Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Women Behind Bars

Traditionally, the concept of women in prisons has always been considered as an afterthought in the greater discourses addressing male incarceration. This is rather surprising considering that globally there are about half a million women in prisons – and that translates into 4.3 percent of women worldwide and 2.65 percent in Africa.

Imprisonment by nature has many deprivations – DUH ! I mean what kind of treatment do criminals expect after all ?

Reading abit on the subject I found that the issues affecting female prisoners range from spacial concerns to abuse of prisoners, inadequate access to health care and the plight of children who are born in prisons. For me however the most unexpected of issues was the treatment of menstruating prisoners.

Considering the regular and inevitable nature of menstruation, it would be expected that prison authorities would have some kind of system in place to deal with it. On the contrary, the prison context creates a situation where menstruating becomes both punishing and painful. In Zimbabwe, women are forced to find alternatives to sanitary towels, like pieces of blankets or prison uniform, tissues and newspaper. Also, the adverse conditions worsened where women did not have underwear to wear during their periods

In countries where prison officials provide sanitary products, the roll out is slow and inadequate with women sometimes receiving one or half a pad per day. Women in Nigeria's Kaduna Prison had to share one pad between two women every month or sometimes even every two months. Disposal of sanitary products creates a great challenge to female prisoners when toilets are few or come simply in the form of open buckets; this creates a health risk as infants live in the cells and buckets could also overflow, and users could potentially be splashed with bodily waste.

The needs of female prisoners in terms of nursing, healthcare, menstruation and recreation are often overlooked and women are forced to make do in squalid, unsanitary conditions. It has been found that many women prisoners have experienced violent crimes either as children, wives or partners. The prison situation does little to stop the cycle of abuse and yes the reasons for the incarceration of women vary widely but the common thread remains the low levels of education and extreme poverty.

For me the most pathetic part of all of this is that women in prisons are still only considered as an after thought to men in prison.

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