International Women’s Day
International Women's Day (IWD) has taken place for more than 100 years, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people. Today (March 8) it is a global event celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It’s also a call to action for the women and girls around the world who still experience inequality and injustice.
Women in African Prisons
In every continent, the population of women in prison is rising. In England and Wales the women’s prison population more than doubled between 1995 and 2010, from 1,979 to 4,236. Since about the year 2000 the number of women and girls in prison worldwide has increased by more than 50% while the male population has increased by around 20%. As a result the proportion of women and girls in the total world prison population has risen to 6.8% in the latest figures available.
In Africa the figures vary greatly. Overall the proportion of women and girls in the total prison population, at 3.4% in African countries, is much lower than elsewhere. However in Uganda women make up 4.4% of total prisoners and in Kenya 7.4% of the prison population are women. And yet, whilst Africa sees some of the lowest prison populations of women worldwide, its conditions are some of the worst. Overcrowded, unsanitary - sharing washing facilities, toilets, beds and blankets - women are often subject to prison violence, even though many are already victims of abuse and assault themselves. Their specific needs for reproductive health are often overlooked - their rights as mothers are disregarded and they are often prevented from seeing their children. Others will have children with them who they will raise behind bars. Many of these women will not see their parents again; they will grow old and die whilst their daughters serve out their sentence.
The Need for Access to Justice
In Kenya we work in 3 women’s prisons, including Lang’ata Maximum Security Prison, Kenya’s main facility for women. On site, there is also a separate remand prison where women can spend many years waiting for trial and sentencing. Most of the prisoners are 18 to 25 years old.
Unable to afford legal representation, unfamiliar and intimidated, many women will be unable to see justice served. They will be simply have to accept what’s decided about their case, whether that’s unfair sentencing for something they did do or being imprisoned for something they didn’t.
Some will learn to weave, learn cake-making or perhaps accountancy. They will hope to serve out their sentence and leave with more than they came in with. Some will take the law into their own hands.
Prisoners becoming Legal Practioners
Rahab Nyawira was an armed robber who spent 6 years in Lang’ata, with all categories of offenders. She was described as one of the most difficult prisoners until a prisoner officer recognised her potential.
Rahab took up the skills training that was offered to her and then began to learn legal skills through APP’s Justice Changemaker Programme. She became one of APP's paralegals providing basic legal awareness and handling the cases of others. Having been released in 2017 she works with APP as a legal advisor continuing to support those she has left behind.
Across East Africa, APP is providing legal training to men and women prisoners who become paralegals to provide access to justice for those around them. In 2018 80 women prisoners trained as paralegals through our Changemaker programme and over 1,000 women gained access to justice through our trained paralegals in Kenya. We now run three legal aid clinics within Kenya’s women’s prisons.
In Uganda, over 370 women were released from prison in 2018 after receiving legal advice from our trained paralegals. APP currently has more than 40 female paralegals and 3 prison students studying law via our legal education programme, in partnership with the University of London.
Prisoners Becoming Advocates For Justice
In 2011 Susan Kigula - death row prisoner - and a group of other prisoners, supported by APP, became the first Ugandan prisoners to sign-up for a distance learning course with the University of London, studying law. The project was a huge success and Susan started a legal aid clinic where, as time went on, even prison staff would come to her for legal advice. Susan and others would help their fellow inmates with bail applications and writing memorandums of appeal for them. They taught them how to represent themselves in court, if they couldn't afford a lawyer and helped dozens of inmates get released from prison.
During her 16 years in prison, Susan successfully challenged the mandatory death penalty in Uganda and gained her release in 2016. In March 2018 we celebrated her graduation from the University of London. Today, she works with APP as an Ambassador and campaigns against the death penalty worldwide - with repeated appearances at the World Congress against the Death Penalty.
Celebrating International Women’s Day
An old African proverb states that “When sleeping women wake, mountains move … ” In Uganda on 15th March the women at Luzira Prison will celebrate IWD behind bars. They may seem limited by their poverty and circumstances, but each one has the potential to move mountains.
Join us as we seek to support the #APPWomen across African prisons, using education to turn inequality into opportunity.
To find out more about women in prison around the world read the World Prison Brief - World Female Imprisonment List (2017