Vance Center’s Women in Prison Project Recognized by International Peers

June 2020

The Vance Center’s Women in Prison Project, and specifically the Project’s initiatives to address the Covid-19 pandemic in places of detention for women in the Global South, recently have received coverage in various multi-stakeholder publications.

In a report JUSTICE FOR WOMEN AMIDST COVID-19, UN Women, IDLO, UNDP, UNODC, World Bank, and The Pathfinders cited the Vance Center’s Women in Prison Network as an example of collective action that informs and educates people about women’s rights and promotes reform. The report also included, as examples of positive interventions to protect women in detention during the pandemic, various initiatives led by Network members in Kenya and Mexico.

Connected via an online platform, the Women in Prison Network includes 45 individual advocates and 34 organizations from a total of 21 countries representing every continent. The Network is a safe space for advocates to share information and best practices, seek collaborations, and build capacity for improved monitoring and reporting of conditions in women’s prisons worldwide.

Penal Reform International’s expert blog, Coronavirus and women in detention: a gender-specific approach missing, also featured the work of the Network, including information and interventions from Network members in Africa and Latin America.

The International Legal Assistance Consortium has included the Network’s Covid-19 related work on its webpage on Strengthening Justice during Covid19. The webpage showcases member organizations’ initiatives related to the pandemic as examples of good practice in protecting rights and the rule of law during the global crisis.

The Vance Center’s research project on women’s incarceration in Sierra Leone, which it is conducting jointly with the Sierra Leone NGO AdvocAid, was featured in an article in The Guardian on the challenges that prisons in the Global South face during the pandemic.

In 2017, the Vance Center’s Human Rights and Access to Justice Program launched the Women in Prison Project to promote global collaboration on improving conditions of women’s imprisonment. It convenes women prisoners’ rights advocates from the Americas, Africa, and Asia to 1) share information about conditions of women’s imprisonment in their respective countries or regions; and 2) build capacity for improved monitoring and reporting of conditions in women’s prisons.

Examples of initiatives under the Project include:

  • Convening in Bogota, Colombia, the first international conference of women prisoners’ rights advocates. The Vance Center, in partnership with Penal Reform International, brought together 49 advocates from 23 countries, including nine formerly incarcerated women. Out of this conference was created the first-ever global network of advocates for women prisoners: the Women in Prison Network.
  • Conducting pilot research on women’s incarceration in Sierra Leone. The project, which the Vance Center is implementing jointly with the NGO AdvocAid of Sierra Leone, assesses the causes and consequences of women’s imprisonment in the country. Moreover, it serves as a blueprint for similar research that other organizations can conduct in their respective countries.
  • The report “Women in Prison: Africa Regional Initiative”, developed in collaboration with NGOs and law firms in Nigeria, The Gambia, Malawi, Kenya, and Tanzania. The report surveys what is currently known about women’s incarceration in these five African countries, both in law and practice. It provides a detailed analysis of these countries’ compliance with domestic, regional, and international standards on women’s incarceration.