The language of justice in India is taking a step forward with the release of a new handbook to guide the country’s judges and lawyers
The language of justice in India is taking a step forward with the release of a new handbook to guide the country’s judges and lawyers on how to avoid using harmful gender stereotypes in their work.
Released this month, the handbook lists words and phrases to be avoided – such as spinster, seductress and easy virtue – by judges in their writings and decisions and proposes alternatives. It also gives details on how negative stereotypes impact the fair application of the law.
In a foreword to the handbook, which was issued by the country’s Supreme Court, Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said the intention was not to criticize past judgments but to show how stereotypes can be unwittingly and frequently deployed.
“The handbook will give a fresh impetus to our quest towards a gender-just legal order” that delivers “equal and impartial justice” to all, he said.
UN Women India’s Country Representative Susan Ferguson described the handbook as “a timely intervention against gender bias, particularly in cases of sexual assault and domestic violence for the Indian judiciary. It recognizes that language can reinforce stereotypes, impacting women’s access to justice significantly.”
UN Women is also undertaking an effort this year to encourage more gender-sensitive language across government and the civil service, conducting training workshops with Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The effort is linked to its mandate to mainstream gender equality and women’s empowerment. The aim is to foster inclusivity, reduce bias, build trust and promote effective policy outcomes. This also aligns with equality goals, conflict prevention and global development objectives.
At the training, participants from across India role-play scenario exercises and discuss how easy it is to take language for granted, whether in a legal judgment, a medical diagnosis or a government ruling.
Later this year UN Women hopes to finalize a training module that will be shared across the public sector, including among recruitment officers.
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women