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Rights and Development

Blog series: Seven human rights challenges faced by women in detention

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  This series of blog posts looks into the challenges, risks and discrimination faced by women imprisoned around the world. They draw from my research throughout 2013 (continuing) with DIGNITY, the Danish Institute Against Torture, among prisons and prison communities in five countries -- Albania, Guatemala, Jordan, the Philippines and Zambia -- now published as a report: 'Conditions for Women in Detention: Needs, Vulnerabilities and Best Practices'. Each post below has been, or is soon to be hosted by a different online platform.          Women in Detention (Click heading for article link)  1. Their particular vulnerabilities during admission “The first day is the most horrible, the most humiliating.”– Female inmate, Jordan 2. The particular impact of detention conditions Published by Open Democracy “These things make you feel inhuman if you concentrate on them, so you try to forget them and accept life.” ­― Inmate, Zambia  3. Gendered information vacuums and their impacts Published by Penal Reform International.  “All ... Read the full article

New publication: Conditions for Women in Detention – Needs, vulnerabilities and good practices

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DIGNITY - The Danish Institute Against Torture, Jun 2014.  What are the issues, risks and vulnerabilities that face imprisoned women across the world? How is this being addressed by those who detain them? And is this well reflected in the attention they receive by the UN human rights treaty bodies? These questions lie at the heart of this study, written by Jo Baker with Therese Rytter for DIGNITY.             Find the executive summary and full report here                                        Find a two-page summary of findings and recommendations here While all human beings are vulnerable when deprived of their liberty, certain groups are at particular risk. For women, the discrimination that they face in broader society reaches deep into places of detention such ... Read the full article

Hong Kong is still failing its women

The South China Morning Post, 8 March -- Op-Ed on International Women' Day, with CEO of The Women's Foundation, Su-Mei Thompson. Later this year, Hong Kong will come under the microscope of a UN committee reviewing the city's compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw). While Hong Kong is ahead of many other societies in protecting the human rights of women, big gaps remain, and The Women's Foundation has submitted a "shadow report" to inform the committee's analysis. The gaps we have identified are wide- ranging and affect women and girls across age bands and social strata. Chief among them is the feminisation of poverty, reflected in the lack of specific consideration given to elderly women in the government's budget for health care and the fact that, because many were not part of the ... Read the full article

We need to talk about Quotas: Making women’s views count in Myanmar

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South China Morning Post (Op Ed), 12 December 2013 Myanmar’s first high level international forum for women showed a surge of new ideas being tolerated by its government. Of the most impactful was in the debate on quotas – with global female icons Aung San Suu Kyi and Christine Lagarde on either side. Myanmar’s most famous icon may be female, and yet women have been absent in decision-making throughout its five-decade military stranglehold. Its activists have been at best, ignored – at worst imprisoned or killed. So last week’s high level international forum on women’s leadership – the first in the country, and with the support of the government – was a high profile suggestion of change.Hosted by the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, and attended by political icon Aung San Suu Kyi, head of the International Monetary ... Read the full article

Update: Women in Detention – A Cross-regional Study

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Throughout 2013 I led research missions into prisons and prison communities in Zambia, Jordan, the Philippines and Albania, for DIGNITY - the Danish Institute Against Torture, and remotely managed research in Guatemala. I'll present this in a qualitative study, due to be launched in the margins of the Human Rights Council summer session 2014, along with a high level panel discussion. The study includes a desk review of UN standards on women in detention (particularly the Bangkok Rules) as well as their their treatment - or lack thereof - by UN treaty bodies. Its primary focus however, is what matters most to the women themselves. The interview methodology combines both a human rights-based and ethnographic approach. This is the first in a series by Dignity on vulnerable groups in detention - with the aim of enhancing their protection by national authorities, and ... Read the full article

Legal Study: Sisters in Crisis – Violence against women under India’s Armed Forces Special Powers Act

A number of studies and international legal arguments have been made to challenge the legality of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act ― in force across much of India’s North and East ― by way of India’s constitution, and its international human rights obligations. This paper aims to explore the socio-legal and psychological forms of violence to which women are subjected under the Act, directly and indirectly, using the growing toolkit of international instruments to protect and advance women’s human rights, and in reference to current feminist legal scholarship. By doing so it aims to highlight India’s continuing and resounding failure to progressively realize women’s equality in the North and East, and the often invisible forms of gendered harm wrought by this low-profile yet powerfully destructive emergency law, along with and militarization generally. Access the full legal study : Violence Against ... Read the full article

Op-Ed: Dynamic security – political change bad news for the women in Albania’s prisons

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Open Democracy, 11 October 2013   Albania has been leading the Balkan region in its management of women’s prisoners – a complex group to detain and rehabilitate. Now, as a new government is sworn in and politically motivated staff changes look likely, this progress – and the wellbeing of its female inmates – is at risk.  The formation of Albania’s new left-wing coalition this June signalled change for the country on many fronts. Yet one old fashioned tendency will likely pose unintended problems for a small minority – the women in its prisons. “Of course we are pleased with the democratic process,” says Erinda Bllaca, a lawyer with a local human rights NGO that makes regular monitoring visits to the country’s prisons. “But a change in government here unfortunately still means administrative change too. And when staff appointed by the previous ... Read the full article

Case Study: The Silent Revolution – Quotas in Single Member Districts: India

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This case study was written for a UN Women Guide on Temporary Special Measures in 2012. The quota adopted for women in India’s village-level councils (Gram Panchayats) offers one of the most robust examples of the impact of gender quotas on governance and political life – particularly in single-member districts. One-third of village council membership and council chief positions are reserved for women as part of a series of constitutional reforms to devolve government – the quota has been in place since approximately 1993. The requirement was increased to 50% in 2009 in a bid to safeguard better demographic representation among minorities. Prior to the implementation of gender quotas, India’s political environment, displayed a marked gender, social and ethnic imbalance among its elected bodies. Despite the country bosting a number of influential female political leaders, just over 5% of the members in ... Read the full article

Recovering the right to be human

For the Helen Bamber Foundation in London, to commemorate Human Rights Day, December 2011 "I would say this is a place that recognises who you are, what you have suffered and lost, tells your story when you cannot, and documents your injuries. It recognises and acknowledges you, for otherwise no one would ever know who you are and what’s happened to you. In this way, we help our clients understand that that they have the right to be human."Helen Bamber More than six decades since the UN Universal Declaration was signed, human rights standards continue to unite millions of people in their efforts to have every person treated according to his or her inherent dignity and worth. Yet for clients at the Helen Bamber Foundation, the concept sometimes proves challenging. For a start, many who visit its therapy rooms may ... Read the full article

Building alliances: Indigenous women leaders unite against development-based violence

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UN Women, 23 November 2012 The sound of helicopters still makes Soi Tonnampet shake, years later. It takes her back to the first time she and others from her indigenous community, the Karen, fled from an operation to clear areas of national parkland in Northern Thailand. She recalls that during their first three-day escape through the forest – one of many – an elderly woman died and another woman miscarried. Indigenous women shared their concerns about development-induced violence, and the strategies they have used to address it during the four-day meeting. Photo credit: UN Women/Jo Baker   For Lori Beyer, who is helping indigenous women contend with mining operations in the Philippines, gender-based violence has a different face. “Many of the male campaigners have to go into hiding,” she says. “It makes the women more vulnerable to sexual harassment, intimidation and sometimes worse.” Although they come ... Read the full article

Around the ASEAN Summit, the region’s women rally

UN Women, 20 November 2012 As world leaders meet in Phnom Penh to discuss the future of the region at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on 16 – 20 November, diverse civil society groups have been working to keep their fingers on the pulse and their voices at high volume. Particularly vocal among these have been women’s rights groups, for whom the Summit and its People’s Forum are emotional rallying points – a chance to amplify issues being discussed by women in homes, civic spaces and workplaces across Southeast Asia. These range from gender-based violence to sustainable development priorities and the scarcity of female decision-makers. At the Cambodian Women’s Forum, held in the lead up to the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, a  member of the Cambodian Women’s Caucus takes notes as a campaign statement is drafted.  Credit: UN Women/Jo ... Read the full article

Report: VAWG – Primary Prevention and Multisectoral Services

UN Women, October 2012  This report is a summary of a global online consultation on Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). I organized and moderated the discussion for UN Women, to support preparations for the UN's 57th Commission on the Status of Women. It brought together the views of diverse respondents on the good practices, and key gaps & challenges in presenting and responding to VAWG, with a focus on prevention and services. Participants included representatives from civil society, government organizations, research and leadership institutions and UN agencies across the world. The summary of this discussion informed the development of the Secretary-General’s reports and inputs to the Commission. Download: Online-Discussion-Report_CSW-57 

Policy paper: Reprisals Against Human Rights Defenders at the UN HRC

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), 2012 Respect and Protect? Exploring the need for the United Nations Human Rights Council to strengthen its response to reprisals. This policy paper  with the International Service for Human Rights, falls among an expanding body of concern about the reprisals that continue to take place against human rights defenders who cooperate with the Council's key mechanisms, and the Council's responsibilities in this regard. It was written in late 2011 thanks to input from a wide range of human rights practitioners working with and at the UN Human Rights Council. By addressing the extent to which the Council mechanisms rely on private actors and intermediaries, the study contends that it cannot effectively fulfill its mandate without better protecting them – and being seen to be doing so. I first look at the nature of the relationship between Council ... Read the full article

Where violence and HIV meet: Intersections are explored at this year’s International AIDS Conference, and the Kolkata Conference Hub

Say NO UNiTE (link), 26 July 2012 Held every two years, the International AIDS Conference is the world’s largest conference on HIV, and plays a fundamental role in shaping the global response to HIV, and keeping HIV and AIDS on the international political agenda. While the global climate for this year’s event in Washington DC (22-27 July) has seen  funding for the global HIV response diminish, important achievements are emerging on, among other areas, most-at-risk populations, the intersection of violence and HIV, parent-to-child transmission, and treatment as prevention. Attending for the first time as an official co-sponsor of UNAIDS, UN Women has been working to champion gender equality and women’s empowerment in the global response to HIV. Among the week’s discussions, UN Women convened and moderated a panel of women leaders to highlight achievements in women’s leadership that are driving change ... Read the full article

At Rio+20, diverse women leaders bring ground realities to the forefront

UN Women, 20 June 2012 The Women Leaders’ Forum, a discussion between civil society, government and public sector representatives with UN heads of agencies, has broadened the dialogue on gender equality and sustainability at Rio +20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainability. Organized by UN Women in collaboration with the Government of Brazil and other partners, the day-long event highlighted the central role of women in sustainable development, and the ways that robust policies can  improve women’s lives by reducing poverty, advancing their economic opportunities, and protecting them from adverse health and environmental challenges. It also highlighted the inequalities that continue to slow global progress towards a green economy and a protected environment. Delivering the opening and closing remarks, UN Women’s Executive Director Michelle Bachelet stressed the critical role of the women’s movement. “Twenty years ago, the Rio ... Read the full article

Five Questions for Catherine Smith

Say NO-UNiTE to End Violence Against Women, 14 May 2012 In 2011 Catherine Smith, an Australian mother of six, saw her former husband jailed on 17 charges, among them: attempted murder, assault, sex without consent, and detaining with intent to obtain advantage. It had taken her 30 years of  appeals and petitions to the authorities, during which she and her family suffered repeated brutality. Smith was herself tried during this time (and acquitted) for attempted murder. Her case highlights the barriers that women in Australia face, particularly those living in rural areas, when seeking protection and redress for violence within the family. Smith and her daughter Vickie spoke at the United Nations in March at the  56th Session of the Commission on Status of Women in New York, where their story resonated with ... Read the full article

On World Press Freedom Day – What Hope for Reconciliation and Free Expression in Sri Lanka?

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Guest Post for the Historical Justice and Memory Research Network, 3 May 2012. Many countries emerging from conflict have relied on the free media to involve the nation in its inquiry processes, and therefore help to validate them. From Kenya to Peru, the press has broadcast televised sessions, disseminated reports in different languages and formats and, while often divided on issues, has catalysed critical commentary and debate. This has not been the case in Sri Lanka. According to Sri Lankan NGOs public interest in the report of its Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission is low. Five months after its release it has yet to be translated into Tamil or Sinhala, and with the exception of state-sponsored editorials and maverick English language platforms online, media analysis of its findings has been rare. Mentions of the Commission, along with most other issues pertaining to national ... Read the full article

Q&A with Hanan Abdalla, director of a new film that explores the lives of Egyptian women since the Arab Spring

UN Women, 9 April 2012 This week, “In the Shadow of a Man”, a film commissioned by UN Women, is taking the compelling stories of four Egyptian women to the Istanbul Film Festival, as part of a string of international screenings. The documentary premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year, and will be followed soon with a second film by the director on women candidates in Egypt’s 2011-2012 parliamentary elections. In an interview with UN Women, young British-Egyptian director Hanan Abdalla weighs in on the issues the film addresses, and its relevance as the women’s movement gathers momentum in the country. What drew you to the subject of women’s needs in the aftermath of the Eyptian revolution? I’ve always known that there is a wealth of stories waiting to ... Read the full article

Building skills, finding voices: HIV-positive women in Cambodia

UN Women, 5 April 2012 Mom Ra lives just a few hours from Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, yet the 30-year-old felt very far from state support when first diagnosed with HIV. Like other HIV-positive women in her small village, she knew almost nothing about the illness and was diagnosed late, after countless costly trips to the local village doctor and losing a child to the disease. Like many such women, she says she also struggled to find information on treatments and her rights, and has been isolated by open discrimination from her neighbours. Yet in 2011 Mom Ra found promise and a sense of solidarity when she became one of 1,300 women to receive a USD 100 grant, and training to help her start a small business. The project is supported by ... Read the full article

Five Questions for Shishir Chandra: Men’s Action for Stopping Violence against Women (MASVAW)

Say NO-UNiTE to End Violence Against Women, 28 March 2012 Shishir Chandra is a community organizer with Men’s Action for Stopping Violence Against Women (MASVAW) in Uttar Pradesh, India, an alliance of individual men and organizations that are committed to reducing gender-based violence through education and advocacy. Here he talks about the struggle to challenge gender roles for both men and women in India, and why he believes that young men can and should step up to the challenge.   1. Why do you think it’s important for young people to get involved in these issues? Although gender equality is such a burning issue, not many youth in India get an opportunity to get involved in advancing gender equality. Young men and boys all over India have had many difficult experiences regarding gender ... Read the full article