The 1st Memorial Lecture

Every year, since its inception, the Justice Sunanda Bhandare Foundation invites an person to deliver a lecture on the subject of women's and human rights. Hon'ble Ms. Justice Sujata V. Manohar, Judge, Supreme Court of India , delivered the First Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial Lecture.

Today is the birth anniversary of Justice Sunanda Bhandare ? a day, which I am sure, holds happy memories for her family and many of us present here. It is appropriate that the first Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial Lecture has been organized today. I have known Sunanda and Murli Bhandare for many years when they were in Bombay and then in Delhi. I remember Sunanda as a young lawyer taking an active interest in women's issues. We were together at the biennial Conferences of the Indian Federation of Women Lawyers at Madras and at Hyderabad and I was impressed by her concern for women's issues and her sound common-sense. She excelled herself as a judge. Her sterling independence, integrity and legal acumen made her a notable judge of the Delhi High Court. Her husband gave her total support and did not allow his own vocation to intrude into her work.

Little did I expect that my first task on coming to Delhi would be to pay a c0ndolence visit to her husband. Destiny plays some strange tricks. Looking to Sunanda's abiding concern for gender justice, it is appropriate that the first lecture in her memory should be on Judiciary and Gender Justice ? two subjects dear to her heart, separately or together.

Gender Justice is a wide term which takes in its sweep every facet of life. For centuries, in fact, ever since known history, we have lived in a patriarchal (with some notable exceptions) and feudal society which has assigned to women a subordinate role. Women may be respected and loved, but have been confined to home and home-making, looking after the children, the sick and the elderly in the family. Most of the unpaid work in the world is done by women. Their socio-economic dependence led to their exploitation. The new awareness of this exploitation and the need to restructure society on a more just basis has led to serious attempts to reform and transform our social, moral, economic and political structure including our legal and constitutional framework. How this is to be achieved has elicited varied responses.

Need for Structural Transformation : At the Fourth World Conference on Women, more than 170 Non-Governmental Organizations from all over the world called for a pledge to gender justice. While there is a fair unanimity on the concept of gender justice, how gender justice is to be achieved, has elicited varied, and at times, conflicting responses. Women now demand not structural adjustment but structural transformation - making it possible for women to participate and contribute, while also fulfilling their responsibilities towards their children, elders and family. Women have also voiced their concern about lack of effective protection against domestic violence, against crimes like rape or molestation and sexual harassment at work, apart from sex based discrimination, making it difficult for women to function effectively in all spheres of significant human activity. There is also a growing fear that we are moving towards feminization of poverty. The fear is backed by impressive statistics. One out of five of the world's 5.6 billion people lives in absolute poverty ? defined as lack of adequate food, safe drinking water, lack of health care, high infant mortality and lack of education. And 70 per cent of the world's poor are women. Most of the world's single parent families are headed by women. And these families form a significant part of the world's poor.

An inherent gender bias pervades world civilizations cutting across countries and cultures. How is it to be overcome?
Rosemarie Tong in her book Feminist Thought* has summarized differing perceptions of the subject. "Gender justice, insist liberal feminists, requires us, first, to make the rules of the game fair and second, to make certain that none of the runners in the race for society's goods and services is systematically disadvantaged." This is the socio-legal approach. "Marxist feminists think it is impossible for anyone, especially women to obtain genuine equal opportunity in a class society where the wealth produced by the powerless may end in the hands of the powerful few." Here economic and political restructuring is advocated. "Radical feminists argue that it is the patriarchal system that oppresses women?? Psychoanalytic feminists find the roots of a women's oppression embedded deep in her psyche?.."