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Empowering women for gender equity

ISSN: 1013-0950 (Print) 2158-978X (Online) Journal homepage:

Taking A Count of Women in Prison

Lillian Artz & Britta Rotmann
To cite this article: Lillian Artz & Britta Rotmann (2015) Taking A Count of Women in Prison,
Agenda, 29:4, 3-13
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Published online: 06 Feb 2016.

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Lillian Artz and Britta Rotmann

It goes without saying that the experiences
of women, not to mention their pathways
to incarceration, are remarkably different
from those of men. Yet, policy reform and
inmate advocacy initiatives not to
mention actual programmatic and security
considerations within detention facilities
continue to be based almost entirely on
research evidence and theories that have
been developed to explain the experiences
of men. Women continue to be referred to
as a special category of inmates, often
bundled (and bracketed) with other vulnerable groups such as children, the mentally
ill and people with disabilities; categories of
inmates who have very distinct health,
mental health and institutional needs and
requirements. Women inmates also go
largely unobserved in broader debates surrounding inmates human rights, sentencing
practices and prison reform.
This is not to say that there are no special
mentions of women in mainstream prison
advocacy and reform projects, but it is the
inclusion of critical and substantive engagement about women that is sadly overlooked. It would be difcult to argue
against the suggestion that the domain of
prisoners rights is really in reference to
male prisoners rights, with the remaining
populations of prisoners treated as peripheral to, or too exceptional to be included
within mainstream prisoners advocacy and
research initiatives. The needs of women
are both similar and different, hence the
importance of promoting legal and institutional parity when it comes to accessing
certain rights, services and privileges as
well as the need to have cognisance of different rights, services and privileges based on
gender differences.
Our knowledge of women in prison,
who make up about 5% of the global prison
population, shows that the impact of imprisonment on women, their children and
other extended members of the family is

hardly insignicant. This is particularly true

on the African continent. While regional activism surrounding torture prevention,
humane prison conditions and sentencing
practices is gaining traction at the regional
human rights level, little has been reported
or published about the demographics of
African women in prison, the conditions and
circumstances which lead them to imprisonment, the impact of imprisonment and the
needs that women as a prison population
require. Similarly, little is known about how
female offenders experience prison life, or
the impact of their incarceration on their
health, well-being, and their connections to
people in their lives. Prisons and sentencing
experts van Zyl Smit and Dunkle (2001:589)
observed that there has been no systematic
study of the imprisonment of women in
South Africa or of the regime to which they
are subject. A decade and a half later,
South African researchers have produced
just three key contemporary empirical
studies that explore the lives and experiences
of incarcerated women (Artz et al, 2013; Luyt
and du Preez, 2010; Haffejee et al, 2005). None
of these specically focus on the systematic
collection of comprehensive demographic
data, nor are they nation-wide in their
scope. This can also be said for research emanating across the African continent.
In Africa existing research studies, for
example, by Modie-Moroka (2003) on
women and criminality in Botswana, Todrys
and Amons 2011 research on the health
and human rights abuses experienced by
women incarcerated in Zambia, and
Okwendi et als (2014) study, The plight of
female prisoners in Nigeria and the
dilemma of health rights violations, have
drawn attention to the importance of the
gender-specic conditions of imprisonment,
womens offending as well as women prisoners rights abuses on the continent.
In the South African context, we do at
least know a few basics about womens

Agenda 106/29.4 2015

ISSN 1013-0950 print/ISSN 2158-978X online
2015 L. Artz and B. Rotmann

pp. 313


Taking A Count of Women in Prison

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incarceration. There are currently 241 correctional services facilities in South Africa.
Eight of these are female-only facilities.
Ninety-one (91) facilities have separate sections for female inmates, where women are
housed separately from men, which is a
legal requirement. As of November 2015,
the total population of inmates is 161,067,
of which 5,296 are women (3.3%). Of these
1,062 are remand detainees and 4,234 are
sentenced offenders. The most recent
Department of Correctional Services (DCS)
Annual Report (2013/14) reports that
women are incarcerated most often for
economic crimes (39%) and aggressive
crimes (41%), followed by narcotics offences
(8%) and other offences (13%). There is very
little else publicly available on South African
women in correctional facilities. What little is
known about women incarcerated here
suggests that they are among the most
socially and economically vulnerable
members of South African society and that
imprisonment of women has obvious deleterious effects on both children and the
remaining family members charged with
childcare responsibilities. Some children
end up in foster care, having little to no
contact with their incarcerated mothers. A
recent change in policy meant that children
are allowed to stay with their mothers only
until the age of two, when it was established
that the previous allowance of up to ve
years impacted on the childs development.
The necessarily sudden separation is traumatic for both, regardless at which age this
happens. Women in South African correctional facilities are also generally poor,
unemployed, lacking in education and often
victims of abuse (Artz et al, 2013).

imprisonment of women has obvious deleterious effects on both children and the
remaining family members charged with
childcare responsibilities
Despite commitments set out in the DCS
White Paper (2005:6) the principal strategic document aimed at directing the management and service provision of the
department to create a national inmate
population prole system, inmate demographics and other information that is
important for rehabilitation and release are
still not presented in detail in key annual
and strategic reports of this Department.

AGENDA 106/29.4 2015

Moreover, although South African Correctional Services policies have recognised the
distinct needs of male and female inmates,
as well as their experiences of incarceration,
data on inmates remains disaggregated only
in terms of (i) the gender of remand and sentenced inmates; (ii) the gender of Independent Correctional Centre Visitors and; (iii)
the gender of persons who died from unnatural deaths in custody is reported
(amongst other indiscriminate human
resources data).
Although the number of incarcerated
women in South Africa is relatively low
roughly 3% of the total prison population
the potential impact of their incarceration,
particularly on their children, extended
families and communities, is considerable.
This is particularly so, as the limited
number of female centres often translates
to further distances from home than that of
the male population. Yet we know relatively
little about the women we incarcerate or the
conditions from which they come.
In South Africa, and indeed in other
African states, the need for a gendered
analysis in data generated and reported by
correctional services departments is critical
for the women-specic rehabilitation
project, which is the mainstay of correctional services. At minimum, we should
have some knowledge of the demographic
and health (including mental health) proles
of women in correctional facilities; of the
extent of overcrowding in womens sections
or correctional facilities, in order to assess
health and mental health risks; of genderspecic health, mental health and hygienic
needs and risks; and of the use and availability of social and mental health services.
In relation to the latter, the South African
Department of Correctional Services (DCS)
and the Judicial Inspectorate have both
raised concerns about the lack of mental
health professionals, overburdened nurses
and social workers in their Annual Reports;
with the DCS reporting in their 2012/13
Annual Report that the highest vacancy
rate among critical occupations in DCS was
for psychologist and vocational counsellor
posts at 25.6% (DCS, 2014).
Reporting on women in prison in South
Africa, and beyond our borders, is not only
remarkably sparse: it is also inconsistent
from year to year. The lack of reported data
is a result of the poor up-streaming of

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The lack of institutional knowledge and/or

systematic data collection in relation to
women in prison is indeed surprising. For
instance, in addition to the more obvious
demographic admissions data that is taken
from sentenced women, such as biographical
data and basic health data, an admissions risk
and needs assessment document is normally
completed. This assessment identies
emotional vulnerabilities such as depression
or suicidal behaviour, as well as the security
risks that the inmate poses to staff and
other inmates (Artz et al, 2013). This is followed by a comprehensive risk and needs
assessment which must be completed
within 21 days of admission, and an offender
prole for sentenced inmates in order to
develop a more complete picture of the offenders history, needs and interests (Artz et al,
2013). The collection and analysis of this
data is vital towards the design and development of appropriate rehabilitation, health,
mental health and vocational programmes
and interventions for women.
It is this absence of gender-specic data
both in South Africa and in other parts of
the continent, that prompted the Call for
Papers on Women and imprisonment in
Africa. There are regrettably only a handful
of country-specic reports, perspectives and
narratives on the experiences of incarcerated
women in Africa making advocacy efforts
promoting the human rights of African
women in prison difcult to undertake at

domestic, regional and international levels.

The Ordinary Sessions of the African Commission for Human and Peoples Rights (the
ACHPR) and the Universal Periodic Reviews
undertaken by the UN Human Rights
Council of member states fullment(s) of
human rights obligations and commitments
(inter alia UN General Assembly Resolution
60/251), are ideal mechanisms to articulate
the experiences of, and reinforce the substantive rights of women in prison in Africa. We
see this issue as an attempt not only to
bring to light country-level narratives,
research ndings, perspectives and theories,
but to initiate a dialogue across the continent
about the pathways, treatment and conditions of women deprived of their liberty.


institutional/facilities data to the national

level, as well as the poor quality of data collation, entry and analysis that takes place in
preparation for Annual Reports to parliament. Other institutional data within DCS
Reports, such as those pertaining to participation in skills development programmes,
education programmes, literacy training
and production workshops and agricultural
programmes also continue not to be disaggregated in terms of gender. Reporting is
only in relation to men making it impossible to know what percentage of female
inmates benet from these programmes.
Similarly, womens participation in sports,
recreation, arts and culture is unspecied.
There are also little to no measures or mentions of womens gendered health and
hygienic needs nor complaints made by
female offenders to correctional services
authorities, which is reported on in relation
to male inmates.

Centering Women
The starkly different experiences and concerns of women as well the corollary
impact of their incarceration was only
recently (qualitatively) documented in a
study called Hard Times: Womens Pathways to Crime and Incarceration (Artz et al,
2013). This multi-method project designed
for womens prison settings, culminated in
55 in-depth narratives of incarcerated
women. The theoretical aim of the project
was to highlight the distinctive nature of
female criminality and therefore to shift
attention from the all-male focus on crime
and imprisonment that has characterised
most South African criminology to date.
The study was exploratory, participatory
and methodologically experimental. While
it could be argued that the sample was
small, the ndings provided a cursory representation of womens pathways to
prison. Both the methodology and the ndings also provided the basis for more
focused research on the etiological factors
that began to emerge in this work. For
instance, that, analogous to predictors
found in international studies, the history of
abuse is a statistically signicant predictor
of female offending, particularly in relation
to what has been termed as atypical
female offending such as armed robbery.
Most importantly, however, the research
put women at the centre of the research

the history of abuse is a statistically signicant predictor of female offending

Taking A Count of Women in Prison

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Artz et al (2013) aimed to generate new

knowledge around women, crime and incarceration in South Africa through a design
that moved beyond the obligatory in-depth
interview. Taking place in two prisons (one
urban and one rural), it had distinct phases,
including focus group discussions, lifemapping, journal writing, mural painting,
the creation of a prisons dictionary and indepth interviews. There were several important ndings from this work too many to
fully articulate and do justice to here. Each
of these ndings has a context, and accompanying detailed narratives, and is therefore
worth reading in full. The demographic data,
profoundly articulated within the narratives,
reminds us of the particular burdens that
women in South Africa face: 75% of the participants reported having children, 45% of
whom had their rst child between the
ages of 16-19. The majority of these children
were necessarily fostered, in the child
welfare system or with relatives. The
majority of women offenders never got to
see their children as the distances from
home and the costs of travel for guardians
were too costly for many of those just
barely living over the poverty line. Most
women received no support from the
fathers of their children. Only 50% reported
having a regular income prior to incarceration. Three quarters of the women had never
been in a correctional facility before. Almost
three quarters (73%) never nished school.
Half had used drugs and/or alcohol for the
rst time before they were 15 years old. A
striking 47% of the women reported that
they had family members who had previously been incarcerated. The research
ndings also revealed that incarcerated
women often lived in conditions of structural
poverty, not only indicated by the absence of
food in their homes, but by education levels,
employment attainment and the physical
environments in which they lived and socialised. Their backgrounds point further to
longstanding failures of social policies to
adequately address the needs of poor
women. Many had inadequate legal representation and reported lacking any real
agency during the trial process.

Their backgrounds point further to longstanding failures of social policies to

adequately address the needs of poor

AGENDA 106/29.4 2015

It also found that within the correctional

facility context, child and adult experience
of abuse is probably the single, most important factor that distinguishes female inmates
from male inmates. McCartan and Gunnisons (2010) study on Individual and
Relationship Factors that Differentiate
Female Offenders With and Without a
Sexual Abuse History, makes the important
point that the link between prior sexual
abuse and female offending is one of the
most consistent ndings within the etiology
or causes of female offending. The Hard
Times study by Artz et al (2013) found that
38% of respondents reported physical
abuse as a child, 29% reported being sexually abused as a child and 67% had experienced physical or sexual abuse during their
adulthood. The majority of the perpetrators
of childhood sexual violence were father
gures or care takers. The average age
of victimisation by sexual assault and/or
rape was seven years, with the earliest age
of victimisation being three years and the
highest (of those under the age of 18) was
16 years. It is important to note that many
of the women were sexually assaulted over
a period of time during their childhood
(62%), with several being sexually assaulted
by different men over the course of their
childhoods (31%). One third of these
women were sentenced for economic
crimes, another third for murder, usually as
a result of abusive contexts.
Interestingly, Haffejee et al (2006:344)
also found that:
womens experiences of abuse did not
end with entry into prison but continued,
although to a lesser degree, during incarceration [and it should deserve] to be
taken seriously and effective programmes
should be put in place to help both those
women who ill-treat others, as well as
those they victimise.
Examining the impact of sexual abuse on
female offending by exploring the differences between female offenders with and
without histories of sexual abuse, McCartan
and Gunnison (2010) found that offenders
with a history of prior sexual abuse were signicantly more likely (than those who did not
have a history) to end up in abusive relationships and to have friends who have also
been arrested and to have been incarcerated

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The ndings of the above studies indicate that the lives of many female offenders
are characterised by early experiences of
extreme poverty, physical and sexual
abuse, abandonment and loss, as well as
adult experiences of depravity, violence
and nancial stress. While these experiences
are not always directly related to their
crimes, they can provide the context and
the constraints within which women make
choices, including those that result in criminal behaviour. The study found that these
experiences are frequently not disclosed at
trial or to the sentencing court and are
rarely considered in sentencing. And, in
relation to sentencing, Artz et al (2013) also
identied a curious void in South Africas
knowledge and understanding of sentencing
practices as they relate specically to female
offenders, and in exploring African-based literature, found a similar dearth of information on the sentencing of female

policies and approaches to promote and

enforce these rights. Over the past 20 years
South Africa has taken concerted and commendable steps towards the development
of legislative and institutional frameworks
that promote human rights and access to
justice and those that promote violence prevention and the protection of vulnerable
persons. While it has struggled to progressively implement these frameworks, it has
signed and/or ratied a number of important
international conventions, which have to
some degree been integrated into domestic
laws and policies. Systematic implementation remains an issue. Many of these treaties were signed and/or ratied quickly after
the passing of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (Republic of South Africa,
1996), just two short years after the national
democratic elections. These will be summarised below. It is worth noting how progressive, comprehensive and detailed these legal
provisions are. Their translation into policy
and implementation practices, however,
have not always proved satisfactory.

South African legislation pertaining

to women in Correctional Centres
The most central pieces of legislation relevant to the treatment of female offenders
are the Correctional Services Act 111 of
1998 (the CSA) and the Correctional Services Regulations (the Regulations). The
CSA includes a number of provisions that
relate specically to female offenders,

From sound law to institutional

practice: The interminable impasse
There is an interminable impasse between
sound laws protecting the rights of persons
deprived of their liberty and concomitant

the obligation to separate male and

female offenders not necessarily in
separate facilities (s. 7(2)(b));
the obligation to accommodate nutritional requirements of pregnant
women (s. 8(2));
the obligation to create a gender-sensitive environment (s. 16(4));
the right to have children up to age
two live with their imprisoned
mothers (s. 20);
the right to same-sex searches (s. 27
the right to non-discriminatory and
gender-responsive programmes (s.

Some of these rights are further elaborated in the Regulations, including anti-

Taking A Count of Women in Prison


for three primary types of offences: violent

offences, drug-related offences and property-related offences (presumably meaning
economic offences, such as robbery or
theft). Hard Times found remarkably similar
ndings. Of those who experienced sexual
assault and rape during their childhood,
56% were convicted for murder and 38%
for theft/robbery/fraud. These were the
most likely forms of offending committed
by victims of child sexual abuse or rape.
However, by all accounts, the link between
child sexual and/or physical abuse and
violent offending (attempted or actual
murder, serious assault or sexual offender)
has not received much attention regionally
and even internationally. This may be
because of the signicantly smaller number
of female violent offenders in these contexts,
and therefore possibly not seen as worth
spending time on. However, with over one
third of South African women in our correctional facilities sentenced for murder, the
connection between early sexual victimisation and adult violent offending is worth
examining in greater detail.

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discrimination provisions on the basis of

gender; same sex searches (reg. 16(1)(c));
rules related to locks, keys and visitation in
terms of separate female facilities (reg. 3(2)
(f)); and a rule related to nutrition (reg. 4(1)
(a)). Given the vulnerability of some female
inmates, these obligations are limited in
scope and detail (i.e., there is no guidance
in relation to what constitutes a gender-sensitive environment).


There are, however, important international instruments and guidelines that

would go a long way towards meeting the
basic needs of female offenders as well as
towards the creation of systematic measures
to document, analyse and monitor data patterns of admitted and sentenced female

The Constitution
The Constitution of South Africa (Act 108 of
1996) is core to the interpretation of domestic law and the development of local jurisprudence. The Bill of Rights, and other
provisions of the Constitution, embodies
this normative framework, where all legislation, policies and other forms of administrative action are measured against this
framework. The Bill of Rights sets out fundamental protections for the citizens of South
Africa and enshrines a number of rights
which are of particular signicance to
women. In terms of the treatment of
inmates, the constitutional provisions that
underlie the mandate of the Department of
Correctional Services includes the rights to:

Equality (s. 9).

Human dignity (s. 10).
Life (s. 11).
Freedom and security of person
(s. 12). Section 12(1)(a-e) specically
provides that everyone has the right
to freedom and security of the
person, which includes the right:
(a) not to be deprived of freedom
arbitrarily or without just cause;
(b) not to be detained without trial;
(c) to be free from all forms of violence from either public or
private sources;
(d) not to be tortured in any way; and
(e) not to be treated or punished in a
cruel, inhuman or degrading way.
. Not to be subjected to slavery, servitude or forced labour (s. 14).

AGENDA 106/29.4 2015


Health care services (s. 27), including

reproductive health care (s. 27a).
Childrens rights (s. 28). On children,
dened as persons under the age of
18, s. 28 (g-i) specically provides that:
(f) children have the right not to be
detained except as a measure of
last resort, in which case, in
addition to the rights a child
enjoys under sections 12 and 35,
the child may be detained only for
the, shortest appropriate period of
time, and has the right to be: (i)
kept separately from detained
persons over the age of 18 years;
and (ii) treated in a manner, and
kept in conditions, that take
account of the childs age;
(g) a legal practitioner assigned by
the state, and at state expense,
in civil proceedings affecting the
child, if substantial injustice
would otherwise result; and
(h) not to be used directly in armed
conict, and to be protected in
times of armed conict.
Education (s. 29),
Freedom of religion (s. 31),
Humane treatment (s. 35).

With respect to specic rights related to

conditions of detention, s. 35 of the Constitution is explicit about the rights of arrested,
detained and accused persons. These rights
are exhaustive. In terms of detention specically, detained persons have the following
rights in section 35(2):

Everyone who is detained, including

every sentenced prisoner, has the

(a) to be informed promptly of the

reason for being detained;
(b) to choose, and to consult with, a
legal practitioner, and to be
informed of this right promptly;
(c) to have a legal practitioner assigned
to the detained person by the state
and at state expense, if substantial
injustice would otherwise result, and
to be informed. of this right promptly;
(d) to challenge the lawfulness of the
detention in person before a court
and, if the detention is unlawful, to
be released;
(e) to conditions of detention that are
consistent with human dignity,

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There are certain non-derogable rights in

s. 36 (such as equality, human dignity, life)
and s. 35(2)(d) (to challenge the lawfulness
of the detention in person before a court
and, if the detention is unlawful, to be
released) and of course, limitations to these
rights such as a state of emergency (s. 37).
However, section 37(6) and 37(7) also
afrm certain rights even in states of emergency, including: the right of the detainee
to contact family once detained, publication
of the detainees name and the place of
detention and reason for detention, access
to a medical practitioner and a legal representative, a court review of the detention
within 10 days of detention and written
reasons to the court to justify the (continued
detention of the detainee) if the detainee is
not released within that period.

International guiding principles:

Reecting on the Bangkok Rules

to caretaking arrangements for children); personal hygiene; health care; safety and security;
contact with the outside world; prison staff;
classication of inmates; prison regimes;
prison visits; reintegration upon release; minority needs; and non-custodial measures.
Among the specic rights that are established are the right to:


The most cohesive instrument relating to the

treatment of women in prison, is the UN
Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners
and Non-Custodial Measures for Women
Offenders (UN, 2010), also known as the
Bangkok Rules. The Bangkok Rules were
adopted in 2010 in light of a growing female
prison population worldwide and a recognition
of the lack of specic attention to the needs and
rights of female prisoners in the Standard
Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners
(UNSMR) and the United Nations Standard
Minimum Rules for Non-Custodial Measures
(also known as the Tokyo Rules) (UN,
1991). Meant to be used in conjunction with
the Tokyo Rules, they represent the global
goals of justice for female prisoners.

Included in the Bangkok Rules are rules

relating to: admission procedures (including
rules related to family contact, legal advice
and the receipt of information on prison rules
and the prison regime and provisions related


facilities and materials required to

meet womens specic hygiene
needs, including sanitary towels
(free of charge) and a regular supply
of water (Rule 5);
health screening, including mental
health screening and screening
related to sexual abuse and other
forms of violence (Rule 6);
immediate access to specialised
psychological support for women
who experienced sexual abuse or
another form of violence before or
during detention (Rule 7);
gender-specic health-care upon
request (except where urgent intervention is required) (Rule 10);
trauma-informed and comprehensive
mental health care and rehabilitation
programmes for women with mental
health care needs (Rule 12);
access to specialised substance
abuse treatment programmes that
take into account prior victimisation
and other special needs (Rule 15);
the development of alternative
screening methods that will replace
strip searches and invasive body
searches (Rule 20);
the right to not to be subject to disciplinary actions that prohibit family
contact, especially with children
(Rule 23);
the right not to have restraints used
during childbirth (Rule 24);
encouragement and facilitation of
family contact, including measures
to counterbalance disadvantages
faced by women incarcerated far
from home (Rule 26);
open contact during visits between
mothers and children (Rule 28); and
and services (Rule 42).

Also of signicance is that the Bangkok

Rules also require State Parties to organise

Taking A Count of Women in Prison


including at least exercise and the provision, at state expense, of adequate

accommodation, nutrition, reading
material and medical treatment; and
(f) to communicate with, and be visited
by, that persons - (i) spouse or
partner; (ii) next of kin; (iii) chosen
religious counsellor; and (iv) chosen
medical practitioner.

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and promote research on female criminality,

including the reasons that trigger womens
confrontation with the criminal justice
system and on programming designed to
reduce recidivism. States are further mandated to publicise this research with the
aim of reducing the stigma associated with
incarceration and facilitating the social
reintegration of female offenders, in order
to reduce the negative impact of
incarceration on them and their children
(Rules 69-70).
Setting aside the differences in constitutional frameworks and principles, domestic laws, institutional structures and
regimes pertaining to the imprisonment of
women in Africa, the Bangkok Rules have
universal application. The universality of
these womens health and safety procedures, and their promotion of research
and documentation, means that African
states have an opportunity to begin a concerted process of screening, recording and
reporting on the prole and conditions of
women in prisons in Africa, not to mention
applying the most basic (gender-relevant)
admissions and inmate management procedures, in a manner that is compliant with
basic international norms.

African states have an opportunity to begin

a concerted process of screening, recording
and reporting on the prole and conditions
of women in prisons in Africa

Woman and imprisonment in

Africa: The inside story
The call for abstracts for this issue, noted
the lack of gender appropriate research evidence and theory that is applicable to the
experience of imprisoned women. The
expansion of our knowledge about women
and imprisonment in Africa may now carry
more weight in the framing of womens
prison rights as a concern that State
Parties are urged to address. Contributions
were invited from scholars, researchers,
ethnographers, prisoners of the past and
present and their supporters and advocates. The issue includes a diverse range
of research on women and imprisonment
in Africa that give expression to gendered
prison discourses on the following broad


AGENDA 106/29.4 2015

themes: the treatment of women in police

cells, remand centres, prisons and other
correctional centres; the health of women
in African prisons; uniquely African stories
of women incarcerated in Africa; the
promise and challenge of rehabilitation
and reintegration after imprisonment; the
detention of women during periods of civil
unrest and armed conict; womens pathways to prison and womens sexuality in
Several of the contributions directly
address the importance of gender-sensitive
prison reform, in Africa, particularly
drawing attention to womens health in
prison and the need for the implementation
and adherence to the Bangkok Rules by governments. Abidemi Fasanmis article In the
shadow of being forgotten: Women incarcerated in Nigerian prisons and the health implications describes prison conditions for
women in Nigeria and current advocacy for
gender-sensitve reform. The article critically
engages with the engendering of womens
crimes as masculine and its consequences
for incarcerated women. Rachael Dixey,
Sharon Nyambe, Sally Foster, James
Woodall and Michelle Baybutt situate the
concept of health promoting prisons as
needing recognition for women prisoners
in Africa and as contingent on vigorous
research and debate in Africa. They review
evidence in the North and Africa of the
neglect of womens health needs in
prisons, focusing in particular on womens
prisons in Zambia. Marilize Ackermanns
brieng Women in detention in Africa: A
review of the literature scours the limited
evidence available from several African
countries to identify the reasons for detention of women in prison and how their
gender-specic needs are met against provisions of the Bangkok Rules on women
and children, womens specic health
needs, and substance abuse and mental
Using feminist jurisprudence Kelly
E. Stones article interrogates the intersection of class, race, sexuality and gender in
analysis of the meaning/s of privacy for
imprisoned women.
Many of the contributions included in the
issue share the ndings of research conducted with women inmates in the prison
setting and give meaning to womens
prison identities as uid and negotiated

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Mens vulnerability to HIV infection in

prison has attracted social and research
attention, often because it is the cause of
moral panic, while womens sexuality in
prison has attracted very little research in
spite of the high probability that women
inmates are exposed to HIV/AIDS infection.
Research with inmates on sexual practices
and awareness of the risk of exposure to
infection by sexually transmitted diseases
(STDs) by Nirmala Gopal found that there is
a need for HIV prevention and education programmes that specically target women in
prison as well as the monitoring of policies
and practices to prevent prisons discriminating against women inmates who are nongender conforming.
Miranda Yahangeer-Youngs article
draws us into the experience of incarceration
through the healing work of participatory
theatre as she peels away the layers of institutional and patriarchal oppression and containment expressed in womens voices and
the rituals and routines of the inmates who
are the theatre participants.
Gabisile Mkhize and Nompumelelo
Zondi use feminist standpoint theory to
engage with stories about awaiting trial
girls who have slipped through the
armoury of legislation introduced by the
post apartheid democratic state to protect
youth at risk. They call for rights groups to
be vigilant to prevent girls becoming

casualties of the very justice system that is

supposed to protect them.
Looking back at apartheid prisons,
Kalpana Hiralal surfaces evidence of the gendered forms of torture that were used in the
apartheid prisons and documents the experience of women political detainees as they
related it in the 80s, drawing from oral
history archives and other sources in the
public domain. Reclaiming their collective
memories, she constructs prisons as a site
of both womens resistance and liberation


within what are circumscribed, strictly regimented and curtailed lives. Their narratives
speak to their experiences before and
during prison and their need to forge new
identities within the gendered discourse of
imprisonment. Daisy Pillay and Sithembiso
Ngubanes study reveals the dilemmas of
an African woman inmate whose determination to make a different life provide the
possibility whereby she can meet aspirations denied to her outside of prison as a
result of poverty. The prison research with
women inmates by Adelene Africa highlights that even though women who
commit violent crimes are demonised by
society, the participants in her study actively
revisualise their lives as protagonists
capable of change. Their narratives idealise
their conversion from bad girls to good
women: yet, consistent with the intended
function of rehabilitation, the good
women identities inscribe conformity with
gender stereotypes.

Drawing our attention to the criminalisation of women/girls and their incarceration

in Kenya, two contributions examine the
pathways to prison of girls/women offenders. Larry Ndivo reviews an autobiography
written by a Kenyan woman prisoner Sago
McOdongo whose written confession and
description of her life in prison help to
secure her release. However, her full rehabilitation and reintegration into society are not
realised. Wafula Njela critically analyses
Kenyan TV documentaries which reconstruct the circumstances in which girls have
committed murder in Kenya, in what are
seen as desperate means to escape their circumstances - from child marriage, forced
labour and abandonment. The writer draws
out the instrumental role of patriarchy in
the tragic circumstances in which girls
right to make choices have been removed
from them and they now face indenite
prison sentences, instead of the restoration
of their rights as children/young women.
We also include poetry and drawings by
Rachel Botha, Faith Mphini and Thuli
Khumalo, inmates at a correctional facility
in Pretoria. Thembalethu Nhlebela, an exinmate who is now working in a restorative
justice programme writes on her reections
of girlhood arrest and her abuse and violation. Their contributions to this issue introduce the unmediated voices and creative
expression of women inmates.

The rules protect the fundamental human

rights of detainees and, foremost, promote

Reading through this special edition of
Agenda, one can undoubtedly see more

Taking A Count of Women in Prison


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similarities of regional experiences of incarceration than differences. The histories, life

experiences, vulnerabilities, structural challenges, fears and concerns of women in
prison in South Africa, Zambia, Kenya and
Nigeria resonate even reverberate
across borders. There is also something
familiar about the treatment of incarcerated
women, the conditions of their imprisonment and the social costs of incarcerating
them. At the core of the Bangkok Rules
(treatment principles, to be accurate) is the
health and wellbeing of women who have
been deprived of their liberty. The rules
protect the fundamental human rights of
detainees and, foremost, promote dignity.
They appeal to correctional facilities to
implement admissions processes, custodial
management practices, access to families
and social and healthcare programmes in a
manner that recognises that female
inmates have different needs and are vulnerable to different risks. The application of
these rules, and the operationalisation of
them through policy and procedure, not
only reinforces international, regional and
domestic norms relating to prisoners
rights, they actively promote them.
This special issue begins the important
task of focusing social attention on women
and imprisonment in Africa and celebrates
the potential for transformation inherent in
the Bangkok Rules. It makes no claim to
exhaustively address what is an important
area of enquiry and social action for the
fuller achievement of womens rights to
justice by African states, but strongly ags it
as an area of growing signicance for social
and feminist activism and scholarly research
to uncover institutional practices by prisons
that have entrenched womens experience
of social inequality, injustice and unequal
access to the social services and support
that they deserve. The issue has sought to privilege women prisoners voices so that they
can be heard through the publication of
research that gives weight to their selfexpression and gendered prison identities,
and to prisons as sites where womens lives
should not be seen as insulated from the
rights to equality that pertain to women in
the wider society in Africa. It is hoped that it


AGENDA 106/29.4 2015

leads to further research in all aspects of

incarcerated women.

Artz L, Hoffman-Wanderer Y & Moult K (2013) Hard
Time(s) Womens Pathways to Crime and
Incarceration, South Africa: UCT/European
Union and the Ofce of the Presidency.
Department of Correctional Services (2005) White
Paper on Corrections in South Africa, Pretoria:
Department of Correctional Services.
Department of Correctional Services (2014) Annual
Report 2013/2014, Department of Correctional
Services, Vote 21, Pretoria: Department of
Correctional Services.
Haffejee S, Vetten L & Greyling M (2005) Exploring
violence in the lives of women and girls incarcerated at three prisons in Gauteng Province, South
Africa, in Agenda, 66, 4047.
Luyt WFM & du Preez N (2010) A case study of female
incarceration in South Africa, in Acta
Criminologica, 23, 3, 88114.
McCartan LM & Gunnison E (2010) Individual and
relationship factors that differentiate female
offenders with and without a sexual abuse
history in Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 25,
8, 144969.
Modie-Moroka T (2003) Vulnerability across a life
course: An empirical study: Women and
criminality in Botswana prisons, in Journal
of Social Development in Africa, 18, 1, 145
Okwendi JS, Nwankwoala R & Ushi V (2014) The
plight of female prisoners in Nigeria and the
dilemma of health rights violations, in Asian
Journal of Social Sciences & Humanities, 3, 4,
Republic of South Africa (1996) Constitution of the
Republic of South Africa Act 108 of 1996,
Pretoria, South Africa.
Republic of South Africa (1998) Correctional Services
Act No 111 of 1998, Pretoria, South Africa.
Todrys KW & Amon JJ (2011) Health and human
rights of women imprisoned in Zambia, in
Biomedcentral (BMC) International Health &
Human Rights, available at: http://www.,
accessed 30 November 2015.
UN General Assembly (1991) UN Standard Minimum
Rules for Non-Custodial Measures (Resolution
A/RES/45/110, 2 April 1991).
UN General Assembly (2010) UN Rules for the
Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (A/C.3/65/
L.5, 6 October 2010).
Van Zyl Smit D & Dunkel F (2001) Imprisonment Today
and Tomorrow: International Perspectives on
Prisoners Rights and Prison Conditions, Second
Edition. U.K.: Springer Publishers.


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LILLIAN ARTZ is the Director of the Gender, Health & Justice Research
Unit at the University of Cape Town. She specialises in domestic violence,
sexual offences, criminal justice and health care reform and womens
rights to freedom and security in Africa. Her current project work includes
research on female offenders in prisons and psychiatric settings, the epidemiology of child sexual abuse, the prevention of torture in places of
detention in southern and East Africa as well as the medico-legal management of sexual and domestic violence in conict-affected states. Email:

BRITTA ROTMANN is the Chief Deputy Commissioner responsible for

Remand Detention at the Department of Correctional Services in South
Africa. She sees her role as implementing a more comprehensive
system for remand detainees, which has largely been neglected in the
past as it was not seen as the core business of the DCS, which is
focused on rehabilitation. She has also worked with the Ofce of the
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Nepal
monitoring places of detention and the operation of the criminal justice
system in relation to marginalised groups. Email: Britta.Rotmann@dcs.

Taking A Count of Women in Prison