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

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 as prisons, which are largely still designed and managed for men, by men. As a minority ― although a growing one in many counties ― detained women are often overlooked at the expense of their dignity, wellbeing and human rights. Yet, as now well established in international law, women’s specific needs require different and sometimes greater attention in order for women to enjoy their rights equally to men. As particularly well established in the recently adopted UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (Bangkok Rules) there are concrete ways in which this must be done.

This study focuses on conditions for women in detention, and works by theme, from physical conditions and provisions, to areas such as health, safety and work. For each, DIGNITY presents the level of protection that has developed for detained women in international standards, and determines whether this has been well reflected in the jurisprudence of four major UN human rightstreaty bodies in the past six years (2008-13).

Dignity has intertwined this review with empirical research in women’s prisons in five very different countries, with emphasis on the voices of inmates themselves. During in-depth, private conversations, we have asked detained women, what matters most to you?

This research was conducted in Albania, Jordan, Guatemala, the Philippines, and Zambia in 2013 and early 2014, among almost 90 detained or formerly detained women in 11 facilities, and more than 80 prison staff and others working with detained populations, from NGOs staff to lawyers and social workers.

DIGNITY hopes that this study, and the voices of those in it, will contribute to the effective planning, programme development and policy formulation for women in places of detention, along with the advocacy for their better protection, and broader awareness and understanding of a group, which has, until very recently, been largely invisible in human rights discourse. As noted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women in 2013: “much more remains to be done to identify and address the pathways to women’s incarceration; to establish better, safer and more gender-sensitive conditions for women prisoners; to ameliorate the negative consequences of women’s imprisonment; and to reduce the numbers of women in prison around the world.”1


[Continue to read the full report, our recommendations, or find out more on the DIGNITY website]