Ministry begins work to make laws gender-neutral

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SummaryA proposal by the Centre to make rape gender-neutral was given a quiet burial following protests.

IN the first step towards making Indian laws gender-neutral, the Legislative Department of the Union Ministry of Law and Justice is giving the final touches to gender-neutral versions of two important parliamentary documents — Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha and Directions by the Speaker, Lok Sabha — which are used on a daily basis when parliament is in session.

The move was initiated sometime back on the initiative of Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, who wants the task completed “expeditiously”. According to available information, a senior Lok Sabha official wrote to Legislative Department Secretary P K Malhotra on September 23 stating that the Speaker had “desired” that the two documents be “rendered gender-neutral on priority basis”.

It is learnt that before this letter was sent, senior functionaries of the Lok Sabha Secretariat had asked the Legislative Department to frame guidelines on how to make the two documents gender-neutral.

“We gave them a rough framework of how this can be done. Now, they have sent us draft gender-neutral documents for vetting,” said an official.

Sources in the law ministry said that while there have been demands in the past to make all important laws and Acts gender-neutral, bringing them at par with international practices, no action has been initiated so far. The sources said that after this “pilot project” is completed, a decision will be taken on whether an exercise should be undertaken to make all existing laws gender-neutral. “What we are attempting to do may seem inconsequential to many, but it will lay the foundation for turning other, more important, legislations gender-neutral. Ever our Constitution is gender-specific. While there are many sections in various laws that are women-specific, no Indian law is gender-neutral. The growing trend worldwide is to make laws gender-neutral,” said a senior law ministry official.

Recently, a proposal by the Centre to make rape gender-neutral was given a quiet burial following protests.

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