The law is embedded in social, cultural and economic understandings of right and wrong. The quest for human rights and women’s equality involves engaging with the law, and beyond that, with the social, economic and cultural structures and discourses that shape women’s rights, freedoms and justice. Our work has focused on the following inter-connected themes and frameworks that promote and protect women’s equality:
1. Access to Justice
We work with community groups to develop systems and capacities necessary for effective legal support, monitoring and documentation of rights of marginalised women. The support centres in four states, Orissa, UP, Rajasthan and Kerala in the initial 6 years of PLD’s work, led to documentation and insights into experiences of urban poor and rural women with the law, when supported by a community groups. This work provides an understanding of types of violations for which women are most likely to approach the law, and the preferred legal remedies; as well as violations are least likely to result in legal action; and the obstacles ordinary and poor women encounter in the law despite the support from dedicated social workers. Based on the experiences of women navigating the legal system, this work is foundational to our understanding of the limits and possibilities within the law, and equally, the divergent notions of justice within and outside of the legal system.
Our work explores the interconnections between sexual norms, marginalisation/ exclusion and access to justice. This work addresses discriminatory legal treatment of non-normative intimacies and the lack of legal protection to women in non-marital conjugal relationships. Our socio legal documentation of women in diverse family forms, such as Maitri karar in Gujarat, Nata in Rajasthan, male bigamy in Himachal Pradesh, same sex relationships in Kerala, has shaped our advocacy initiatives – for expansion of the legal definition of wife to one that includes customary and live-in relationships; for rejection of compulsory registration of marriage on grounds that as it will restrict rather than enable women’s rights within diverse family forms; for decriminalisation of homosexuality, adultery and consensual adolescent sexual expression; and for non discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. This thematic stream also includes monitoring and advocacy for gender sensitive prosecution and holistic legal redress for sexual violence in all its forms and manifestations.
Culture is arguably most widely used and readily accepted justification for discriminatory laws and practices against women. PLD’s work endeavors to bring out the fluidity, heterogeneity and power inequalities within communities, to strengthen efforts to reject discourses that present cultures, communities and practices as static, unchanging and homogenous. Through field studies, discussion/ exchange platforms, comparative analysis, documentation, our work highlights the fluid, contested and political sphere of culture; and our advocacy efforts promote the individual freedom to chose, exit, re-enter, disagree, and participate in multiple cultural spaces as part of the exercise of cultural expression and diversity. Our work on witch hunting across regions in India shows that the material, patriarchal, gender and caste underpinnings get obscured in framing the issue in terms of superstition and culture.
CEDAW, known as the Bill of Rights for Women, the UN treaty has been ratified by India (and indeed all South Asian states). PLD is a leading resource group on CEDAW, providing information and knowledge resources through publications, a dedicated website www.cedawsouthasia.org , and training programmes. Our work on CEDAW combines technical guidance with contextual grounding in culture, sexuality, violence against women, and access to justice. We conduct training programmes at local, national and South Asian levels; and offer trainings on request.