Jo Baker

About Jo Baker

Presenting at Women Deliver 2016: Gender-sensitizing the international torture protection framework

On May 17 (6-8pm) I

On May 17 (6-8pm) I’ll be presenting on a high-level panel on the international legal framework to prevent violence against women and girls.  The side event will be held concurrent to the Women Deliver 2016 plenary, this year in Copenhagen. The theme of the panel – gender and the torture framework – was inspired by the latest report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, who will present at the event. It highlights the huge role that gender stereotyping plays in the downplaying of suffering of women, girls and those from LGBTI groups – to the extent that state-led or condoned crimes against them are commonly considered secondary to full ‘torture’. The session will also consider whether we need a binding convention, specifically tailored to the prevention of VAWG, as proposed by former UN Special Rapporteur on VAWG, Rashida Manjoo. As the lead researcher of a multi-country study into 11 women’s prisons, I’ll present the voices of the women I met inside these facilities,…

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Advocating for the rights of women in Georgia’s criminal justice system

This month I

This month I’ve been acting as international advisor to a project by Penal Reform International, which is preparing to push for gender-specific reform in Georgia’s criminal justice system. Funded by the Open Society Foundation, the project will advocate on behalf of the 300 or so women in the country’s prison system, and all those who will come after. It will analyse criminal justice policy, practice and legislation and recommend gender-specific considerations during decision-making by judiciary and parole mechanisms, with a particular focus on the use of non-custodial measures for women who aren’t a violent risk to society. It will also raise awareness on women’s gender-specific needs in criminal justice system and the gendered negative impact of imprisonment, for them, their families, and society.

Currently most justice and correctional systems fail to take into account the factors that colour, often harmfully, women’s experiences of criminal justice and detention,…

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

This seven-part series looks into the challenges, risks and discrimination faced by women imprisoned around the world. They have been published by: The Oxford Human Rights Hub, Essex Human Rights Centre, Inter-Press Service, Open Democracy, and Penal Reform International, and can be found aggregated on the website of DIGNITY - Danish Institute Against Torture.

They draw from my research in 2013-2014 with DIGNITY among prisons and prison communities in five countries -- Albania, Guatemala, Jordan, the Philippines and Zambia -- now published as a comparative report:

This seven-part series looks into the challenges, risks and discrimination faced by women imprisoned around the world. They have been published by: The Oxford Human Rights Hub, Essex Human Rights Centre, Inter-Press Service, Open Democracy, and Penal Reform International, and can be found aggregated on the website of DIGNITY – Danish Institute Against Torture.

They draw from my research in 2013-2014 with DIGNITY among prisons and prison communities in five countries — Albania, Guatemala, Jordan, the Philippines and Zambia — now published as a comparative report: ‘Conditions for Women in Detention: Needs, Vulnerabilities and Best Practices’, and as four country studies.

 

 
1. Vulnerabilities during admission
“The first day is the most horrible, the most humiliating.”

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…

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Conditions for Women in Detention in Zambia: Needs, Vulnerabilities and Good practices

Dignity Publication; Series on Torture and Organised Violence No. 12 (2015) Jo Baker and DIGNITY - Danish Institute Against Torture  

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

“These things make you feel inhuman if you concentrate on them, so you try to forget them and accept life.” - Inmate

While conditions for women in Zambia’s under-resourced prison system are largely considered better than those for men, a closer look tells a different story. As a minority, it may be that various women’s facilities suffer from less (yet still chronic) congestion, are subject to lighter security restrictions, and allow more flexibility, at the discretion of the warden. Yet as revealed by this study, there is a broad, acute and harmful lack of consideration for the special needs of women in detention, in forms acknowledged by and less visible to officials and personnel in the Zambia Prison Service (ZPS or Prison Service). These gaps are detrimental to the dignity and wellbeing of female detainees and breach many of their human rights.

Key among these gaps are a lack of basic hygiene provisions and gender-specific healthcare. These present particular risk to the health of inmates, among others, who are pregnant, living with HIV, accompanied by young children or for those who, because of stigma or distance from family (which are both, in many cases, worse for men than women), have no outside assistance at all. Although the Prison Service should be commended for the continued opening of prisons to outside support and a human rights approach, it must observe its State responsibility to meet detainees’ basic needs.

Female inmates were largely found to be isolated from family, including children, and from other forms of outside support, which research has indicated is likely to be more harmful to women than men, in general, from a psychological and material perspective. For the women interviewed in Zambia, this was often the greatest cause of anxiety and despair (as summarized in the section, What Matters Most). Female inmates lack access to vocational, educational and recreational activities that are made available to men; they are also unremunerated, even though many women face extreme anxiety about supporting themselves and any dependents on release, given their frequent (and gendered) rejection from their husbands, families and communities. Key, also, are discriminatory barriers to complaint and information that place them at risk. The Offender Management role has been seen to fill critical gaps in admissions screenings and orientation for female inmates, in identifying special needs and connecting them with needed services and counselling, but it is under resourced and under supported institutionally.

Men and women are separated in law and to a great extent, in practice, and inmates were protected from gender-based violence and harassment by men in the facilities visited by DIGNITY, according to our research. In contrast to reports of police custody, a sharp decline in the use of physical violence and torture against women by prison staff has also been reported in recent years, among other improvements. Yet DIGNITY is concerned that sexual relationships with male staff are not fully prevented in some facilities, and degrading and harmful disciplinary measures were also found to be used by female staff, including body searching practices.

Attention to staff training, gender awareness and attitudes would make a great difference — particularly among female staff -- as would measures to encourage free, regular and dignified contact with family and children; structured activities to engage and empower women (personally and economically); and greater attention to sanitation and health provisions, particularly for pregnant women, new mothers, and children. While these may be most important for women with long sentences, they are also urgently needed in small rural prisons, where women may have very little provided for them.

Dignity Publication; Series on Torture and Organised Violence No. 12 (2015) Jo Baker and DIGNITY – Danish Institute Against Torture  

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

“These things make you feel inhuman if you concentrate on them, so you try to forget them and accept life.” – Inmate

While conditions for women in Zambia’s under-resourced prison system are largely considered better than those for men, a closer look tells a different story. As a minority, it may be that various women’s facilities suffer from less (yet still chronic) congestion, are subject to lighter security restrictions, and allow more flexibility, at the discretion of the warden. Yet as revealed by this study, there is a broad, acute and harmful lack of consideration for the special needs of women in detention, in forms acknowledged by and less visible to officials and personnel in the Zambia Prison Service (ZPS or Prison Service). These gaps are detrimental to the dignity and wellbeing of female detainees and breach…

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New study sheds light on women in Jordanian prisons

What are the particular needs, issues, risks and vulnerabilities that face imprisoned women in Jordan? And does the prison management comply with international standards? These questions lie at the heart of DIGNITY’s research into conditions for women in detention in five countries — of which the Jordan country study is one part.

The strong social norms and forms of discrimination that women face in Jordan reach deep into places of detention, and their experience of being detained. To be a detained woman here, in many cases, is to lose touch with the majority of your family members and your children despite an acute need for intimate and social contact, and to feel isolated from the outside world. It is often to be heavily stigmatized by your own community, and by prison staff. It is to have likely experienced forms of gender-based violence before entering prison — some physically and mentally debilitating in the name of honour — and to not receive the help that you need in order…

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Women in prison: The particular vulnerability to abuse

“You are surrounded by men and powerless. There are no women to talk for you. They want to win as men.”  ― Inmate, Zambia
Written for the Essex Human Rights Centre Blog, 2014*

Despite international commitments by governments to make their prisons secure, safe and well-organized, this is aspiration (if that) rather than practice across much of the world. Sealed away from society ― its sight, and often interest or empathy ― prisoners are among the world’s most vulnerable groups. But what of the vulnerable groups among them?

With the rising number of women in custody, it has become increasingly important to acknowledge the different safety and security needs of women, and the way in which the pervasive violence and discrimination in our societies can reach through and be magnified by prison walls. This vulnerability colours women prisoners’ experience of security measures and discipline, their sense of insecurity and fear, as well as their ability to respond, heal, and achieve change or justice, as our conversations with women prisoners in five countries last year found.

Key among these was the deep sense of degradation women detainees would feel around the times of personal searches, often invasive and carried out in breach of international standards in some of the countries. “You queue, strip, lie down on the floor, spread your legs and they ask you to insert a finger in your vagina,” said a woman in Zambia, years into her remand, noting that young, aggressive female cadets were often assigned to this procedure, carried out in front of other cell mates. “We find this very hard. Our self esteem dives.” In Jordan a former detainee cried as she recalled being ‘screamed at’ to squat and jump by multiple staff while naked and menstruating.

Others spoke of the stigma. In two countries, women who had broken certain social codes and gender norms in their societies (other than the fact of their arrest), appeared to be treated with disdain as a default by female staff. “They were going through my belongings, my face creams and expensive things from abroad and I was crying,” said one disabled survivor of a so-called honour crime, in Jordan. “And they asked, ‘from which prostitute house did you come from?’” An inmate in Zambia told me that she had been whipped and slapped years earlier in custody, yet she found the verbal abuse from prison staff more painful. “They say, ‘you’re criminals, that’s why you live like animals’. They look at us like animals.”

Our report also details the impact of harmful disciplinary measures on female inmates, among them excessive isolation and confinement, and callous responses to self-harming (a much more common practice among imprisoned women than men). In Jordan an ex-inmate recounted her own series of increasingly desperate attempts to self harm. She concluded: “Finally, so that I wouldn’t do anything to myself they put me alone behind a fence with one police woman. I tried to hang myself with the prison clothing. Then the punishment is that they take away your visits: you can’t buy anything from the supermarket, and no phones. Or they put you in the Cell, a very small room.”

And while NGOs in most countries reported that cases of sexual abuse in prison were much rarer now, thanks to the stricter separation of male and female staff and inmates, our team occasionally heard quiet whispers from inmates of sexual relationships with male staff ― usually among women who have the least support on the outside. “Some women are forced into that kind of situation because they feel desperate,” said one NGO worker. “We have a phrase in the Philippines: it’s like holding onto a knife for your life.”



While it was heartening to hear almost unanimously that outright violence now is much rarer in the visited prisons (largely credited to human rights trainings and international intervention) ­­-- and we encountered an example in Albania of commendable gender-sensitive management -- this was not the case for police custody, where women reported a much greater degree of vulnerability, and a lack of female staff. In Zambia, in particular, our researchers were told of gender-based brutality, humiliation and rape taking place; of women forced to barter rights such as food, contact with family, and even visits to the toilet for sexual favours. One inmate who had killed her husband was taunted, whipped and beaten by policemen. “As they beat you, they said things like, ‘one man is entitled to 18 wives and you have taken a man out of this world – so you have deprived 18 women’,” she told me. “They think they are above women.”

And, contrary to international standards, gender barriers were often indicated along avenues of complaint and protection, from complaint books/boxes kept in male sections, to the absence of medical screening for abuse on arrival at prison, to overt discriminatory attitudes.  “When you report abuse in Zambia, as a woman you will be blamed more than the man,” I was told by a researcher in Zambia.

“You are surrounded by men and powerless. There are no women to talk for you. They want to win as men.”  ― Inmate, Zambia
Written for the Essex Human Rights Centre Blog, 2014*

Despite international commitments by governments to make their prisons secure, safe and well-organized, this is aspiration (if that) rather than practice across much of the world. Sealed away from society ― its sight, and often interest or empathy ― prisoners are among the world’s most vulnerable groups. But what of the vulnerable groups among them?

With the rising number of women in custody, it has become increasingly important to acknowledge the different safety and security needs of women, and the way in which the pervasive violence and discrimination in our societies can reach through and be magnified by prison walls. This vulnerability colours women prisoners’ experience of security measures and discipline, their sense of insecurity and fear, as well as their ability to respond, heal, and…

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Evidence review on sexual and reproductive rights and gender equality published by the IPPF

This is the second report in the Vision 2020 series, published by the International Planned Parenthood Foundation  this publication."SRHR- the key to gender equality and women’s empowerment" sets out how SRHR is critical to gender equality and women’s empowerment across three dimensions. It explores how ensuring universal access to SRHR can promote economic growth, social equity and political participation. My evidence review and policy recommendations inform and are reproduced in the first of three sections, on equality in social development. The report also draws on my research into pathways of empowerment.

Download the report
The research examines the relationship between SRHR and three key aspects of social development: health, education, and sexual and gender-based violence, as critical to the empowerment and equality of girls and women all spheres of development.  Among other areas, it highlights that globally, the single leading risk factor for death and disability in women of reproductive age in low‑and middle‑income countries is unsafe sex, mainly due to HIV, and to maternal mortality; that girls in smaller families tend to have fewer care taking responsibilities, girl children are valued more, gender and family dynamics are more supportive of girls and women, and there are lower rates of adolescent pregnancy; and that convincing links have been shown between the care‑giving roles and economic responsibilities of children in families living with HIV and disruptions to schooling for girls. It highlights too that screening for violence in the context of SRH services can be effective in preventing the recurrence of violence and enabling the empowerment of women and girls.

This is the second report in the Vision 2020 series, published by the International Planned Parenthood Foundation  this publication.”SRHR- the key to gender equality and women’s empowerment” sets out how SRHR is critical to gender equality and women’s empowerment across three dimensions. It explores how ensuring universal access to SRHR can promote economic growth, social equity and political participation. My evidence review and policy recommendations inform and are reproduced in the first of three sections, on equality in social development. The report also draws on my research into pathways of empowerment.

Download the report
The research examines the relationship between SRHR and three key aspects of social development: health, education, and sexual and gender-based violence, as critical to the empowerment and equality of girls and women all spheres of development.  Among other areas, it highlights that globally, the single leading risk factor for death and disability in women…

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Violence against women: A cause, a condition and a consequence of detention

Speech delivered by Jo Baker for DIGNITY – Danish Institute Against Torture, and partners, Amman, Jordan, September 2015.

During the past two and half years, as part of my work with DIGNITY, I’ve visited and spoken with detained women and those who work with them in six countries.

My aim has been to understand the needs, risk and vulnerabilities that relate largely to their sex and their gender – that result from biological differences, social norms, and discrimination.

I’ve had the chance to explore and reflect – through our research and that of others – the role that Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) plays in the experiences of many women in priso, and to an extent, in their route to incarceration. Indeed, as the former Special Rapporteur on violence against women, has well identified – VAWG is often a critical cause, condition and consequence of women’s imprisonment.

My aim here today is to try and give a brief introduction to the scope, the forms and the causes of this violence, as experienced by women detained in the penal system.

Since we don’t have much time, I’ve included on the handout some definitions of VAWG in international law. I will just quickly add that this form of violence is recognised as a type of gender-based violence, which means that it is caused a) by the social expectations/norms associated with a gender and b) the unequal power relationships between genders, in a specific society. It is therefore largely a product of discrimination, and it disproportionately affects women compared to men.
How bad?
So let’s consider scope. Studies suggest that the proportion of women in prisons and pre-trial detention who have survived violence is very high - even higher than among women in the outside community (although under reporting makes this research particularly challenging). In countries around the world, 60, 70, even 90% of incarcerated women have experienced sexual or other forms of gender-based abuse in the past. You’ll find some examples on your handout.

If you consider the profiles of women in prison around the world, this becomes a little more understandable. Women are often from poor backgrounds, with little or no economic independence, low levels of education and primary caretaking responsibilities – which makes it more difficult for them to protect themselves or escape violence.

They are detained most commonly for economic crimes, drug or trafficking related crimes, prostitution, and for killing family members (most often, abusive family members).  These contexts – particularly sex work, organized crime, and abusive families – have strong links with VAWG.
Violence as a Cause…
Among commonly detained groups of women are those arrested for drug crimes, who operate at a minor level but who have coercive or violent partners who play a greater role in the trade.

They include the many women who have used force against their abusers in order to protect themselves or their children, once they decide that the law cannot/will not help them. In many of these cases, the fact of a woman’s long term abuse, notions of self-defence and fearing for her life, do not influence the court’s sentencing decisions.

As of course you know, in Jordan women are detained as a result of experiencing violent and so-called honour crimes – their voices are in the report. And in many countries women have been imprisoned for violating discriminatory laws which particularly affect female survivors of violence. Among these are victims of honour crimes, administratively detained for their own protection; victims of rape; and those who are imprisoned for the crime of running away from home.

So you can see how VAWG operates as a pathway to prison.

Consider how differently these women may be impacted by prison life. Consider a young woman who has been raped, or survived horrific violence from her family members. What physical healthcare might she need in the following days months years? What reproductive and sexual healthcare, or other forms? What psychological care and counselling, in response to post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression? How might she respond to isolation, or to aggressive/invasive search procedures, to so-called virginity testing, shackling, or to being imprisoned in a facility with male guards or inmates? How might she cope, away from children and family?
… A Condition…
Once in detention, women prisoners are particularly vulnerable to gendered forms of abuse, particularly those places that breach international standards by mixing male and female inmates, and allowing male supervision of female inmates.

In these situations, sexual exploitation and abuse – including rape, trading sexual favours for provisions and privileges, so-called virginity testing, and sexual assault during body searches – may take place.

Research has indicated that people with histories of sexual abuse are more vulnerable to being exploited and victimized again. This is a particular problem in a detention environment, where they may face retraumatization, and have few ways to seek protection.

Speech delivered by Jo Baker for DIGNITY – Danish Institute Against Torture, and partners, Amman, Jordan, September 2015.

During the past two and half years, as part of my work with DIGNITY, I’ve visited and spoken with detained women and those who work with them in six countries.

My aim has been to understand the needs, risk and vulnerabilities that relate largely to their sex and their gender – that result from biological differences, social norms, and discrimination.

I’ve had the chance to explore and reflect – through our research and that of others – the role that Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) plays in the experiences of many women in priso, and to an extent, in their route to incarceration. Indeed, as the former Special Rapporteur on violence against women, has well identified – VAWG is often a critical cause, condition and consequence of women’s imprisonment.

My aim here today is to try and give a brief introduction to the scope, the forms…

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Conditions for women in detention: Key findings and recommendations

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 at 2013 study conducted by myself with DIGNITY, the Danish Institute Against Torture, among prisons and prison communities in five countries — Albania, Guatemala, Jordan, the Philippines and Zambia. 

Below you will find a potted summary of our findings and recommendations. Please see our main report: ‘Conditions for Women in Detention: Needs,Vulnerabilities and Best Practices’ -- or my series of blog posts on our findings for more depth. 
International Standards
Since the elaboration of the Bangkok Rules in 2010, UN standards on the treatment of female prisoners, and prisoners generally, adequately address their needs, vulnerabilities and dignity - with one exception: gendered barriers to information. However the implementation and awareness of the Bangkok Rules is weak.
UN Treaty Body Review
The rights and needs of women in detention have not been adequately addressed by the four major treaty bodies researched, in number and quality. Issues of safety and security have received most attention, yet recommendations are not always gender-sensitive, and violence against women in detention receives only a fraction of the attention given by the UN bodies to the issue in the outside world. Gender-specific health care needs receive limited attention by the treaty bodies, particularly mental health care and treatment for substance abuse. Most treaty bodies address the issue of contact with the outside world, but none have taken a gender-sensitive approach. Of the four bodies reviewed, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture leads in its treatment of detained women, yet requires greater gender-sensitivity; references by the Committee against Torture have steadily increased in quantity and quality over time; the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women lacks quantitatively in this area, although this is partly remedied qualitatively; and the Human Rights Committee has given the least attention to women in detention.

The Bangkok Rules have been mentioned just fourteen times among over 80 UN reports published between the date of their adoption, and December 2013.
What matters? Key needs and vulnerabilities of women in detention in five countries? 
The needs and demands expressed by detained women are largely covered by the Bangkok Rules, other than the right to information. Contact with the outside world is a clear and unanimous priority, and the need for income and income-generating skills is a common priority. As mentioned, there is a critical and largely unmet need for gender-sensitive information systems in detention - which act as a barrier to a spectrum of rights - and for gender specific health care, with particular attention towards inmates

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 at 2013 study conducted by myself with DIGNITY, the Danish Institute Against Torture, among prisons and prison communities in five countries — Albania, Guatemala, Jordan, the Philippines and Zambia.

Below you will find a potted summary of our findings and recommendations. Please see our main report: ‘Conditions for Women in Detention: Needs,Vulnerabilities and Best Practices’ — or my series of blog posts on our findings for more depth. 
International Standards
Since the elaboration of the Bangkok Rules in 2010, UN standards on the treatment of female prisoners, and prisoners generally, adequately address their needs, vulnerabilities and dignity – with one exception: gendered barriers to information….

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