India is ranked 56th out of 86 in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index. The country was ranked 96th out of 102 in the 2009 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The 2011 Human Development Index (HDI) score for the country is 0.547, placing it in 134th place (out of 187 countries). The Gender Inequality Index score is 0.617. India’s Global Gender Gap Index rating for 2011 is 0.6190, placing it in 113rd place (out of a total of 135 countries).

Discriminatory Family Code: 

Personal laws vary according to religion. The 1855 Hindi Marriage Act and the 1956 Hindu Succession Act govern the Hindu population. The 1937 Muslim Personal Law Sharia Application Act and the 1986 Muslim Women’s Protection of Rights on Divorce Act govern the Muslim population. Christians and Parsis are governed by the Christian Marriage Act and the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act.

Under Indian law, the minimum age for marriage is 18 years for women and 21 years for men.[1]  In 2005, 27.6 percent of girls between 15 and 19 years of age are married, divorced or widowed.[2] Indian law requires the consent of both parties for a valid marriage to take place, however public opinion suggests that women may not always exercise this right in practice. Only 26 percent of those polled in 2007 Pew survey believed that a woman should be free to choose her spouse; 24 percent believed that a woman’s family should choose for her, and 49 percent responded that they should share the responsibility.[3]

Polygamy is legal for the Muslim population, but is illegal for all other groups.[4] The 2005-2006 Demographic Health Survey found that 1.7 of married women aged 15-49 were in a marriage with one or more co-wives.[5]

Legally, both spouses have equal rights within marriage.  However in practice, fathers are considered to be the ‘natural’ head of the family and to exercise parental authority.[6] In cases of divorce, courts are instructed to take decisions regarding child custody in the best interests of the child.  However, the 2005 CEDAW report notes a trend whereby in most cases, Family Courts award custody of small children and of girls to mothers, while fathers are more often awarded custody of boys and of older children.[7] Muslim men have the right repudiate (i.e. divorce unilaterally) their wives.[8]  Indian women have the right to pass citizenship onto their children.[9]

The Hindu Succession Act of 2005 granted women co-equal inheritance rights to ancestral and jointly owned property, although enforcement of this law is weak.[10] The government reported in 2011 that the section of the law which denied rights of a widow to inherit her husband’s property upon her remarriage has been repealed.[11] However, many women, particularly in northern India, are still deprived of inheritance. The Muslim population of India may follow inheritance guidelines set out in Sharia law which discriminate against women and girls; daughters, for example, inherit half as much as sons.[12]

[1] CEDAW (2005), p.93 [2] DHS (2005) [3] Pew Research Center (2007), Question Q.44. [4] CEDAW (2005), p. 93; Morrisson (2004), p. 15. [5] Measure DHS Statcompiler (n.d.) [6] CEDAW (2005), p.45 [7] CEDAW (2005), p. 45. [8] CEDAW (2005), p.4 [9] CEDAW (2005), p.57 [10] JICA (2008), p. 28; CEDAW (2005), p. 12, 82, 83. [11] Ministry of Women, Child and Development (2011) [12] CEDAW (2005), pp. 11-12, 94-95; CEDAW (2007), p. 10.

Restricted Physical Integrity: 

In 2011, the government reported that the legal framework relating to rape is provided under Sections 375 to 376D of the Indian Penal Code.[13] The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women has previously raised concerns about the narrow definition of rape in the law[14], however in 2011, the government reports to be considering a proposal to improve the definition of sexual assault. The 2005 CEDAW report notes that the Supreme Court has laid down guidelines regarding what support should be provided to rape victims.[15]

In 2006 the government passed a new law that defined domestic violence broadly to cover physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as well as harassment in the form of dowry demands, and criminalizes spousal rape.[16] The Act provides civil remedies including Protection Orders against violence perpetrated by members of the family.[17] As of 2007 however, the CEDAW committee expressed concerns that not all states and union territories had put in place mechanisms to enforce the law.[18]

 Although there is currently no legislation to specifically address sexual harassment, the government reported in 2011 that the Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2010 was being considered. The Criminal Procedure Code, however, contains clauses against eve teasing (street based sexual harassment) and other forms of harassment.

Rape appears to be the fastest growing crime in the country, according to figures from the federal Home Ministry's National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) which reported 22172 cases of reported rape in 2010, 5182 cases of dowry-related harassment and 8391 cases of dowry death.[19]   The Bureau also noted, however, that this probably represents a fraction of actual cases, as under-reporting of sexual crimes remains a serious problem.  The US Department of State notes that law enforcement and legal avenues for rape victims are inadequate, overburdened, and unable to address the issue effectively.[20]  Dalit women, and women in conflict areas such as Jammu and Kashmir are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence.[21]

Reports of spousal violence have increased in recent years, although this may reflect increasing awareness of legal avenues for redress.[22]  In the 2006 National Family and Health Survey, nearly 40 percent of married women reported having ever experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence at the hands of their husband or partner, while 27 percent reported such violence occurred in the previous year.[23] Further, a majority of married people in India view domestic violence as acceptable under certain circumstances. When presented with a choice of seven reasons why a man may be justified in beating his wife, 54 percent of women and 51 percent of men agreed with at least one of the reasons.[24] The US Department of State notes that implementation of the law in domestic violence remains weak, due to lack of capacity and resources of police and other agencies, and widespread corruption in law enforcement.[25]

According to the US Department of State, so-called ‘honour’ killings remain a serious problem in India, particularly in the states of Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, with one report estimating that more than 1000 women and girls are killed this way each year.[26]  Women and girls were killed for marrying or being in relationships without their families’ or village elders’ consent, or for marrying outside their caste.[27]

There is no evidence to suggest that female genital mutilation (FGM) is practised in India.

Abortion is legal in India in cases of foetal impairment, where the woman’s mental or physical health is in danger, in cases of rape and incest, and for economic or social reasons.[28]  Sex-selective abortions are a criminal offence.[29]

There are no legal restrictions on access to contraception, or information about reproductive health and family planning, although in some areas, access to reproductive health services is limited by lack of provision.[30]  Contraceptive knowledge is near universal in India among all married and unmarried women. Current use of contraception lags behind the level of knowledge, as roughly half of married women reported using a modern method in 2006.[31] Among women who did not intend to use contraception in the future, 42 percent did so because they had difficulty or an inability to become pregnant.[32] Overall, 12.8 percent of women had an unmet need for family planning, either because they desired to space the births of the children farther apart or because they wanted no more children.[33]

[13] Ministry of Women, Child and Development (2011) [14] CEDAW (2010) [15] CEDAW (2005), p.98 [16] The Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act 2005, activated 26 October 2006. [17] Ministry of Women, Child and Development (2011) [18] CEDAW (2007), p.4 [19] National Crime Records Bureau (n.d.) [20] US Department of State (2011) [21] US Department of State (2011) [22] CEDAW (2005), p. 7. [23] IIPS and Macro International (2007), Tables 15.9 and 15.8. [24] IIPS and Macro International (2007), Tables 14.15.1 and 14.15.2. [25] US Department of State (2011) [26] US Department of State (2011) [27] US Department of State (2011) [28] UN (2011) [29] The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 (PNDT), amended in 2003, in CEDAW (2005), p.17 [30] US Department of State (2011); CEDAW (2005), pp.76, 80 [31] IIPS and Macro International (2007), Table 5.5. [32] IIPS and Macro International (2007), Table 5.23. [33] IIPS and Macro International (2007), Table 5.31.

Son Bias: 

There is strong evidence to suggest that India is a country of high concern in relation to missing women. The 2011 Census found a worrying trend in child sex ratios with only 914 females for 1,000 males, a drop from 927 in 2001. Using data from the 2011 Census in India, after adjusting for excess mortality rates in girls, the estimates of number of selective abortions of girls rose from 0—2·0 million in the 1980s, to 1·2—4·1 million in the 1990s, to 3·1—6·0 million in the 2000s.The study shows that the problem is in fact growing amongst the middle class which suggests that missing women cannot be attributed to poor socio-economic status.[34] The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 1.08.[35]

According to data from the 2006-2007 Demographic and Health Survey for India, 41.5% of girls and 45.3% of boys under the age of two had received all their vaccinations.[36]  Under-five mortality rates were higher for girls than for boys (79.2 per 1000 live births for girls, 69.7% for boys), while malnutrition rates were equal or slightly higher for girls.[37]  Given that in most contexts, rates of under-five mortality and malnutrition are higher for boys than for girls (due to physiological differences between male and female children), this would indicate bias towards sons in regard to early childhood care.

Gender-disaggregated data in regard to child labour was unavailable.

Primary and secondary school enrolment and attendance rates are lower for girls than for boys (according to UNICEF),[38] indicating some son preference in regard to access to education.

[34] Jha et al, 2011 [35] Central Intelligence Agency (2012) [36] IIPS and Macro International (2007), Table 9.4 [37] IIPS and Macro International (2007), Table 7.3, 10.1 [38] UNICEF (n.d.)

Restricted Resources and Entitlements: 

Women’s equal access to land and other property are guaranteed by law and have been upheld in several court cases.[39] In practice however, a number of obstacles prevent women from accessing land and property other than land, including discriminatory inheritance practices, limited legal literacy, discriminatory attitudes towards women’s ownership and control of land in the family and community and discrimination in the allocation of land through state transfer programmes.[40] There is limited data available on women’s ownership of land and property, however one small-scale study of two states found that 402 women respondents in Kerala, 36 percent owned immovable property (land or a house) while in West Bengal, this figure was 35 percent out of a sample of 450 women. Recent research on gender gaps in assets based on the Karnataka Household Asset Survey 2010‐11, found that for agricultural land in rural areas, 71% was owned by individual men, 14% owned by individual women and 2% held by couples living in a household.[41]

The Married Women’s Property Act, 1974 (article 4) provides for married women’s earnings to be their separate property.

There are no legal restrictions regarding women’s access to credit however, women’s access to credit is restricted in practice due to restricted access to collateral such as land.[42] The government reported in 2005 that a number of micro-credit initiatives have been established to increase women’s access to credit.[43] In 2011, the government reported that to improve women’s access to the formal banking system, public sector banks were directed by the Reserve Bank to earmark 5% of their Net Bank Credit for lending to women. Credit to women from Net Bank Credit increased from 2.36% in 2001 to 6.29% in 2009.[44]

[39] CEDAW (2005), pp. 45, 82-83, 92, 94. [40] Agarwal, B. (2002) [41] Swaminathan, H. et al (2011)  [42] Agarwal, B. (2002) [43] CEDAW (2005) [44] Ministry of Women, Child and Development (2011)

Restricted Civil Liberties: 

There are no legal restrictions on women’s freedom of movement, and previous restrictions requiring unmarried women to provide their father’s signature on passport application forms have been removed.[45]  The government reported in 2005 that women’s mobility is limited in practice, however this is not common.[46]

Freedom of speech is generally respected in India, although there are some restrictions on freedom of assembly and association.[47]  There is a very large ad well-developed NGO sector in India, including a large number of vocal women’s rights advocates and organisations.  According to the 2005 CEDAW report, women’s rights NGOs are active in empowering, mobilizing and organising women, challenging discriminatory and harmful practices such as sex-selective abortion and early marriage, raising awareness and advocating for policy change and for the repeal of laws that continue to discriminate against women, as well as in service delivery, particularly in regard to support to victims of gender-based violence, reproductive health services, and water and sanitation.[48]

Women and men in India have the same rights to vote and stand for election.[49]  The percentage of elected female representatives to India’s national government is lower than that of its neighbours, but India is taking steps to increase women’s political participation. As of March 2010, two of the top political positions, the Presidency and the Speaker of the House, are held by women.[50] Sixty-two percent of respondents to a 2007 poll believe that men and women are equally capable as politicians.[51] As of December 2009, women held 58 of 543 seats in the Lok Sabha (lower house) of Parliament, and 23 of 243 seats in the Rajya Sabha (upper chamber).[52] In August 2009 Parliament approved an amendment to the national constitution to increase reservations in the panchayats (village councils) to 50 percent.[53] In March 2010, the upper house of Parliament passed another Constitutional amendment that would reserve one-third of the seats in the national and state legislatures for women, but the measure has drawn strong opposition in the Lower House.[54]

India extends maternity leave benefits to all employed women for twelve weeks at 100 percent of their pay, paid for by their employer.[55] However the large number of women employed informally and in the agricultural sector (and not in the organized, public, or governmental sectors) means that many pregnant women are not covered by this benefit.[56]

[45] CEDAW (2005), p.92 [46] CEDAW (2005) p.92 [47] Freedom House (2010) [48] CEDAW (2005), p.3, 4, 16, 78 [49] CEDAW (2005), p.53 [50] US Department of State (2010) [51] Pew Research Center (2007), Question Q.43. [52] Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (2010) [53] US Department of State (2010) [54] Polgreen (2010), p. A4. [55] International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009). [56] CEDAW (2005), p. 7, 30.


India is the world’s largest democracy, and the second most populous country.[57] Home to a wide variety of different linguistic, cultural, religious and ethnic groups, the country achieved independence from British colonial rule in 1947, and since then has been governed under a federal system.[58] The country’s economy is growing rapidly , with a large, well-educated middle class emerging; however at the same time, social and economic inequality is becoming more entrenched.[59] India is classed as a lower-middle income country by the World Bank.[60]

Since independence, the government of India has promulgated many laws to protect women’s rights, and the Constitution prohibits discrimination on many grounds including sex, and recognizes the principle of equality for all before the law and of opportunity in matters relating to employment.[61] As the 2005 report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW committee) notes, there have been a number of cases of women in India using the courts to uphold their rights.[62]  However, despite this comprehensive legislative framework, the interaction of multiple legal systems disadvantage women in regard to marriage and family law in such matters as marriage, divorce, child custody, guardianship, and inheritance.[63] Despite legal measures to outlaw discrimination and promote affirmative action (particularly in regard to education and government employment),[64] women belonging to the Dalit (lowest) caste continue to face discrimination and are at greater risk of gender-based violence.[65]

Persistent and endemic violence against women, widespread poverty, hunger and restricted access to resources for women are major challenges for achieving gender equality in India.[66] Further, a key challenge for women’s economic empowerment in India is the gender gap in employment outcomes.  The government reports that of the total labour force, around 25 to 30% of women in rural and 15 to 18% in urban areas participate in the labour market.[67] In the rural areas, women are mainly involved as cultivators and agricultural labourers – 73% of all women workers are employed in the agricultural sector. In the urban areas, almost 80% of the women workers are working in the unorganised sectors such as household industries, petty trades and services, buildings and construction.[68] sector. Further, it is estimated that 96% of employed women work in the informal sector.[69]

India ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1993, but has not yet ratified the Optional Protocol.[70]

[57] BBC (n.d.) [58] BBC (n.d.) [59] UNDP India (2011) [60] World Bank (n.d.) [61] Articles 14 to 16 of The Constitution of India as modified 1 December 2007 [62] See numerous examples of case law elaborated in Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (2005) [63] CEDAW (2005), p. 93. [64] BBC (n.d.) [65] Minority Rights Group (n.d.) [66] NAWO (2006) [67] Ministry of Women, Child and Development (2011) [68] Ministry of Women, Child and Development (2011) [69] Ministry of Women, Child and Development (2011) [70] UNTC (2011)


Agarwal, B. (2002) Are We Not Peasants Too? Land Rights and Women’s Claims in India, SEEDS, Population Council,, (accessed 22 November 2011)

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Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Factbook: Sex Ratio, available at (accessed 29 February 2012)

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Discrim. Fam. Code Rank 2012: 
Discrim. Fam. Code Value 2012: 
Legal Age of Marriage: 
Early Marriage: 
Parental Authority: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Rank 2012: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Value 2012: 
Violence Against Women (laws): 
Female Genital Mutilation: 
Reproductive Integrity: 
Attitudes Towards Domestic Violence: 
Prevalance Of Domestic Violence: 
Son Bias Rank 2012: 
Son Bias Value 2012: 
Missing Women: 
Fertility Preferences: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Rank 2012: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Value 2012: 
Access To Land: 
Access To Property Other Than Land: 
Access To Bank Loans And Credit: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Rank 2012: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Value 2012: 
Access To Public Space: 
Political Participation: 
Political Quotas: