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Rights and Development

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: '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 life.” ­   3. Gendered information ... Read the full article

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 ... Read the full article

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 ... Read the full article

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 ... Read the full article

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 ... Read the full article

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 ... Read the full article

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 ... 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

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

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

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

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

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