Gujarat HC proposes ban on social exclusion of menstruating women; seeks reply from State and Centre

THE Gujarat High Court has proposed a ban on the social exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status at all places, be it private or public, religious or educational.

It recently asked the Gujarat Government and the Central Government to file their responses to the Court’s proposed directions.

A division bench of Justices J.B.Pardiwala and Ilesh J. Vora also proposed the following:

  • The State Government should spread awareness among its citizens regarding social exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status through various mediums like putting up posters at public places, including it in school curriculum, using audiovisual mediums like radio, entertainment/news channels, short films etc.
  • Empowerment of women through education and increasing their role in decision-making can also aid in this regard. 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.
  • Sensitization of health workers, Accredited Social Health Activists and Anganwadi Workers regarding menstruation biology must also be done so that they can further disseminate this knowledge in the community and mobilize social support against busting menstruation-related myths. Adolescent Friendly Health Services Clinics must also have trained manpower to address these issues.
  • The State Government should hold campaigns, drives, involve NGOs and other private organizations to spread such awareness;
  • The State Government should include the issue of social exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status in all existing campaigns/schemes that aims 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;
  • The State Government should undertake surprise checks, create appropriate mechanism and to take such other actions, steps as may be necessary to ensure its compliance including imposition of appropriate penalty against the erring institution.

The bench said these were just prima facie considerations of the issue in question.

“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 deliberations 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 14th February 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.

It was the case of the petitioner 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.

Read the Order