The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules) adopted by the 193 countries represented at the UN General Assembly in 2010, are the first set of international human rights standards that focus on the specific needs and experiences of women deprived of liberty.
Ten years after the adoption of the Bangkok Rules, implementation remains piecemeal in states across the world, and the number of women in prison has continued to rise dramatically. By 2020, an estimated 741,000 women were incarcerated worldwide, compared to 636,000 in 2010. The global female prison population is estimated to have increased by about 59% from 2000 to 2020.
This worrying trend has been fuelled by the harshly punitive drug laws adopted at the end of the 20th century. In many countries in Asia and Latin America, drug offences are the leading driver of the incarceration of women. In most cases, women are detained for carrying out low-level drug activities, such as transporting drugs, that are characterised by high risk, a high degree of replaceability within illegal drug organisations, and very little financial reward. Although theoretically ‘gender-blind’, punitive drug policies have have impacted women disproportionately and undermined the application of the Bangkok Rules.
Marking the 10-year anniversary of the Bangkok Rules, this briefing paper analyses the concrete ways in which punitive drug legislation has impacted upon the achievement of the Bangkok Rules, and offers several recommendations on how to translate the commitments set in the Bangkok Rules into drug policy.
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