For many reasons, 2018 can be called a year of women empowerment and gender equality.
In April, Indu Malhotra, 62, became the first senior woman advocate to be directly appointed as a judge to the Supreme Court. She’s one of three women judges in the top court, a first since Independence. A decade earlier, Malhotra was the second woman lawyer to be appointed as senior advocate by the Supreme Court, three decades after the first, Justice Leila Seth, was designated. Justice Malhotra was part of three landmark judgments in 2018: the Sabrimala case (though she was the dissenting voice), decriminalizing adultery after striking down a British-era law, Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code; and decriminalizing homosexuality between consenting adults.
The Sabrimala verdict in September this year, allowing women of menstruating age into the temple in Kerala, was a big step towards women empowerment. Worshippers of the resident deity – men and women – believe the god is celibate and therefore women between 13 and 50 years should not visit him. The SC overturned a Kerala High Court judgment from 1991 that made it illegal for women to enter the temple. As the doors of the temple for the annual pilgrimage opened in November, several women’s rights activist tried to breach the siege by worshippers, escorted by the police, but all were unsuccessful. The SC verdict is yet to be implemented fully but it has given women of the country the message that they may be unequal before a celibate god, but before law, they are equal to everyone else.
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In February this year, 24-year-old Avani Chaturvedi became the first Indian woman to fly a fighter jet solo. The Flying Officer flew MiG-21 Bison for 30 minutes in Gujarat’s Jamnagar airbase. The MiG 21 Bison has the highest landing and take-off speed – 340 kmph – in the world. The government of India opened the fighter pilot stream for women in October 2015 on an experimental basis for five years. Madhya Pradesh’s Chaturvedi, along with Bhawana Kanth from Bihar and Mohana Singh from Rajasthan, is the first women fighter pilots of the country. They were inducted into the Indian Air Force fighter squadron on June 18, 2016.
This year in June, Saudi Arabia issued its first driving licences for women before it lifted the ban female drivers. In a country with very limited public transport, the right to drive was an important liberation for women who want to work, meet friends or take their children to school. Although Saudi law has never explicitly banned women from driving, they were not eligible for licences. If they did try to drive, police would often detain them until a male relative came to sign a pledge that she would not drive again.
Let’s wish 2019 continues to be a year of gender equality and women empowerment.