affirmative action by using the framework given by Dworkin and Owen Fiss. She spoke of attempting to find the balance between bringing policies in relation to positional inequality and the traditional method of classification based on social inequalities.
Prof Ananta Kumar Giri, from the Madras Institute for Development Studies, attempted to rethink affirmative action by linking it to affirmative meditation. Prof Vidhu Verma analysed affirmative action policies in political institutions in India and focused on the challenges in implementing the same. Hari Hara Sudhan, a student at the Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development stated that there should be a concretised version of legal theory to achieve equality and offered some plausible policy recommendations with regard to legal and human rights implications.
In session six, students Anjana A and Divya Muralidhar described the efficacy of the Kudumbashree model as a mode of women empowerment. Students Pranjal Gupta and Ayush Patel argued on the need to re-initiate the debate of unpaid work and care. Jasoon Chelat talked about how despite labour laws covering only formal workers, informal workers have creatively placed themselves under them. Finally, Dr. Meghan Campbell examined the efficacy of Temporary Special Measures under CEDAW.
The event came to a close with a roundtable discussion during which Prof Fredman focused on transformative gender equality. She spoke on how the SDG Goal 5 is to be read with the various other SDG Goals in order to completely realize the agenda that the Goal 5 represented.
Prof TCA Anant noted that a much more comprehensive approach is required to gauge the attainment of the goals. Prof MP Singh referred to the role that women played in the political movement that led to the attainment of independence and the drafting of the Constitution of India.
Notably, he spoke of how the significance of Article 15(3) which represents the theory of justice that people must be treated equally and the idea that women, in order to be treated equally should be provided with the opportunities they were denied historically.
In the final talk of the conference, Prof Kamala Sankaran carried forward from the theme presented by Prof Fredman, concerning the concept of unpaid care work. She defended the idea of monetizing such care work. She further mentioned that the way women enter into the labour market is usually through informal work which is then over time transformed into the formal work after going through an arduous process. In recognizing the arduous process, she acknowledged that the easier goal to achieve was to provide for the social protection and health insurance.