For women, gender equality remains a dream due to these bizarre restrictions

Updated: Jan 21, 2018, 11:02 IST | Rimita Majumder

The burning topic of the moment is gender equality, with several movements for women's rights gathering momentum, but only a precious few leading to change. And amid this, there are those who've been suppressed under ridiculous restrictions

Illustrations/Uday Mohite
Illustrations/Uday Mohite

One ends, another begins
With Saudi Arabia taking the first step towards scrapping the law that restricts women from driving, the last such remaining policy in the world, Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov seems to have decided to follow in the wrong footsteps, officially banned women from driving in the central Asian republic. After Turkmenistan's interior minister argued that women drivers are responsible for most of the car accidents in the country, Berdymukhamedov issued the directive last December at his request. The police have started enforcing the law and cancelling licences of women caught driving.

BID Women

Gender equality remains a dream
>> The Sabarimala temple in Kerala restricts women aged between 10 and 50 years (the menstruating age) from entering its premises. The restriction stems from the legend that the temple deity, Swami Ayyappa, is a 'Naishtika Brahmachari', and should not be disturbed. On October 13 last year, the SC referred to a five-judge Constitution Bench the question whether the fundamental right of women to pray at a religious place can be discriminated against based "on a biological factor exclusive to the female gender".

BID Women

>> After years of the restriction on women from travelling alone to perform Haj, this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that his government had removed it, following which hundreds of women applied to go for the pilgrimage alone. As long as they go in a group of at least four people, Muslim women aged above 45 will now be able to go for Haj without a 'mahram'.

>> In 2015, the Andhra Pradesh government had issued a notification to pubs, clubs and bars to ask women customers to leave after 10 pm. The outlets had also stopped giving free drinks to them.

BID Women

A not-to-do list, just for women
Women can't wear false teeth in Vermont, unless their husbands give in writing, allowing them to do so. Women are not allowed to straddle bikers in Indonesia. They can sit with their legs on one side. Implemented as part of the strict sharia law, the ban was enforced so that women do not get into "undesirable situations".

In La Paz, Bolivia, married women are not allowed to have wine. Though she can have a couple of sips in the presence of her husband, if he thinks that she had too much, he can divorce her on the ground that it was "sexually lax behaviour". In Tucson, Arizona, women are not allowed to wear pants. They can wear breeches only if they are riding a horse or a two-wheeler.

Women aren't allowed to watch male sports in Iran, mainly football. The belief is that looking at men in shorts in a charged-up game could lead to "desire and lust" developing in their minds. Women in Saudi Arabia cannot have their own bank accounts, to control their finances, without permission.

Behind the wheel
For years, Saudi Arabia has had a blanket ban on women driving, with those caught behind the wheel being detained. The strict rule has been there despite there being any actual Islamic or Saudi law prohibiting the same. It was enforced with backing from powerful ultraconservative clerics, who believed that such acts would lead to sin.

The first step towards changing the policy was taken in recent years with the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He had ordered the reform in a royal decree delivered on September 26, saying that women would be able to obtain a driving licence without having to take the permission of any male guardian. A special government body has been set up to give advice in the matter. The law would be changed by June 2018.

Trupti Desai, equal rights activist and founder of Bhumata Brigade
'The concept of gender equality is still on paper. My organisation, Bhumata Brigade, fought for women's right to have equal access to religious places; but it doesn't help if only non-profit organisations fight for such a cause. It's also the responsibility of governments to ensure that equality becomes a reality.'

Low spirits
The ban on women from buying liquor in Sri Lanka was imposed in 1979 to appease the conservative Buddhist hierarchy then, as per the country's finance ministry. As part of the ban, neither can they buy alcohol, nor work in places that produce and sell it. But change was the horizon, and then it wasn't. For the first time in decades, they would've been able to buy liquor, but days after the finance minister removed the restriction, President Maithripala Sirisena stepped in and re-imposed the ban.

Susie Shah, ex-chairperson, Maharashtra State Women's Commission
'Women are still being controlled in various ways. Attitude and mindsets need to change. We need more teeth in laws to work for women. I can't say that we are moving towards equality, but we might just be inching towards it. It is often said that women misuse laws, but others misuse them too.'

June 2018
When the ban restricting women from driving in Saudi Arabia will be lifted

1991
Kerala High Court restricts entry of women aged between 10 and 50 years to the Sabarimala temple

39
Total number of years the ban on Sri Lankan women from buying alcohol has been in place

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