Is India’s National Commission for Women just a toothless tiger?

Published on April 19, 2019

The last few decades have seen vociferous gender activism and aggressive women’s movements, which has led to reforms in the existing laws and a gradual transformation in the policy directions paving way for women-oriented projects.

Along with influencing policy decisions, this activism had also increased cross-sectional representation and participation of women in India.

For the uninitiated, a global debate on eliminating women’s inequality started back in 1970s and the UN took some strong decisions marking the decade between 1975 – 1985 as the women’s decade and rolled out certain policy decisions which put impetus on the countries to bring out status reports on women and create institutional mechanisms to support and monitor women development.

India’s Constitution was drafted way back in 1950, and the principle of gender equality was enshrined in it. The Constitution not only grants quality but has made special provisions for safeguarding equality in Part III and IV of the Constitution to promote gender equality.

Not disputing the fact that India as a country has failed in its constitutional responsibility of not discriminating on grounds of gender, it is important to mention that government has enacted certain legislation’s to give tooth and nail to women against injustice and bias.

In 1976, a National Plan of Action was drawn in India upon the recommendation of Committee (CSWI) Constituted to report on the status of women in India. The need for having machinery for implementation was emphasized by the committee.

As the need for an apex body to press for women’s interests were critical, the UN Commission on status of women recommended the establishment of a National Commission. This Commission was expected to play a multi-faceted role of being a catalyst, watchdog, evaluator as well as implementer.

Although, the first demand for a National Commission for women was raised in 1974, it was not until 1990 that the government decided to constitute the Commission. The period between 1974-1990 saw widespread emergence and proliferation of women’s groups and organizations.

These groups channelized movements that brought women issues out of the welfaristic mode and put it on public agenda and set them in political context. This is the time period when the issue of patriarchy was highlighted and brought to centre stage.

The NCW was constituted on 31st January, 1992 as a statutory body at the national level, in pursuance to the National Commission for Women Act. CEDAW (Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women), signed in 1979, is a very important International Treaty, which ensures women’s empowerment.

But India signed this treaty with some amendments on 9 July, 1993. The lack of constitutional machinery, judicial ability and social interest formed the foundation and need for the formation of the National Commission for Women.

Constitution of NCW

The National Commission for Women Act, 1990 provides for the following structure of the Commission: One chairperson, who is committed to the cause of women; five members from various fields; a member secretary, who shall be an expert in the fields of management, organizational structure, sociological movement or a member of the civil service of the union.

Functions of NCW

The complaints and counselling division looks into the complaints received and try to resolve it by counselling. The legal cell of the Commission has proposed numerous amendments to the women related laws and new bills in pipeline.

The research cell of the Commission has carried out a number of studies pertaining to maintenance and divorcee women, women labour under contract, gender bias in judicial decisions, violence against women, access to health and education for women.


The Commission does not have concrete legislative powers. It only has the powers to recommend amendments and submit reports, which is not binding on the Government. The power to select members of Commission is vested with the Union Government and in India’s volatile political scenario the Commission may get politicized.

The Commission is dependent on grants from the Union Government and this could compromise the independence of the Commission.

Despite the fact the last three decades have witnessed a number of initiatives by various governments with regard to women issues, the manner in which the issues have been addressed, have mainly been symbolic gestures only and the state has failed to address the issue of gender inequality in an effective manner.

The creation of a weak Commission for women has to be seen in the same context. In fact the Commission presents a glaring example of how institutions are rendered in effective by their politicization.

In India, women have come a long way from the rare women scholars to this modern age women in different sectors of the society including armed forces and politics, breaking stereotypes and barriers of a traditionally male dominated society. While women has fought against the patriarchal Indian society at many fronts, she still struggles to fight demons in the mask of illiteracy, discrimination, female feticide, rapes, dowry deaths, domestic violence, sexual harassment at workplace, forced hysterectomy, and economic security. Although India has close to 45 legislations that protect women against various atrocities, the situation of women in India is despondent.

As a dynamic legal professional Sumitra is poised to leverage her experience as a Lawyer practicing at the Supreme Court of India and use her educational qualifications, skills and knowledge for bringing in Gender equality, Sustainable development & Inclusive growth. She is a gold medalist in LL.M – Corporate Commercial Laws & is highly committed to support the cause of bringing in legal inclusion by taking legal awareness to the last mile of the social strata and making legal accessible and understandable in simple language.

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