High Court Gujarat HC proposes not to exclude menstruating women from...

Gujarat HC proposes not to exclude menstruating women from social or religious activities

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Ahmedabad, Mar 9 (ILNS) The Gujarat High Court has come out with a proposal to liberate women from the menstruation taboo by mulling a ban on the social exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status at all places, including private, public, religious or educational.

A division bench of Justices J B Pardiwala and Ilesh J Vora also asked the Gujarat Government and the Central Government to file their responses to the Court’s proposed directions.

The court directed the state government to spread awareness among its citizens over the issue through various mediums like putting up posters at public places, including it in school curriculum, using audio-visual mediums like radio, entertainment/news channels and short films. It said the empowerment of women through education and increasing their role in decision-making can also aid in this regard.

The Court said that women and girls are often excluded from decision-making due to their lower literacy levels per se. Increasing the education status of women plays an important role in improving the health status of the community at large and overcoming cultural taboos, in particular, it observed.

The bench suggested sensitisation of health workers, accredited Social Health Activists and Anganwadi Workers regarding menstruation biology, so they could further disseminate this knowledge in the community and mobilise social support against busting menstruation-related myths. Adolescent-friendly health clinics must also have trained manpower to address these issues, it added.

The High Court advised the state government to hold campaigns and drives, involving NGOs and other private organisations, to spread awareness on the issue, apart from including the issue in all existing campaigns/schemes of the state government that aim at menstrual hygiene.

The State Government should prohibit all educational institutions, hostels and living spaces for women-studying working and others, private or public, by whatever name called, from following social exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status in any manner, it added.

The Bench suggested the state government to undertake surprise checks, create appropriate mechanism and take such other actions, steps as may be necessary to ensure its compliance, including imposition of appropriate penalty against the erring institution.

“We are conscious of the fact that we are dealing with a very delicate issue and therefore, it is necessary for this court to hear all the respondents and other stakeholders. The aforesaid should not be construed as if this court has made up its mind one way or the other. A healthy and meaningful debate or deliberation is necessary in the present litigation,” the bench clarified.

These observations came during the hearing of a petition that arose from an incident that was reported by the media on February 14, 2020 showing that 68 girls in a hostel run by Shri Sahjanand Girls’ Institute were forced to undergo a strip test.

It was reported that the undergraduate girls were paraded through the college into the restroom and forced to individually remove their undergarments to prove that they were not menstruating. The incident in question took place after the hostel rector complained to the principal that some of the girls had been violating their religious norms, specifically for menstruating women.

The petitioner alleged in the case that the practice encouraged the exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status and was violative of the human, legal and fundamental rights of women, more particularly, those as enshrined under Articles 14 (Right to Equality), 15 (Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth), 17 (Abolition of Untouchability), 19 (Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech etc) and 21 (Right to Life and Personal Liberty) of the Constitution.

It was argued that these articles of the Constitution ensured securing justice, equality and liberty to all the citizens of the country. The matter is listed for hearing next on March 30. ILNS/SNG/JR

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