Handbook on Combating Gender Stereotypes
This handbook was released on August 16, 2023, by the Supreme Court of India. Ideated as a knowledge resource of the e-Committee of the Supreme Court, this handbook aims to “identify, understand and combat” stereotypical language wielded against women. It encourages the use of an unprejudiced vocabulary while drafting court pleadings, orders and judgements. To this end, the handbook contains a glossary of “gender-unjust” terms and suggests words which can be used in their stead.
The handbook also lists precedents laid down by the Supreme Court of India which reject prevailing stereotypes, especially those concerning sexual violence. For example, in Joseph Shine v. Union of India (2018), a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court decriminalised adultery as a crime under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. In only punishing sexual relations outside of marriage with a married woman, this Section was “based on the constitutionally untenable rationale that the woman was the property of the (second) man”, the handbook notes.
It contains a foreword by Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud, Chief Justice of India. The CJI stresses on the importance of the language used in judicial discourse and enumerates how it influences judgement – within and beyond courtrooms.
This 30-page document is divided into four sections: Understanding stereotypes (Section 1); Understanding Gender Stereotypes (Section 2); Current doctrine on key legal issues (Section 3); Conclusion (Section 4).
The handbook discusses three common types of gender stereotypes: (i) stereotypes based on the supposed “inherent characteristics” of women; (ii) stereotypes based on gender roles; and (iii) stereotypes related to sex, sexuality, and sexual violence. It juxtaposes stereotypes against the reality of the matter, baring the social prejudices at play. For example, “Women are more nurturing and better suited to care for others” is incorrect, the handbook states, because “People of all genders are equally suited to the task of caring for others. Women are often socially conditioned to care for others from a young age. Many women are also forced to abandon their careers to care for children and the elderly”.
While the handbook focuses on sexist language used for women, it adds that stereotypes impact individuals across the gender spectrum. The legal order in the country must strive towards being inclusive to every citizen, regardless of their gender.
Following are 10 examples of ‘stereotype promoting language’ and their alternatives listed in the handbook which are especially relevant:
Adulteress: Woman who has engaged in sexual relations outside of marriage
Career woman: Woman
Chaste woman: Woman
Eve teasing: Street sexual harassment
Feminine hygiene products: Menstrual products
Hormonal (to describe a woman’s emotional state): Use a gender neutral term to describe the emotion (e.g., compassionate or enthusiastic)
Prostitute: Sex worker
Provocative clothing / dress: Clothing / dress
Sex change: Sex reassignment or gender transition
Violated (e.g., he violated her): Sexually harassed / assaulted or raped
Focus by Dipanjali Singh.
PARI Library’s health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.
Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India
16 Aug, 2023