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India: Women demand an end to Male Sexual Harassment in media, university & judicial circles Print E-mail


 Mumbai ~ December 27, 2013

Sexual Harassment: The media

Felt need

Shoma Chaudhury, who resigned as managing editor of Tehelka. (Mohammed Yousuf)

The Tehelka debacle may yet serve a constructive purpose if it catalyses action within the media towards establishing in-house mechanisms as mandated by the law.

IF Tehelka had been more conscientious about observing the law of the land, Shoma Chaudhury would likely still be managing editor of the feisty news magazine. Instead, the award-winning journalist faced severe, sustained and widespread criticism over her handling of a young colleague’s shocking complaint of sexual harassment, assault and more by the magazine’s founder and editor-in-chief, Tarun Tejpal, and eventually resigned 10 days into the crisis.

Shoma Chaudhury’s resignation letter referred to questions about her integrity raised by people both within and outside the profession, and expressed regret for any inadequacies or lack of clarity she may have displayed as a leader. In her response to the young journalist’s resignation from the magazine, she admitted that “in the absence of an existing official grievance redressal mechanism in office, along Vishaka guidelines”, her “responses may not have reflected the correct formal procedures”.

If an internal policy and mechanism had been in place and their existence made known to all employees, as required by the law, Shoma Chaudhury may not have been in the hot seat as the individual to whom the complaint was made and from whom appropriate action was expected. The young woman would probably have reported her traumatic experience to the mandated in-house complaints committee, which would then have taken a considered, collective decision about action to be taken in accordance with the law. Instead, Shoma Chaudhury seems to have acted on her own, evidently improvising as she went along and facing increasing flak for her inadequate and flawed response, which was also legally questionable. Under fierce attack from most quarters, her only defence appeared to be that her actions­and, presumably, inaction­were based on outrage, solidarity, feminist principles, et al, when they should instead ­or in addition­have been informed by the law.

The point is that while the existing laws relating to sexual harassment in the workplace (SHW) reflect the awareness and understanding of the issue fostered by feminist analysis and activism over many years, their application is not dependent on individual beliefs and value systems. Feminists and non-feminists alike have an obligation to abide by them.

Rights of workers
Freedom from sexual harassment is a vital aspect of women’s right to a safe work environment. However, it is important to recognise that SHW is not exclusively a “women’s issue”. It is a labour issue that involves the rights of all workers/employees. And it is an issue closely connected to freedom of expression in general and the freedom of the media in particular. It is widely accepted that the safety and security of journalists are essential prerequisites for press freedom. Sexual harassment, besides violating women’s rights, threatens the safety and security of a growing number of journalists who happen to be women and, thereby, threatens press freedom.

There was a time when managements did not have the benefit of legislation spelling out what constitutes SHW and what employers are supposed to do about such behaviour, especially but not only on the rare occasions when it is brought to their attention. However, that age of innocence­or impunity­came to an end 16 years ago, when the Supreme Court of India crafted what became widely known as the Vishaka guidelines. The 1997 guidelines were in operation until recently because the government had not yet notified the necessary rules under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, which was passed by Parliament earlier this year and received the President’s assent in April (the rules were finally notified on December 9). Both laws firmly place on employers the onus for preventing and deterring SHW, as well as for taking all the necessary steps to thoroughly investigate and effectively deal with complaints about such torment, including prosecution when it is called for under the law. The Act actually lists 10 different and wide-ranging “duties of the employer”.

Policies and mechanisms to tackle workplace sexual harassment are supposed to be in place even if no complaints have ever been made and none is anticipated. That they were “sorely missing in Tehelka”, as Shoma Chaudhury put it, is particularly surprising since, by all accounts, several instances of such harassment had been brought to the attention of the magazine’s management over the years. Shoma Chaudhury’s post facto, apparently unsuccessful, efforts to recruit a range of prominent citizens for an in-house inquiry committee proved to be excessive flourishes that merely caused avoidable controversy and embarrassment. While the Vishaka guidelines mandate a complaints committee headed by a woman, with women constituting at least half the membership and an external person or institution familiar with the issue being among the members, the new Act stipulates that the presiding officer of the standing committee must be a senior woman employee of the organisation and committee members must include at least two representatives of the organisation’s employees and one external person, all preferably known for commitment to women’s rights and/or relevant experience and knowledge.

As Ayesha Kidwai of Jawaharlal Nehru University, who serves on an internal complaints committee at the university, pointed out in a recent article on the Tehelka case, such committees can serve multiple purposes and should not be seen as “a redressal mechanism that is ‘alternative’ to the law”. According to her, besides conducting internal inquiries into cases brought to its attention, a genuine complaints committee with due representation of all employees can play an important role in providing the kind of legal advice, counselling, and institutional support that every complainant needs if she decides to pursue a criminal complaint, facilitating, mediating and supporting her engagement with the criminal justice system. At the same time, it can initiate a parallel investigation into the complainant’s charges to look into the possibility of other instances of SHW within the organisation­by the accused in that particular case and/or others­and take appropriate action as required. This is particularly important since several reported cases have revealed men accused of SHW to be serial offenders who have obviously grown bolder each time they have got away with such abuse.

A newspaper headline on November 22 asked, “Question is, why did Tehelka not take Vishaka on board?” The report goes on to state that “most leading media organisations in the country have such anti-sexual harassment committees”. However, it listed only six news organisations with policies relating to sexual harassment reportedly in place. This is in a country which boasts more than 86,000 registered newspapers and over 800 permitted private television channels, not to mention an ever-growing number of magazines, private radio stations and online media, besides the state/public broadcasters, Doordarshan and All India Radio. And where interviews with women journalists across the country in the late 1990s for the book Making News: Women in Journalism revealed the prevalence of SHW even in the 1970s and 1980s.

Of the 17 Indian news companies surveyed for the 2011 Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media­located in four cities and representing both English and Indian language media­88 per cent claimed to have adopted specific policies on gender equality and 82 per cent to have instituted policies relating to SHW. In the absence of corroboration, however, these assertions can only be accepted with some reservation. Surveys among women journalists conducted in the early 2000s, several years after the Vishaka guidelines came into force, revealed that sexual harassment was a reality experienced by a significant number of women in the profession and that, despite this, few media houses had taken effective steps to deal with the problem in a convincing manner. Each case of sexual harassment in a media workplace that has come to light over the past decade­in different sectors of media located in different parts of the country­has exposed the persistent failure of many media houses to implement the law: few, if any, of the organisations involved had the necessary policies and mechanisms in place.

One of these was the 2003 case of Sabita Lahkar. On November 22, Sabita wrote to the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, referring to the extensive media coverage given to the Tehelka case and seeking to call attention to her plight a decade after she complained about sexual and professional harassment by the then editor of Amar Asom, a popular Assamese daily newspaper. According to her, even though the management did set up a “redressal committee” on the direction of the Assam Human Rights Commission and it recorded her grievances, the editor was never asked to appear before the committee. The police, too, did not dare to summon him for interrogation and failed to conduct a proper investigation. As a result, justice has eluded her.

One of the few instances so far in which a complainant has received some relief was in the labour suit filed by Rina Mukherji against the management of The Statesman, Kolkata. In February 2013, the Industrial Tribunal decided in her favour and ordered her reinstatement with full payment of back wages from October 2002, when her services as a senior reporter were terminated after she protested against sexual harassment by the then news coordinator of the newspaper. Although she was unable to get justice in the sexual harassment case, thanks to her perseverance the newspaper was compelled to institutionalise internal complaints and redress mechanisms, including a complaints committee.

There is some indication that the widespread outrage and debate generated by the infamous December 2012 gang rape in Delhi have led to more public awareness of gender, especially sexual, violence. The imminent enforcement of the SHW Act also seems to have served as a wake-up call spurring some action towards ensuring compliance. However, the experience of a non-governmental organisation working in the area of gender violence, which invited media establishments in its home city for a confidential training workshop on the new Act and its implementation last summer, suggests that quite a few have yet to recognise the seriousness of the situation and the need to set their houses in order before any “unfortunate”, “untoward” incidents take place on their watch.

In April, even before the Act had received the President’s assent, the All India Organisation of Employers organised a workshop on procedural compliance with the SHW legislation, in collaboration with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and supported by the International Labour Organisation. The letter of invitation says, “The legislation places a number of obligations on the part of an enterprise or any work place, to set in place an elaborate mechanism for preventing and investigating cases of sexual harassment through the constitution of internal complaints committees, provides for punishment and deals with issues of gender sensitisation at the workplace to create a healthy working environment… the issue is highly sensitive and needs handling with due knowledge and information to avoid any violation or penal provision.”

Perhaps media companies and their umbrella organisations will now follow suit. The Tehelka debacle may yet serve a constructive purpose if it catalyses action within the media towards establishing in-house mechanisms as mandated by the law. On November 27, the Press Council of India called upon all media organisations to set up internal committees to prevent and redress cases of sexual harassment of women at the workplace. On November 28, the management of The Hindu announced the approval of a sexual harassment policy to be adopted and implemented throughout the organisation from December 1 and the initiation of a process for setting up internal complaints committees for all the company’s offices across the country.

These are certainly positive signs, as is the recent constitution of a 10-member Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committee in the Supreme Court, chaired by a female judge, to receive and decide complaints against sexual harassment within that exalted workplace. This belated development, too, was obviously triggered by the recent complaint of sexual harassment levelled by a young law intern against a senior judge of the apex court, which additionally served to highlight the fact that the court had failed to implement its own guidelines issued 16 years ago.

A few media organisations have distinguished themselves by having SHW policies and mechanisms in place long before the issue became the stuff of front page headlines and prime-time television debates. Perhaps they can and should now play a more active role in sharing their experiences and observations, and setting a more visible example so as to encourage more of their peers to do the right thing. Perhaps they can form the nucleus of a new, expanding media roll of honour.

Ammu Joseph is an independent journalist and author based in Bangalore, writing primarily on issues relating to gender, human development and the media. She is the author of Making News: Women in Journalism.
 Mumbai ~ December 27, 2013

Sexual Harassment: Universities

Under a cloud

A rally taken out by students and teaching and non-teaching staff of Delhi University in New Delhi. A file picture. (V.V. Krishnan)

Two cases in Delhi University colleges point to the gender insensitivity in handling sexual harassment cases and show that such crimes at the workplace are less about lust and more about assertion of power.


THE self-immolation and subsequent death of a Delhi University laboratory assistant on September 30 opened a can of worms. The woman immolated herself in front of the Delhi Secretariat as her pleas against her alleged sexual harasser went unnoticed by the university and government authorities. She had accused the principal of B.R. Ambedkar College, a constituent of the university, of sexually harassing her for four years. In her complaint to the police, made in front of a sub-divisional magistrate, she had also said that the principal threatened to kill her son. Her suicide was caused also by the fact that her services were terminated on “disciplinary grounds” after she filed a complaint against the principal.

Only a few months earlier, in June, the university was rattled by a complaint lodged by a senior personal assistant to the principal of Atma Ram Sanatan Dharma College (ARSD College) with the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) against the acting principal for allegedly asking her for sexual favours, following which the university apex complaints committee against sexual harassment set up an inquiry.

Not only did the two cases point to gender insensitivity of the university authorities in handling such cases but also showed that sexual harassment at the workplace was less about lust and more about assertion of power in a hyper-masculine professional space. “Despite my overt reluctance, the acting principal regularly asked me to sit close to him. He kept making undue comments filled with sexual overtones. He tried to touch me; he even asked me out for tea despite my clear objections,” the woman told Frontline.

She said she did not lodge a complaint with the college-level complaints committee. “All the members of the committee were handpicked by the acting principal and that is why I decided to go to the DCW. I faced a lot of resistance from the university apex committee, too, but the DCW pressured it to take my complaint,” she said. Matters became worse after she lodged the complaint. “My office was locked after I filed the complaint. An inquiry committee was established at the college to review my work. I was given many show-cause notices on fake grounds. All notices said that disciplinary action would be taken against me,” she said.

While the principal of B.R. Ambedkar College was suspended after the laboratory assistant succumbed to her injuries, no action was taken against the ARSD College’s acting principal. The only action taken was that he was not confirmed in his post. In most such cases across the country, women’s groups allege, the administrations protect the offender as he is invariably powerful or well connected. The case of the personal assistant became a rallying point for progressive trade unions at the university to highlight sexual harassment of women on university campuses. Many Delhi University teachers came out in support of the victim. The incident renewed the debate on the crucial issue of sexual abuse of professional women.

In 1997, the Supreme Court mandated the Vishaka guidelines to prevent sexual harassment of women at the workplace. Many women’s groups felt that the guidelines, which provide a clear definition of sexual harassment, were revolutionary as they laid down an extensive framework to prevent such cases.

The guidelines required the formation of complaint committees against sexual harassment at all workplaces and placed the responsibility of ensuring a professional environment free of sexual harassment and gender violence on the employer. It fixed accountability. However, even after 15 years, the guidelines have not been complied with in most workplaces.

Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi University and the University of Madras were the first three universities to draft a policy to prevent sexual harassment. JNU became a role model for other universities as it was the first university to have elected student representatives in its complaints committee, along with teaching and non-teaching staff. Delhi University followed suit with an equally strict policy.

However, in most other Central and State universities, the committees are either non-existent or practically non-functional. Rooprekha Verma, former Vice-Chancellor of Lucknow University, said: “This is because of the fact that women’s issues are not a priority in our universities. In Lucknow University, I instituted a complaints committee but it was dissolved after I left. Most of the students are not aware of the committees. Whenever a grievous incident happens, a committee is instituted without following the Vishaka guidelines and it becomes non-functional. The staff clubs are male-dominated. They pass lewd remarks on women colleagues; talk about their bodies. As a result, women find these staff rooms inaccessible.”

“A colleague of mine was raped when I was the Vice-Chancellor. No one came in support of her. Male colleagues were curious to know how it happened and they cast aspersions on the woman’s character. Our patriarchal society normalises sexual abuse and power dynamics. Universities are no exception,” she added.

In some other universities, anti-sexual harassment committees were formed only recently, when women’s issues came to the fore following the gang rape of a paramedical student in Delhi in December 2012. For example, Osmania University constituted a committee only in January 2013 after the death of a girl student. It was later found that the student had been repeatedly raped by an assistant professor of the university.

Even in celebrated Central universities, problems such as failure to advertise the complaints committee and conduct sensitisation programmes against sexual harassment are common. Most of the students do not know that such committees exist. “Complaints committees should act as a deterrent. If students do not know about these mechanisms, the employer should be held accountable. The Vishaka guidelines clearly mention that the employer should take adequate steps to publicise it,” said Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women’s Association.

According to the Vishaka guidelines, Central institutions such as JNU and the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) should have at least one committee to take all complaints. The Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) of JNU is the most celebrated complaints committee in India. Every year, two student representatives are elected to the body. Students body elections, thus, have become the best way to keep women’s issues alive and accord them top priority. But in most universities, election to these bodies is non-existent. In decentralised universities such as Delhi University, there are college-level committees and one apex committee comprising representatives from various colleges. The representatives are elected or sometimes nominated.

In universities where the complaints committees are functional, they face resistance from the male staff. “The male-dominated administration views these committees as directly affecting the interests of men. Women campaigning for gender rights in universities are seen as men-haters, even by the administration. It is another way of legitimising sexual harassment. They should wholeheartedly extend support to such mechanisms. The universities must be forthcoming in strengthening these committees,” said Abhiruchi Ranjan, students’ representative in JNU’s GSCASH.

Another method adopted to scuttle the committee’s proceedings, women teachers point out, is to delay disciplinary action. The committees submit their inquiry reports to the executive councils of the universities for initiating disciplinary action. The committees do not have punitive powers as they are quasi-judicial bodies. “In cases where faculty members are found guilty, the executive council delays its decision. In such cases, the woman needs courage to lodge a complaint against a hierarchical superior. Such delay traumatises her further. We have found that many a time, the executive council creates situations that compromise the confidentiality of the complainant. Sometimes, procedural lapses are found to protect the guilty person,” said Ayesha Kidwai, a professor in the Department of Linguistics, JNU.

“For example, in the case of a senior professor in JNU, the executive council insisted on reading the full report at its meeting. This created an environment that was inimical to further complaints. Finally, the professor was suspended on charges of sexually harassing a female student. In another case, the supporters of a professor who had been accused by a PhD student of sexual harassment pasted posters all over the campus attacking the GSCASH. The university did not take any action. Such an environment will deter complaints instead of deterring sexual harassment,” she said.
Private universities

Women’s groups have often pressed for an accountability mechanism in private universities and colleges. Most of these universities do not have complaints committees and are said to be violating the Vishaka guidelines. “College and university administrative bodies brush aside incidents of sexual harassment in educational institutions as mere exceptions. Instead of having institutional mechanisms to deter sexual harassment, private universities focus on limiting interaction between men and women. They often limit the scope of discussing these issues. Students are discouraged to talk about gender rights, issues of sexuality and gender violence. They are also threatened sometimes,” a professor at Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) University, Tamil Nadu, told Frontline on the condition of anonymity.

In October, the VIT administration sent two girl students home for initiating a survey on gender equality in social media platforms. Both of them were actively campaigning to secure equal rights for women on the campus. Similarly, students belonging to two big private universities, Manipal University in Karnataka and Amity University in Haryana, told Frontline they were not aware of any complaints committee in their respective universities. This closed attitude towards discussing gender issues, many women professors in private universities said, was the result of the complicity of the administration with politically influential people, who discourage any rights-based movement in private universities and colleges. Violation or non-implementation of the Vishaka guidelines is more pronounced in private, profit-oriented technical institutions.

In what may be seen as the first step, two non-technical universities, O.P. Jindal Global University and Shiv Nadar University, both in Haryana, have drafted an anti-sexual harassment policy following efforts by certain faculty members who have been associated with the Indian women’s movement.

“Many believe that the idea is to punish people rather than sensitise them. This comes out of the belief that the workplace is sacred and sexual harassment does not happen here. Our university is a kind of experiment in private education. People have welcomed the complaints committee. We have held sensitisation workshops for all staff members and students. Universities should stop thinking of such mechanisms as a mere formality and ingrain them into their vision,” said Rupamanjari Ghosh, director, School of Natural Sciences, Shiv Nadar University.

Cases of sexual harassment in universities across the country have increased in recent years. “Cases of stalking, sexual abuse in a relationship that has gone sour and eve-teasing are increasing,” said Abhiruchi Ranjan. A survey conducted by some teachers in JNU found that around 24 per cent of the approximately 600 girl students interviewed admitted to being in abusive relationships. Of the 40 per cent of the girls in abusive relationships who considered approaching the GSCASH, fewer than 1 per cent did so. This clearly points to the social anxiety among girl students in approaching such committees.

In an online survey of ad hoc staff done by a few teachers of Delhi University, 5 per cent of the respondents admitted to sexual harassment by their superiors. The survey also revealed that 64 per cent of the respondents lived in constant fear of losing their jobs; 44 per cent had faced misbehaviour or humiliating experience at work; 28 per cent had faced misbehaviour from colleagues; and over 20 per cent from men in the administration.

“[Central and State] universities have stopped recruiting staff in a bid to privatise campuses. This has led to an increase in the number of ad hoc teachers who are more vulnerable to sexual harassment. In Delhi University, there are almost 4,500 ad hoc teachers. At the same time, all forms of dissent are being criminalised. Democratic culture is not only shrinking but is being suppressed by the administration. In Delhi University, we have been conducting sensitisation programmes against sexual harassment, but the apathy of the administration towards women’s issues is worrying,” said Nandita Narain, president of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association. The lack of a supportive environment deters students from lodging a complaint. Most of the students Frontline spoke to fear an administrative backlash or character assassination if they approached these committees. Many of them see complaints as detrimental to one’s career. “Our education system is feudal and completely pro-teacher. Students are hardly given any space to voice their opinions,” said Ayesha Kidwai.

“The trauma of sexual harassment is immense. There are occasions when women drop out in the face of an internal resistance from fellow male students. In cases where a professor is involved, the complainant has to face an adverse situation in classrooms. Complainants from science streams have a common problem in accessing laboratories, overseen by faculty members. Since most of their course work is dependent on laboratories, lack of access is a huge problem. There is no way we can protect them from the very people who may have sexually harassed them. Complainants from other streams have to face many difficulties in pursuing their academics if their complaint is against one of their teachers. Victimisation by teachers who are sexual offenders is commonplace,” said Abhiruchi Ranjan.

The University Grants Commission (UGC), which oversees the functioning of State and Central universities, does not have a proper mechanism to monitor the implementation of the Vishaka guidelines. It has a Women’s Development Cell, which is concerned with various women’s issues in different colleges, but a nodal body to take up cases of sexual harassment does not exist. Sources in the UGC told Frontline that the Commission had set up a committee to frame rules against sexual harassment in the universities as per the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. The committee’s report, which will be released in December, is viewed as an excellent one as it deals with many complications involved in sexual harassment cases that were ignored previously.

It is also said that it discusses at length the accountability of the university administration and promises greater protection to the complainant. The report seeks to minimise the effect of certain controversial clauses in the Act, such as “conciliation as the first solution” and “punishment for false complaints”. These two clauses, gender activists believe, are negative and are likely to be used by powerful offenders to silence and deter complainants. The report also envisions better representation of all sections of the university in its committees.

The idea of a complaints committee is to diffuse hierarchy. But recent cases have shown that in the face of apathy shown by university administrations, existing hierarchies are entrenched in these committees. It is, therefore, necessary to build a supportive political environment not only for working women but also for women students. A concerted effort by women’s rights groups, students and the teaching community is required in this respect. The UGC and other administrative bodies should ensure that educational institutions comply with the spirit of the Vishaka guidelines and fix accountability effectively.

 Mumbai ~ December 27, 2013

Sexual Harassment: The Judiciary

Above the law?

The Supreme Court of India. It remains a male bastion still. (Rajeev Bhatt)

Several cases of sexual harassment involving judges and interns in the Supreme Court highlight the need for regulations that can address gender insensitivity and inequality in the country’s highest court.


MORE than a decade after the historic Vishaka judgment laid down a framework for addressing sexual harassment at the workplace, the Supreme Court of India on November 26 finally constituted a panel to look at the issues of harassment in its own precincts. The recent allegation of sexual harassment against a former Supreme Court judge by a law intern has stirred up a hornet’s nest. The case has thrown the spotlight on the hierarchical, and often exploitative, relationship between judges, senior advocates and young women lawyers, which leads to harassment of women both within and outside the precincts of the Supreme Court. On November 29, the Supreme Court-appointed panel that was probing the alleged sexual harassment of a law intern by a retired judge submitted its report to the Chief Justice of India. The report has named former Supreme Court judge A.K. Ganguly as the accused in the case.

The formation of the panel is only a small step to create a gender-sensitive environment for women lawyers, interns and clerks who are often forced to acquiesce to daily harassment in a world of male domination. Women lawyers practising in the Supreme Court sense a deep-seated culture of sexism that manifests itself in the everyday conduct of judges, fellow lawyers and senior advocates. The present regulations governing sexual harassment at the Supreme Court, notified in September 2013, remain grossly inadequate.

The public outcry over the recent sexual harassment allegations seems to be the immediate cause for the formation of the panel. Earlier, in December 2012, the Supreme Court in Medha Kotwal Lele and Ors vs Union of India had expressed its anguish over the non-implementation of the guidelines laid down in the Vishaka judgment. The court noted: “There is still no proper mechanism in place to address the complaints of sexual harassment of the women lawyers in Bar Associations.” Further, in Binu Tamta and Anr vs High Court of Delhi, the Supreme Court observed that women attending courts as administrative staff, lawyers, and clients or in any other capacity must be protected from sexual harassment. It was only in September 2013 that the Supreme Court finally notified The Gender Sensitisation and Sexual Harassment of Women at the Supreme Court of India (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Regulations, 2013. However, these regulations fall far short of the norms defining sexual harassment set by the Vishaka judgment.

Speaking to Frontline, senior advocate and director of the Lawyers’ Collective, Anand Grover, explained: “Sexual harassment by judges of superior courts is not covered under the present rules notified by the Supreme Court. Also, the definition of precincts of the Supreme Court in the rules notified by the Supreme Court needs to be expanded so as to cover places outside the court premises where interns might have to visit for work. These rules do not come under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, Redressal) Act, 2013, being passed by Parliament. There are also problems with the Act so far as its application to judges is concerned. Section 13 of the Act provides for punishment for sexual harassment as misconduct in accordance with the service rules applicable to the respondent. These are not applicable to judges. Also, judges are not subject to the discipline of the Chief Justice of India. The only law that is applicable generally is the Vishaka judgment. Therefore, the Act and/or the regulations need to be amended to cover the judges of superior courts.”

Naina Kapur, an advocate with the Preventive Law and Equality Compliance who framed and acted as the lead instructing counsel in the public interest litigation (PIL) case that led to the Vishaka judgment in 1997, highlighted how the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, Redressal) Act, 2013, considerably diluted the progressive spirit of the Vishaka judgment. She said:

“The 2013 Act has diluted Vishaka through prioritising complaints and the complaint mechanism and diluting the primary importance of prevention. Apart from the Statement of Objects, nowhere does the Act adhere to the spirit of promoting workplace equality. Rather, it resorts to outdated, archaic language, is confused and convoluted in language, which will be a key obstacle to implementation. It is not in the least bit user-friendly, exposing a lack of understanding of the issue and a failure to keep the beneficiary in mind. Most significantly, it has incorporated a provision on ‘conciliation’ and a provision on ‘false charges’, both of which are antithetical to constitutional equality and both of which were rejected at every consultation that took place. The Justice Verma Committee strongly recommended the deletion of both the provisions. Undermining the importance of prevention denies the possibility of enrolling and orienting employers and others towards attitudinal change, the very obstacle that has historically denied women access to a level playing field at work.

“The Act resorts to an adversarial process akin to a court process which, apart from being unimplementable by most workplaces, again undermines the unequal impact which characterises workplace sexual harassment. The Supreme Court draft rules propose to worsen this scenario through an even more convoluted and unfriendly process.”

Sexism in the court
Despite the immense public attention on the issue of sexual harassment, young lawyers complain of a claustrophobic atmosphere dominated by sexist comments and a culture of hyper-masculinity and gender insensitivity. Jhuma Sen, a junior advocate who has been working in the Supreme Court for the last three years, gave a detailed account of the different forms of sexism: “Sexism is very apparent and evident in the courtrooms, the corridors and in the canteen. Walking down the corridors of the court itself gives one a sense that it is a male-dominated profession as male judges and lawyers far outnumber the women. Also, there is a lot of pushing and shoving that goes on in the crowded courtrooms and occasionally in the corridors too. Some of the male senior advocates are at times patronising and condescending towards younger women lawyers. There was this instance earlier this year when a male advocate, who was not even my senior, started instructing me about the appropriate place to stand and what to do in the courtroom. The courtrooms are mostly filled with men. It was only during the hearing of the Binu Tamta case hearing on sexual harassment last year that I saw a large number of women lawyers in the courtroom.”

The young advocate also spoke of the numerous sexist jokes, at times bordering on sexual harassment, that are commonplace in a lawyer’s chamber. “Most women lawyers, especially interns and juniors, are constantly subjected to sexual innuendoes and sexist jokes and have no means to raise their voice for fear of losing their jobs.”

The gender insensitivity of the institution manifests itself in several other ways. On December 13, 2012, Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising wrote to the then Chief Justice of India, Altamas Kabir, requesting the provision of crèche facilities in the Supreme Court for the toddlers of practising women lawyers. The proposal was endorsed by the Women’s Bar Association and received the support of a number of women lawyers who found managing both work and home difficult. The proposal has not been implemented yet.

Naina Kapur said in an email interview: “It seems to me gender education should be a staple part of the judicial training curriculum, with an evaluative process that can help improve judicial practices and attitudes towards women lawyers in general and gender issues in particular. The recent case of an intern being sexually violated by a retired judge clearly shows how difficult and challenging it is to raise a complaint at this level. And yet, the question is, why should it be so? Perhaps because we still live in a culture which is extremely uncomfortable with all things sexual and, rather than being supportive, is suspicious of any complaint that dares to challenge entrenched institutional attitudes that do result in unequal treatment of women and of such issues.”

Challenges ahead
On November 26, the Supreme Court constituted a workplace sexual harassment panel on the lines of the framework established by the Vishaka judgment, with a majority of female members and two members of civil society nominated by the Chief Justice of India. The panel is headed by Justice Ranjana Desai, who also heads the three-judge inquiry committee examining the allegation of sexual harassment against a former judge by an intern.

Speaking to Frontline, the renowned human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover welcomed the step and termed it a breakthrough into the predominantly male bastion of the Supreme Court.

In the days to come, the committee will face a number of challenges in improving gender sensitivity awareness in the Supreme Court and in the legal fraternity as a whole. An amicus curiae petition filed by Anand Grover on the issue of the alleged sexual harassment of an intern on November 18 highlights several of the systemic problems that encourage discrimination against women. The petition calls for a regulatory regime for interns, law students and law clerks interning with the judges of the Supreme Court, which includes application procedure, conditions of work, terms of engagement and an affirmative declaration encouraging the engagement of women interns and women law clerks. Against the backdrop of similar cases of sexual harassment, there are fears of a backlash against women lawyers and interns and of judges refusing to employ women interns.

The petition has also asked for the Gender Sensitisation and Sexual Harassment of Women at the Supreme Court of India (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Regulations (2013) to be expanded so that interns, lawyers, law students and clients are not excluded from protection. It has also asked for an expansion of the definition of “Supreme Court of India precincts”, bringing the same in conformity with the definition of “workplace” under Section 2 (o) of the 2013 Act.

The inquiry into the alleged sexual harassment of the intern, however, faces multiple obstacles. Commenting on the problems in bringing the guilty to book, a senior advocate explained: “The alleged incident happened after the judge had retired. Also, the incident did not take place on the Supreme Court premises but in a hotel. The present regulations governing sexual harassment therefore do not apply. Also, the incident happened in 2012, before the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act, 2013, was passed. Therefore, the girl can only get relief if she files a criminal complaint under the old Section 354, which deals with ‘outraging the modesty of a woman’.”

The present case of the law intern has brought to the fore the larger problem of gender insensitivity and the lack of regulations to punish the guilty in the highest quarters of the judiciary. The formation of the committee, though a step in the right direction, is only a small one to prevent exploitation by people in positions of power. However, there have to be concrete measures to promote a just, gender-sensitive working environment for women lawyers, interns and law clerks and prevent obstacles to women entering the legal fraternity.


Afghanistan: Women’s justice denied by Parliamentary efforts to reduce women’s rights Print E-mail
 Wednesday December 11, 2013

Delay in justice for Afghan women

By Alissa J Rubin, INYT

Over the past one year, there have been repeated efforts in Parliament to reduce women's rights.

Despite years of intensive effort by Afghan and international rights advocates, progress in obtaining justice for abused women in Afghanistan appeared to have stalled, according to a report released by the United Nations. The report, on the implementation of the 2009 Elimination of Violence Against Women law, found that although the number of official reports this year by the police and prosecutors on violence against women rose by 28 per cent from the previous year, actual prosecutions did not remotely keep pace, rising by just 2 per cent.

At the same time, there are intensifying fears that the continuing withdrawal of international money and staff members ahead of the 2014 Western troop pullout deadline will leave women particularly vulnerable, after a decade of international attention made little headway in curbing some deeply entrenched and abusive Afghan traditions. “With the drawdown in international assistance and support, there is a real risk that any advances in women’s rights will erode, and there’s already disturbing signs of that,” said Georgette Gagnon, the head of the United Nation’s human rights division here, who led the team that put together the report.

As an example, Ms Gagnon said, the lack of an ability to bring abusers to justice was likely to increase “the risk of more child marriages, more forced marriages and violence against women with impunity.” The backsliding has already begun, in fact. Over the past year, there have been repeated efforts in Parliament to reduce women’s rights.

Limiting the ability
One new restriction in particular is likely to hurt: Parliament prohibited the use of relatives’ testimony in criminal cases, greatly limiting the ability to prosecute domestic violence cases, as they often hinge on family members as witnesses. There was also an effort to codify the Elimination of Violence Against Women law, which was approved as a decree by President Hamid Karzai in 2009 but has not been passed by Parliament.

The law criminalises domestic violence and other harmful practices, including beatings, child marriages, forced marriages, the practice of giving away a woman or girl to settle a dispute and forced self-immolation.

But the effort to pass the law through Parliament last summer nearly unraveled it altogether, as conservatives seized the opportunity to declare many of its provisions “un-Islamic,” including the prohibition on child marriages, forced marriages and unrestricted rights to education and women’s shelters. The Parliament speaker stopped the debate and sent it back to committee.

Parliament was successful, however, in reducing the quota of seats for female members of Parliament to 20 percent, down from 25 percent, and eliminated any quota at the district level. The quotas for women used to pertain to all levels of government.

Hasina Safi, the executive director of the Afghan Women’s Network, said her organization had been studying child and forced marriages and concluded that they were directly linked to violence against women. Ms. Safi and other women’s rights advocates, as well as Ms. Gagnon, fear an increase in such marriages as the economy worsens and families turn more frequently to selling their daughters.

Analysts took one bit of solace from the study: The increase in the number of complaints appeared to signal at least some rising awareness among women of their rights and a greater willingness to come forward and seek justice.

However, tempering that was the reality that many more complaints were received by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission than were ever brought to the police. In 15 of the 16 provinces surveyed, more than 1,000 complaints were received by provincial offices of the Women’s Ministry, but only 650 complaints were registered with the police or prosecutors.

In the narrower context of the law and the prosecution of abuse, the United Nations report found that in the past year, most cases were settled by mediation, which human rights advocates said meant women were often sent back into the family circumstances in which they were abused.

Based on examination of cases in 16 provinces (the United Nations said Afghanistan’s other 18 provinces did not provide enough information), few prosecutors were even using the Elimination of Violence law as a basis for indictments. The law was reported to have been used in only 17 per cent of cases, 109 out of 650 registered episodes in those provinces this year.

Worse, despite the rise in reports under the Elimination of Violence law, the overall number of criminal indictments filed by prosecutors under all the applicable criminal laws actually decreased this year. Some prosecutors prefer to use other criminal laws than the Elimination of Violence law in cases of abuse.

Syria: Conflict years coincide with targeted VAW, including abductions, rape & use as hostages Print E-mail

 Volume 382, Issue 9908, Page 1858, 7 December 2013

Violence against women in Syria

The Lancet

Dec 10 marks Human Rights Day, which this year celebrates 20 years since the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action­a reaffirmation of the global community's commitment to human rights. It is also two decades since the UN General Assembly's Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. The anniversary represents a time to reflect on how far the world has come in protecting the rights, safety, health, and dignity of women, and­in complex conflict situations like Syria­how far we have to go.

A new report­ Violence against Women, Bleeding Wound in the Syrian Conflict­ [Read HERE] by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) released last week contains evidence of targeted abuse against women in the country. It details first-hand testimonies from women such as Lamya, a student from Latakia, Syria, who was arrested with her father in June, 2012, during a military intelligence raid on her house. Accused of equipping field hospitals with supplies, she was detained for 8 months during which she was exposed to severe acts of torture.

The report notes that while fighting has intensified since the start of the conflict 2·5 years ago, Syrian women have been increasingly exposed to violence perpetrated by all parties, including torture, use as human shields, and sexual violence. It confirms previous reports that rape is used as a weapon of war in Syria, with rapes occurring in three major situations­at checkpoints, detention centres, and during military raids. Shockingly, it notes that an estimated 6000 women have been raped since the conflict began. The EMHRN release follows an April report by the International Federation for Human Rights, in collaboration with the Arab Women Organization, which also detailed accounts of sexual violence from Syrian women who had fled the crisis and were residing in Jordan.

Evidence of violence against women in Syria is mounting. International agencies, non-governmental organisations, and asylum countries supporting Syrian citizens can respond by ensuring their services meet the clinical and psychosocial needs of women who have experienced violence.

Global: Selected abortion of females a rampant and multi-billion dollar industry Print E-mail

As a consequence, girls & women in their scarcity are exposed to multiple additional violences.

(After reading "Girls not allowed" please scroll down to read "Missing Girls - The facts"

New Internationalist Magazine Digital Edition #466 - October, 2013

Girls not allowed

Vanessa Baird examines what sex selection is doing to women and the world.

Choosing boys over girls in China and India has already skewed the global average sex ratio at birth to a biologically impossible level. (Pawan Kumar/Reuters)

There’s a moment in the documentary film It’s a Girl that is at once chilling and heart-rending.

A woman smiles nervously as she starts to describe the methods she used to kill her eight new-born baby daughters.

Then she puts her hand up to her own neck, to indicate strangulation and its almost as though she were doing it to herself. Which, in a way, she was.

We soon learn that several other women in her community in rural Tamil Nadu admit to similar measures to provide their husbands with a son.

Such brutal customs are rare in India today, sociologists say, and confined to certain isolated communities.

A far greater number of baby girls die more slowly from neglect. Hence the shocking statistic: an Indian girl aged between one and five is 75 per cent more likely to die than a boy. Its the worst under-five gender differential in the world.1

But far more common than letting girls die today is another form of sex discrimination making sure that girls aren’t born at all.

Skewing the world

Foetal imaging technology became widely available in the 1980s. Expectant parents in China and India, the planets most populous countries, were able to know the sex of the baby in the womb. And if they did not like what they saw, they could abort and try again.

The result of their choices: more boys. Many, many more boys. It is estimated that in China alone there will be 30-40 million more boys under the age of 19 by 2020 than girls.2 That’s equivalent to all the boys in the US.

Naturally, it also means far fewer girls. The latest global UN estimates are that 117 million females are missing.3 In other words, women and girls who would be alive now were it not for sex selection before birth or neglect and infanticide after. Imagine the entire female populations of Britain, Canada, Australia, Spain and France all gone.

Normally, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. Boys being biologically weaker, nature seems to adjust by ensuring more are born. This ratio is pretty consistent, with anything over 107 beginning to look dodgy. But because of all the skewing that has already occurred, 107 is the world average today impossible in purely biological terms.

China is the worst offender, with around 118 boys born to every 100 girls; India records a national average of around 111, though in some northwest states the disparity is more extreme.3

It’s not just an Asian problem. Several European countries, including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Albania, are having many more male births than they ought, due to sex selection. Azerbaijan, at around 116 boys to every 100 girls, has the second-worst sex ratio at birth in the world. And there are signs of distortions in Western Europe and North America, too.


This hasn’t happened overnight; there were warnings. Back in 1990 economist Amartya Sen published a seminal paper claiming that millions of women were missing. At that time he blamed female infanticide and neglect. It took a while for analysts to detect the role that prenatal sex-selection was playing.

During the next decade, more warnings were given, but little was done at a policy level to address the problem. Now academics are busy calculating, and speculating upon, the future impact of so many surplus males on health, crime, relationships, family life, social harmony, global security.

Some economists had ventured that the status of women would improve as a result of their scarcity value. The opposite appears to be happening, as females are increasingly viewed as a commodity, a resource, to be bought and sold.

Trafficking (much of it forced) of girls and women into China has become a multibillion dollar business with demand rising (see Blue Dragon to the rescue on page 26). Child marriage, still common in India, is now making an appearance in China, too there are reports of parents kidnapping girls to raise as partners for their sons.4

High levels of sexual violence in Asia especially gang rapes in India have led to media speculation that female shortage might be a factor. Easier to ascertain is the violence, physical and emotional, that women in India may be subjected to at the hands of their in-laws if they refuse to take a sex test or abort a female foetus.

This issue has been thrust into the limelight by a Delhi doctor, Mitu Khurana. Highly unusually, she has brought criminal charges against her husband a surgeon his mother, his brother and two hospital staff. She alleges that, when she was pregnant with twin daughters, she was deliberately fed food she was dangerously allergic to after she refused an illegal sex test, which hospital staff then subjected her to without her consent. The case is currently going through the Indian courts.5

Gender imbalance is not great news for all those surplus boys either. By 2020 an estimated 24 million young Chinese males will face the prospect of life on the shelf. The poor or less well-educated are most likely to be affected. Its a tragedy, says French demographer Christophe Z Guilmoto, in societies that marginalize unmarried men as failures and where there is no model of the fun-loving bachelor.

Why boys?

In places with seriously distorted sex ratios at birth, parents almost invariably select in favour of boys. Tradition is often given as the reason for this intense son preference.

In China, for example, girl aversion is often put down to the Confucian custom that family name and property can only be passed down the male line. In India, Hindu culture is most strongly associated with son preference. Traditionally, the son provides for his parents when they grow old and beyond. Only a son can perform the funeral rites that will aid passage into the afterlife. Women, meanwhile, are expected to abandon their own kin on marriage and become part of their husbands family.

Guilmoto, who has spent two decades studying skewed sex ratios, warns against making generalizations. But he has detected some common basic determinants. Countries where skewing has been most extreme are those where there has been rapid economic growth. In these places technology for diagnosing the sex of the foetus has become widely available and affordable. They are also places where fertility has plunged, with people having far fewer children than their parents had.

In a nation like India, economic growth has produced an appetite for consumerism that appears to mesh with traditions deeply harmful to girls and women.

Photographer and gender activist Rita Banerji is founder of the 50 Million Missing campaign in India. She pulls no punches when she says that in India sex selection is essentially greed based. Because dowry is paid by the brides family, and is often a large portion of family wealth, every son is a way of getting money in whereas every daughter represents an outflow of wealth from the family.6

For Banerji, dowry, prenatal sex selection and female infanticide are part and parcel. The minute dowry enters a community, everyone becomes greedy for it. It becomes a way of thinking, Okay, this is a way of getting a huge amount of money.

The female, she adds, becomes a resource pawn in this patriarchy you can buy her, sell her, kill her, keep her. However you want. Its like with any resource.

Like India, the Eastern European countries with skewed sex ratios have also embraced free market capitalism with gusto while bearing far fewer children. This, in itself, does not lead to sex selection, but combined with intense son preference it does. If you have just two children there is a 25 per cent chance that you will end up without a son no joke in a patriarchal society fixated on male offspring.

Chinas one child policy, in place since 1979, is often blamed for female infanticide and high levels of sex selective abortion. But according to China expert and paediatrician Therese Hesketh, the policy has had only a marginal impact on the sex ratio. It is not clear that lack of a policy would help, she says. Indeed, the data shows that sex selection is highest in areas where people have been allowed to have a second child if the first is a girl.

This young woman has been bride-trafficked to Uttar Pradesh, an Indian state with one of the worst shortages of girls and women. She has been repeatedly raped by her husbands brothers, who cannot find wives.(Nita Bhalla/Reuters)

The law and the A-word

Sex selection is now illegal in at least 36 countries. But in those where son preference has the biggest global impact enforcement of the law is weak or non-existent. In China there is no enforcement. Hospitals with suspiciously high rates of female foetuses being aborted could be investigated but are not, says Hesketh. For some reason the higher echelons just dont do it.

In India, Banerji sees a more sinister complicity: Sex selection is a rampant, multi-billion dollar industry that everyone the lawmakers, the law implementers, doctors and medical companies is benefiting from. Thats what keeps it going. The law in India is so blatantly violated its as good as having no law.

She adds that British and Norwegian Indians come to India to get sex selective terminations because the rules are more stringently applied in Britain and Norway. And when a leading official in the north Indian state of Haryana tried to set up a sting operation to catch law-breaking doctors he was persecuted by colleagues for trying to implement the law.

Others point out that the bans are unenforceable. Ultrasound tests are a regular feature of pregnancy management; the sex of the foetus can be disclosed without a word being said. The abortion can take place in a separate clinic; a reason other than the sex of the foetus can easily be given.

There is also concern that attempts at tough enforcement could restrict womens legitimate and hard fought-for right to abortion.

Sex selection is tricky area for feminists: a womans right to choose has become a tool of misogyny. In the absence of a strongly articulated feminist position on the subject, in the US the issue has been effectively hijacked by the pro-life lobby.

Although the US has a normal sex ratio at birth, Republican anti-abortion lawmakers this year managed to push through the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act, under the pretext of defending gender rights. But, according to critics, the law goes beyond banning prenatal gender identification to restricting womens access to abortion itself. It will allow no exceptions to save the life or health of the mother, nor any medical reasons for sex selective abortions for example to avoid fatal inherited conditions linked to a particular gender. Doctors will be required to racially profile women seeking terminations and scrutinize their medical choices.

Miriam Yeung of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum is strongly opposed to sex selection but in May this year she joined a broad range of health and reproductive rights bodies to file a legal challenge to the law in Arizona.

I would welcome real efforts and real partnerships to fight gender inequity and racial discrimination, she commented. But laws like this are not those efforts. If they want to address son preference, the way to do it is not by stigmatizing women and taking away our rights.7

Abortion is the means not the cause of sex selection.

But honest regulation of sex selection, however tricky to enforce, is necessary because individual acts are having extremely harmful collective consequences.

Families need to realize that sex selecting for boys is a crime against girls. And that forcing or coercing women to abort female foetuses is an act of extreme cruelty for which perpetrators will be properly punished.

The law and its implementation, argues Banerji, is fundamental to changing mindsets.

Change is possible, as South Korea has shown. It is to date the only country that has managed to bring a highly skewed sex ratio at birth back to normal.

But it will take more than laws to stop the pursuit of son preference.

In the view of Guilmoto, governments have only limited impact when it comes to reproductive and family choices. It is social movements that bring about revolutions.

The big revolution that needs to happen is gender equity in every area in family life, in law, in the community, in work, in politics, on the street.


 In India, rallies protesting violence against girls and women take place with great regularity across towns and cities these days.

Awareness keeps rising. The imperative is to stop sex selection and to end the war on girls it embodies. Women like Mitu Khurana are tackling this in a direct and personal way. Leaving her husband and giving birth to her daughters made her stronger, more confident, she says. She believes she has a duty to speak out for those who cannot and to fight for a better world for my daughters.

The Indian media, meanwhile, is full of stories about the results of the latest census and comparing how states are doing in trying redress their male to female imbalances. Haryana, one of the states with the fewest girls, has just reported a record take-up of the governments Ladli scheme which rewards parents of girl children with cash payments and allowances until she reaches 18.

These are just a few strategies, more carrot than stick, that India has been trying out. China has been offering similar up-beat incentives to parents within its Care for Girls programme. Their success, or not, has yet to be properly assessed, says Guilmoto. China and the worst parts of India are modestly improving their sex ratios, he says. Something is working, but we dont know what yet. In China, for example, the introduction of old-age pensions in 2007 has lessened economic dependence on, and hence need for, sons. But even with rapid improvement an optimistic scenario it would take until at least 2050 before adult sex ratios got back to normal.

Some social change will happen perforce, as reality changes. A surfeit of males may prompt societies to acknowledge and accommodate a diversity of family and sexual arrangements. According to surveys of young Chinese urbanites, attitudes towards homosexuality are already becoming more relaxed.

However, there are indications that the sex selection habit is catching on in other parts of the world. Nepal and Pakistan are beginning to show the signs. In the Middle East, private clinics in Beirut and Amman are offering, for those who can afford it, sex selection without abortion, using advanced technologies such as sperm sorting for IVF or pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). These are the high-profit, booming areas of the industry that offer easier sex selection with less chance of detection. Its a worrying thought.

Surely if the past two decades have taught us anything, it is that nature, left to its own devices, does sex balancing pretty well. Humans clearly do not.

Violence against girls and women is increasingly reported and protested against in India.  (Anupam Nath/Press Association Pictures)

Vanessa Baird

1.        Times of India, India deadliest place in the world for girl child, 1 February 2012. 

2.        The Economist, The worldwide war on baby girls, 4 March 2010

3.        UNFPA, Sex Imbalances at Birth: Current Trends, Consequences and Policy Implications, 2012.

4.        Mara Hvistendahl, Unnatural Selection, Public Affairs, 2011.

5.        Sarah Morrison and Andrew Buncombe, My husband tried to force me to abort my twin girls, The Independent, 1 August 2013.

6.        Its a Girl, Shadowline Films, 2012

7.      Katie Mcdonough, Salon, Sex selective abortions: Just another right wing ruse, 19 August 2013

New Internationalist Magazine Digital Edition #466 - October, 2013

Missing girls - the facts

Facts and figures on the missing girls of the world.

1 Sex ratio at birth1

Biological norm 105 boys born for every 100 girls
Highly suspect! 110 boys for every 100 girls
Extreme cases! 150 boys for every 100 girls
(found in some pockets of central China and northwest India)

[]Data comes from different sources, including censuses, birth registrations, demographic surveys and special studies.

2 Unwanted

Latest UN estimates indicate there are 117 million missing females, most of them from China and India.1

7.7% of girls below the age of 20 are missing in countries affected by gender discrimination.2

3/4 of girls under 5 that are missing are due to prebirth sex selection.

1/4 of girls under 5 that are missing are the result of excess female deaths in childhood by neglect or infanticide.2

Baby boys are weaker and 20 per cent more likely to die than girls, according to the biological norm. But in some countries where gender discrimination is extreme many more under-5 girls are dying than is natural.

Excess under-5 female deaths per year (2005-10):1

  • 261,800 in India
  • 99,500 in China
  • 23,200 in Pakistan
  • 14,200 in Afghanistan
  • 13,800 in Bangladesh
  • 4,000 in Nepal

Excess female deaths do not feature in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and North America, and appear to a lesser extent in Africa.1

3 Determinants

Why the increase in sex selection?

There are three major determinants that work together.

Sex diagnosis technologies include:

  • Amniocentesis
  • Ultrasonography
  • Analysis of foetal blood
  • Sperm sorting for IVF
  • Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD)

Who is most likely to sex select?

  • Parents without previous sons an estimated 25% of son-less parents abort all female foetuses for second births in China, and 30% for third births in India.
  • Richer people with more education this applies in China, India and Vietnam.1

 4 Effects

Demographic imbalance too many men, not enough women.

Men without women

24 million Chinese men will not be able to find wives by 2020.3

Human trafficking

The UN reports large-scale trafficking of girls from northwest India being brought to Haryana state for forced marriage or bonded labour. Haryana has one of the worst sex ratios and a shortage of girls in towns and villages.

Of 10,000 married women surveyed in Haryana, 9,000 had been brought in from other states, though there is no indication of how many might have been trafficked.4

90% of human trafficking victims in China are women and children, mostly from poor rural provinces, trafficked for sexual exploitation. Human trafficking generates $7 billion a year in China.5

Child marriage

40% of child marriages in the world take place in India. In 2012 a senior politician in Haryana state called for the marriage age for girls to be reduced.6

Violence against girls and women in India, 2003-07

30% reported increase in rape

50% reported increase in abductions.7

 5 The future

Currently the sex ratio in the worlds population, across the entire age range, is 101 males to 100 females. Even in China and India the sex ratio between adults is not dramatically imbalanced yet. But it will be within the next decade or so, as a generation of sex-selected children enter adulthood. How big the gender gap becomes in following decades depends on whether sex ratios at birth can be brought back to a more normal level and how quickly.

These two charts show what will happen in China and India under two scenarios no change to todays unbalanced sex ratio at birth (no transition) and a swift return to normality (rapid transition).

Even if sex-ratio birth levels return to normal within 10 years an optimistic scenario men of marriageable age in China and India will still significantly outnumber women for several decades to come.



6 Action


Prenatal sex-determination technology became widespread in Asia during the 1980s and 1990s, but action to regulate it has been weak and slow coming.


South Korea: 1987 ban on sex selection.
India: 1994 first law targeting prenatal sex-determination, strengthened in 2003.
China: 1998 official regulation introduced; enshrined in family law in 2005.

Change is possible

In the early 1990s Korea had the worlds most skewed sex ratio at birth. Now it has returned to almost normal, thanks to a combination of law enforcement, pro-female campaigns and low fertility.

1.        UNFPA, Sex Imbalances at Birth: Current trends, consequences and policy implications, 2012 

2.        Christophe Z Guilmoto, Hanoi presentation, Sex Imbalances at Birth, revised 2011. 

3.        New York Times, 10 March 2013 

4.        UNODC report 2013

5.        Mathew B Conaway 

6.        Times of India 2012-10-12 

7.        Mara Hvistendahl, Unnatural Selection, Public Affairs, 2011.




DRC: Mining linked to atrocities, as emerging "drone economy" gives new meaning to 'blood coltan' Print E-mail
 Issue 655 ~ November 21 2013


Blood Coltan: Remote-controlled warfare and the demand for strategic minerals

By Carrie Giunta

The atrocious war in Congo is tied to the huge appetite in the west for strategic minerals essential to the electronics and military industries. The criminal regimes in Uganda and Rwanda sponsor proxy militias whose violence facilitates the smuggling of these minerals through the two African nations.

The Congolese war, which has killed over six million people since 1996, is the deadliest conflict in the world since the Second World War. If you add the number of deaths in Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Rwanda over the same period, it would still not equal the millions who have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Part of a solution to this is for western governments to hold Rwanda and Uganda accountable for funding proxy armies in the DRC. The retreat of M23 rebels from the Eastern DRC in recent days shows international pressure to stop Rwanda from supporting the rebels is working. The DRC insurgency is far from over, as other rebel groups are still to be defeated. There is a long way to go before stabilization in the region will be possible.

Considering that violence and brutality in the DRC is proportionate to the demand for the eastern regions of the country’s rich mineral deposits, it is less a matter of who is funding and supporting one army or another. The question is, rather, what is creating a heightened demand for conflict minerals?

The high-grade metal tantalum, processed from the precious mineral coltan, makes it possible to build smaller and smaller electronic gadgets like smart phones and tablets. It is also essential in powering a new trend of military applications such as drones. A new demand for tantalum has boosted coltan mining, trading and smuggling. As stockpiles run low, it is most likely a tantalum shortage could intensify violence again, which directly and indirectly affects people in the mining areas of the eastern DRC.

This province is the richest source of coltan in the world, with an estimated eighty percent of the world’s coltan reserves. Competition for minerals has a direct effect on the relentless violence in the region. Women and young girls have been among visible victims of the conflict and hundreds of thousands of them have been raped by opposing warring factions as a weapon of war.

A country the size of Western Europe, the DRC holds an estimated $24 trillion in mineral reserves, including gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt, coltan, tin, tungsten, zinc, manganese, magnesium, uranium, niobium, gold, diamonds and silver. Armed groups vie for control of mineral mines and the routes for mineral transportation. Minerals are channeled through neighbouring countries, Rwanda and Uganda by violent rebel groups and then bought by multinational companies. The Washington Post reports Congolese minerals are smuggled into Rwanda to the tune of $6 million a day.

Tantalum plays a vital role in the growing coltan market. A derivative of coltan, tantalum is a key component in modern electronics. It is the metal used in capacitors or devices that store energy.

Tantalum capacitors are not only used in smartphones. They are important for aerospace and military technologies, which rely on tantalum capacitors for running applications that reach very high temperatures.

With an extraordinary ability to withstand a broad range of temperatures and to resist corrosion, tantalum capacitors are a marvel of technology. They can retain a charge for an extended time and can tolerate operating environments of up to 200 °C.

One of the biggest challenges for defence electronics designers is in managing extremely high temperatures generated by the high performance processors in the new military applications. Recent innovations in thermal management have made it possible to operate under high heat loads using tantalum capacitors.

This extends to smart bombs, on-board navigation in drones, robots and a variety of weapons systems, such as the capacitors in anti-tank systems. Further advances in technology have brought the rapid development of fully autonomous weapons or lethal autonomous robots. In short, if it were not for tantalum’s amazing heat resistant properties, these systems would otherwise overheat.

At this year’s SPIE Defense Security and Sensing electro-optics conference trade show in Baltimore, the latest products were unveiled for drones technology. The focus at SPIE was on a new generation of drones that require small, light and low energy consuming technology.

Such advances in military technology increase the need for coltan. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reports: “Coltan’s ability to hold and move electrical signals and its conductive ability in extreme temperatures, makes it ideal for smart bomb guidance controls. Security analysts say it is a strategic mineral.”

Tantalum derived from coltan is essential in powering a new trend of military applications made by the US. Yet, the US has no domestic source of coltan. In order to sustain a continued flow of coltan, it depends entirely on imports.

The United States’ Defence Logistics Agency (USDLA) maintains reserves of strategic minerals and rare metals in its National Defence Stockpile (NDS). The NDS was established in 1939 to reduce the possibility of “a dangerous and costly dependence by the United States upon foreign sources for supplies of such materials in times of national emergency.”

Despite this, US tantalum stocks have depleted in recent years. According to Daniel McGroarty, in a Pentagon report last year about US dependency on minerals, the Department of Defence recommends stockpiling tantalum and eight other strategic minerals. If the US were to run out of tantalum, would it be able to continue building its state-of-the-art weaponry?

The consequences of a tantalum shortage would have a calamitous effect on the DRC. A shortage of coltan ore at the end of 2000 contributed to an overnight price hike from $49 to $275 per pound (454 grams). The moment of the price hike was also a time of great intensification of violence in the Eastern DRC.

Today the price of tantalum is up again and the rise in price corresponds to the violent situation on the ground. In June the situation in the DRC became increasingly insecure. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned: “…acts of violence committed against civilians, including murder and sexual assault, remain at a very worrying level and regularly cause the displacement of thousands of families."

Conflict-free campaigns attribute the tantalum rise as a response to the smartphone and tablet market. These campaigns aim to ensure rebel forces do not control sources of tantalum to finance armed conflict and that supply chains are transparent. These initiatives look at supply chains and manufacturing connected to companies like Apple and Samsung, but there is more to tantalum than the phone and gadgets market.

Conflict-free advocates make the mistake of overlooking the links between minerals and the weapons manufacturing industry. It is doubtful defence companies will be seeking out conflict free mineral sources anytime soon. A conflict-free weapon is an oxymoron.

Even less likely is the prospect of the defence sector abiding new federal legislation, which requires public companies to disclose whether they use conflict minerals from the DRC. Under the 2010 Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, US companies are required to submit a report to the Securities and Exchange Commission by May 2014 on the sources of the minerals they use.

Campaigns for conflict-free minerals are calling on electronics companies to use fair trade, conflict-free materials in smartphones, laptops and tablets. Their work has been successful in increasing the number of conflict-free mines in the eastern DRC. What has not been addressed is the larger role of conflict minerals beyond the realm of consumer electronics.

At the current rate, the weapons industry could exceed smartphone and tablet makers in coltan consumption if it has not already. Extended use of drones in the past decade means the US needs tantalum because the basic circuitry in drones is built with tantalum from refined coltan. This connection to weapons manufacturing gives new meaning to the term ‘blood coltan’.

Blood coltan is not exclusive to central Africa. Significant coltan reserves exist in the Amazon jungle covering the Venezuelan-Columbian border creating an Drug lords dominate the Columbian side of the border creating an emergent black market. This is considered a conflict zone as coltan is smuggled through the danger area on its way from Venezuela to Columbia and to Brazil:

In the DRC, mineral mining, trading and smuggling continue to fund the ongoing conflict. Armed groups include the Congolese national army (FARDC) whose ranks include many former rebels. The M23, which has given up control of the region, is made up of former members of the FARDC who mutinied in April 2012. A Global Witness report last year revealed members of FARDC make millions of dollars through their control of the mines. Constant struggles between the FARDC and numerous rebel groups over control of minerals mining and transportation of minerals have a direct effect on the killing, raping and ongoing violence in the region.

The rush on coltan engenders the violence in the DRC. Spearheading that demand is tantalum, a key ingredient in new military technologies.

The US obsession with “surgical” remote-controlled warfare, especially drones, is sharpening the appetite for tantalum. The US has killed thousands in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia with the ever-increasing drone strikes. Armed drones are also in operation in Mali, Libya and Niger.

This highlights a worrying connection between two contemporaneous wars – the twelve-year ‘war on terror’ and the sixteen-year war in the Congo. Joining the two is the demand for Congolese minerals.

* Giunta Carrie is a part-time lecturer based in London.

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