10 October 2021 marks the 19th World Day Against the Death Penalty. This year, the World Day is dedicated to women who risk being sentenced to death, who have received a death sentence, who have been executed, and to those who have had their death sentences commuted, have been exonerated or pardoned. Their stories are an invisible reality.
There are at least 500 women currently on death row around the world. While exact figures are impossible to obtain, it is estimated that over 100 women have been executed in the last 10 years – and potentially hundreds more.
The reasons which place women on death row are often deeply rooted in gender-based discrimination and fit within a broader pattern of violence against women. Women are judged not only on the basis of their crime, but also for having betrayed traditional gender roles.
International legal instruments aim to exclude pregnant women and mothers of young children from the application of the death penalty. However, these instruments do not address gender-based legal and socio-economic discriminations that women continuously face. Extensive discrimination based on sex and gender, often coupled with other elements of identity, such as age, sexual orientation, disability, and race expose women to intersecting forms of structural inequalities.
Women serving death sentences are subjected to inhumane living conditions and at risk of experiencing harassment, abuse and violence, particularly in prisons where male staff supervise them. In addition, women serving death sentences often find themselves without the resources to have adequate legal representation, or without the knowledge to access the legal aid, and may not have the appropriate support network.