The introduction of the National Women Commission (NWC) was through the recommendation of the Committee on the Status of Women in India (CSWI). The CSWI recommended that a commission is set up to fulfill, facilitate and accelerate the development of women socially, mentally, morally, physically and otherwise.
More than fifty-eight years ago, the General Assembly of the United Nations created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by India. India’s adoption of the law was to end the age-long practices of discrimination and violence against women. An instance of such is child marriage, girl feticide, virgin widow’s remarriage, marital rape, bride rape, dowry death, forced prostitution, purdah system, bride burning, bigamy, etc. These social vices and domestic violence were designed to shatter the status of women and create a patriarchy society.
One may wonder if all these social vices and domestic violence were overlooked in the Indian Constitution, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Universal Declaration of Humans Rights, the Indian Penal Code, etc. It took India more than two hundred years to dismantle the patriarchy system it has built. A dismantle started with the adoption of international treaties and the amendment of the constitution to the creation of the NWC.
Establishment of The National Women Commission-
The NWC was established within 1992 under the National Women Commission Act, 1990. It is one of the most important statutory bodies established by the Indian Government.
National Women Commission (NWC) Composition-
The NWC comprises of the following persons:
- A Chairperson nominated by the Government who is committed to the cause of women.
- Five (5) Persons nominated by the Government. Such persons or members must be individuals with credible integrity, ability, standing, and reputation. They must have sufficient experience in trade unionism, law or legislation, management, health, economic development, social or educational welfare or other related fields.
Functions of the National Women Commission-
The functions of the NWC are stipulated as follows:
- The Act charges the commission to be the coordinating agency that will receive, process and document all complaints from Indian women as it pertains to their Indian husbands who are not within the country and who have deserted their wives.
- The Act made no provision for husbands that are not overseas but deserted their wives. The paragraph of the subsection only considers overseas husbands that desert their wives. Therefore, for the complaint to hold water, the complainant must prove these:
- That she is legally married to her husband
- That her husband is an Indian
- That her husband does not reside in India
- That her husband deserted her.
- The Commission is also empowered to help render all form of assistance including an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism to the parties involved. Different methods of ADR that can be used by the Commission are
- Negotiation, etc.
Other than offering ADR services to the complainant, the commission must also advise her on related issues pertaining to her case. This is to leave her better informed and equipped.
- The NWC is empowered to network and associate with:
- local or community organizations,
- rural organizations,
- State organizations,
- Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) in India and globally, especially organizations that after women’s welfare.
The reason for such is to facilitate, create a wider coverage, provide support and empower women in India. Such activities can also attract the media’s eyes and help to propagate the NWC messages to places the Commission cannot reach.
The primary aim of this function is to associate and network through formal and informal services dedicated to women.
- This function allows the Commission to have a coordinated response both within and outside the body. For instance, the NWC is empowered to have a two-way communication between itself and
- various agencies including governmental and non-governmental agencies,
- organizations including governmental and non-governmental,
- the National Human Rights Commission,
- Indian Missions, and Indian Embassies,
- Concerned Ministries such as Mosque, Churches, Temples, and other related places of worship, to mention a few.
- The NWC also offer assistance when the complainant goes for litigation. It was earlier iterated that the Commission offers some form of ADR, but when ADR fails and the parties resolve to litigate, the NWC steps in to help the aggrieved woman with the case. Such assistance is not expected to be beyond the scope of the complaint or the case. The basic concept is to be there for the aggrieved woman or the complainant at the moment when she needs help. Thus, they offer assistance related to the issue at hand.
- The NWC is mandated to have and keep a data bank record of all cases brought to its attention. Organizations that are constantly evolving to help women combat social vices and domestic violence ought to keep a record bank database. The records in the database can be used to identify repeat offenders, one-time incidents, and areas or zones prone to social vices. A review of the record would also help the NWC understand whether they are progressing or regressing as it pertains to the cases that are reported and treated when necessary. The cases can comprise all forms of dispute resolutions and alternative dispute resolutions.
- The NWC has the powers to seek reports such as cases, records, proceedings, laws, legislative bills etc. from the state government. This function allows them to easily access public documents from the Government without going through red tapes, bureaucracy, bribery, and other forms of delays or corruptions. The reason for this function is to make the functions of the NWC as it relates to the State Government easier. The NWC is drawn from the constitution and as such has constitutional backings which a state government cannot override.
- The NWC is mandated to give recommendations and advice to the government on any issue or policy pertaining to NRI marriages. NRI simply means Non-Resident Indian. These are persons who are of Indian origin but do not necessarily reside in India. They also called Indians in Diaspora or overseas Indians. Therefore, the NWC is empowered to give recommendations and advice on any form of policy or issues the government intends to create or pass as a Bill on the marriages between NRIs or between an NRI and a resident Indian.
- The NWC has the capacity and the manpower to carry out an analysis of the different legal treaties acceded, adopted, passed or created by the Indian Government on women and other related issues. Other than the analysis, they have the capacity to advise the government on their findings whenever it is demanded or required. Such advice must be based on the issues pertaining to women and not on other unrelated terms or issues or policy.
- The NWC has the functions to create committees. One of the committees is the Advisory Committee. The Committee is expected to comprise of persons or advocates of high reputation or NGOs within and outside India. The members of this committee will continually and occasionally review the cases filed, the policy issues and generally, the functioning of the Cell.
- The NWC shall also constitute a panel of experts. This panel is different from the Advisory Committee and members of this panel of experts must be Indians. Their roles are to provide assistance to an aggrieved wife and to reminder legal services to her. Such legal services rendered can pertain to mediation, conciliation, litigation, negotiation, etc. The provision and assistance of the services provided by the panel of experts only pertain to an aggrieved wife and not all the parties to the suit or case. This function subtly highlights that the aggrieved wife must be the complainant. Nothing is said in instances where the aggrieved wife is not the complainant.
- The NWC can continually function effectively if they are in constant education and learning. Therefore, they have the power to plan and create training modules for its members and for women within and outside the Commission. The training it is mandated to carry out can be on the sensitization of the subject of social vices and domestic violence to various agencies or organizations whether or not they are partnering with them. Instances are:
- The Judiciary,
- The Police Administration,
- Bodies tasked with providing justice to women, etc.
- The NWC is to create public awareness of their responsibilities and roles. The women in India may not know the exact functions, roles, responsibilities or the jobs of the NWC unless there is a public awareness. The public awareness can be carried out in the media such as:
- Broadcasting TV channels,
- Social media,
- Call to Action, etc.
By constantly being in the eyes of the public, the NWC can sensitize the public or the masses on the issues. Therefore, the Law provided that the NWC should utilize all media within its disposal to create public awareness on the issues pertaining to women.
- The Commission will support and encourage the study and research of various issues pertaining to social vices and domestic violence such as grievances, dowry, child bride, sexual violence, etc. It can also encourage or support study or research in related fields provided it bothers on issues pertaining to women. Other issues that can be discussed are issues relating to dual citizenship, marriage laws, the signing of international treaties or protocols, enactment of a new legislation by the Indian Government, etc.
- The NWC shall also look into complaints that are brought before its attention provided the complaints relate to the Non-Resident Indians (NRI) cell also referred to as Indians in Diaspora or Overseas Indians. The Commission also has the power to suo-moto take notice of the issue and addresses it accordingly. The Commission shall only set in if the said issue is under sections 8, 10 (1) (f) and 10(4) of the National Women Commission Act, 1990.
- The NWC has its own rules and procedure and it is mandated to regulate itself. Therefore, the NWC can create, regulate and set its own procedures provided that such procedures are in accordance with the National Women Commission Act, 1990. If it does not fall within the ambiance of the said Act, such procedures will be declared null and void by the court.
- The NWC finally has the function to perform other functions not enumerated in the Act but also assigned to them by the Indian Government or the Commission. There is a caveat to this exception. The function assigned must be one which is not contrary to the NWC missions, goals and objectives. If the assigned functions fall outside the NWC vision, the Commission is not expected to do. In the instance where the Commission acts on an assigned function outside its policy and related issues, such function will be declared null and void by the court. Although the Commission and the Government have the power to assign functions and the NWC has the duty to carry the, out, it must be in accordance with its Act.
The NWC is more than two decades and it is expected to stay. The functions discussed above are intended to guide the public on what they can or cannot obtain from the NWC. The NWC road to sensitize the public on issues and policies pertaining to women may be long but it is definitely a step in the right direction.