On 23 October 2014, the side event of Third Committee, 69th Session of the UN General Assembly, titled “Women in Custody- Gender Equality Challenges and Opportunities in Crisis and Conflict Situations” took place at General Assembly Building, UN headquarter in New York.
The side event provided an overview of the problems faced by women in custody, from the pathways leading to incarceration and the detention conditions for women in custody. Focusing on both on-crisis and post-conflict situations, this event also introduces UN programming and good practices on women in conflict with the law.
The event started with a welcoming remark by H.E. Mr. Norachit Sinhaseni, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Thailand, who introduced the Bangkok Rules to the audience. Many women prisoners around the world are usually vulnerable for facing sexual abuses and being pregnant. In addressing this issue, in December 2010, UN General Assembly adopted The UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders, also called “the Bangkok Rules”. Thailand has constantly promoted the implementation of Bangkok Rules, and places the priority on the issue of women in the Post-2015 Agenda.
Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, and Andrea Huber, a Policy Director from Penal Reform International explained the situations of women in custody. As they both emphasized, women in custody facing violence and unequal treatments is a controversial issue and too often human rights violation and discrimination against women in custody are overlooked. Women in detention face the direct and indirect result of discrimination. For example, some women are held in crimes to protect themselves from sexual and physical abuses. Women prisoners, who face very different realities from those of men and boys, are composed of only 5% of the total prisoners around the world. Problems like lack of access to hygiene products and educational trainings are not properly addressed. Furthermore, women prisoners also face emotional, physical, and sexual violence, and other issues such as sex trafficking, abortion, and moral crimes.
Norul Rashid, Gender and Rule of Law Specialist from UN Women explained UN Women’s approach to gender equality and women’s empowerment in justice and security sectors. Cooperating with UNDP, UN Women has provided constant support by designing specialized programmes on rehabilitation and alternatives, creating gender specific services that take into account of female development, providing programmes on development of skills that may lead to a future state of economic independence, and providing programmes on transition to the community.
Katy Thomson, Policy Advisor from UNDP shared his experience working on women prisoners’ human rights protection. In Africa, women prisoners are detained for a lengthy period of time with neither toilet facilities nor the separation from men. In most countries, only a few NGOs understand the differences for women in custody that are able to provide help occasionally. However, it is very important to address this issue with member states in order to make a constant change.
Following with the speech by Kaoru Okuizumi, the Active Chief from DPKO. He provided an overview of UN Peacekeeping Operation’s work in addressing this overlooked gender quality challenge. Currently, there are twelve UN Peacekeeping Operation Correction Officers working in this field. Their work includes 1) give prisoners the humanity in prisons 2) equal rights of women and men during all states of the transitional process 3) providing technical support 4) national correction services 5) implementing strategies for gender equality, measurement, pregnant women and mothers and 6) mentoring and advising.
There is still a long way to go to build gender equality in custody and to ensure women in post-conflict settings are not forgone. In September 2012, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed DPKO and UNDP as the Global Focal Point for the Police, Justice, and Corrections (GFP) areas in the Rule of Law. In a collective effort, UN Women, UNDP, DPKO, and other UN agencies and entities, are able to bring together expertise and resources in the area of women in custody.
To learn more about the UN Bangkok Rules on Women Offenders and Prisoners, please visit:
UN Youth Representative for Foundation for the Support of the United Nations (FSUN)
Li Wang is the Deputy Chair of UN DPI Youth Representative Executive Board. She also serves as the UN Youth Representative for FSUN. She serves the mission of FSUN and empowers youth worldwide. She is passionate about sharing global youth perspectives with civil society in an effort to tackle pressing issues and forward the UN agenda.