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Girls and Women in Detention

“The strategy used in women’s prisons now is one of humiliation rather than rehabilitation”
-Jane Evelyn Atwood

When a girl or a women is held in detention, she is exposed to serious health risks, psychological and physical abuses, and in some cases torture. She is often subjected to discriminatory and degrading conditions that violate her privacy, sense of self-worth and dignity—which have damaging effects on both her and her family. Worldwide girls and women in detention are battling abuses that leave them in a far worse off condition then when they were first detained. Prisons and detention centers therefore need to ensure that girls and women within their establishments are being treated more humanely. Authorities should provide health services, educational programmes, and skills and training that will encourage and help girls and women to achieve self-sustainability and guarantee them successful rehabilitation into society.

Currently girls and women represent between 2% and 9% of the global prison population (International Review of the Red Cross, March 2010). Although this percentage is relatively low, the number of girls and women being held in prison systems is believed to be rapidly increasing. Very few women are incarcerated for violent crimes. In fact, most women find themselves imprisoned for non-violent crimes such as drug abuse and prostitution, while others may find themselves unjustly imprisoned for advocating for equal rights or for being victims of rape. Many women in prison often come from poor and dysfunctional families and have a history of sexual abuse, drug and alcohol violation, and domestic violence. Unfortunately, when in prison they are often subjected to these abuses all over again.

A large number of women in prison are also mothers who find themselves living at great distances from their children and families. This separation has devastating and detrimental effects on both women and their children—especially if the women are single mothers. Children of single mothers who are incarcerated become orphans and are placed in the care of a foster home. These children often experience psychological and emotional damage as well as financial, social and behavioral problems—all consequences of being isolated and separated from their imprisoned mothers. For the sake of children and families, it is crucial that governments ensure that girl and women prisoners are detained close to home.

The population of women who are pregnant and give birth while incarcerated is rising. Yet prison conditions remain unsuitable for pregnant women as they do not adequately meet the medical, physical, mental and emotional needs of these women. Low quality health care and poor living conditions in prisons often cause many pregnant women to experience high risk pregnancies—putting their lives and the lives of their unborn child (ren) in danger. In many prisons around the world, women who give birth to children while detained are allowed keep their children till the children are of a certain age. Nevertheless, very few of these prisons prove to have the essential infrastructure, social and health environments needed to raise and educate young children.

Globally girls and women in prison are neither receiving nor being provided with the vital care and services that will ensure them successful and stable rehabilitation into society once they are released. Statistics show that prison does not effectively decrease reoffending, as almost half of women leaving prison are reconvicted within one year (womeninprison.org.uk- statistics). Governments therefore need to improve the quality of health and counseling services as well as educational programmes in prisons. Girls and women in prison should have access to adequate vocational, entrepreneurial, finance, ICT, and literacy training programmes. This will not only improve their skills but will also help them to obtain employment after their release. There also needs to be improved facilities and programmes for mothers with children in prison. Governments need to ensure that children who are in prison with their mothers are living in safe and healthy environments and are being provided with basic quality education. Prison authorities must be gender-sensitized and law enforcement must enforce laws preventing the abusive and degrading treatment of girls and women in prison. Providing girls and women in detention with better health services and educational programmes while preventing them from being victims of abuse and humiliation will ultimately guarantee a better future for themselves, their children and for society.

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