GENDER ISSUES IN THE LAW AND ORDER ARENA
In the recent past, much of the debate with regard to the term ‘gender issues’ has been captured within the context of issues revolving around women and equality in the light of changing sex roles, gender relations and other concerns affecting women. When it comes to the treatment of female prisoners, a number of rights activist groups have gone ahead to voice their objection with regard to how women are treated while in detention or prison. Cases of the violation of female prisoners are well documented and in that regard, a sneak preview of the circumstances revolving around such abuses, the nature of abuses and what should be done is not only necessary but appropriate.
Circumstances revolving around women prisoners’ rights violation
According to Pollock (2002), there exists an inappropriate imbalance of power between guards and the prison inmates. This is particularly the case when it comes to female prisoners serving lengthy jail terms for a wide range of offenses. This power imbalance according to experts is informed by the dependency prisoners often have on the guards especially when it comes to the provision of protection against attacks from other prisoners as well as the provision of basic necessities including but not in any way limited to additional food and hygiene items.
This brings about a situation where some ‘give and take’ scenario is created where prisoners (especially female prisoners) are compelled by the guards to submit sexually, or otherwise, so as to receive favors. According to Flowers (1995), the high ration of male guards in female prison facilities is one of the factors that facilitate the violation of the rights of women prisoners. In addition to this, the refusal by prison authorities to address issues revolving around the violation of female prisoners’ rights is another impendent when it comes to averting female prisoners’ abuse. As we shall see in the last section of this text, the key to enhancing the rights of female prisoners squarely rests on how these factors that are seen as impediments to the same shall be addressed.
Nature of rights violation
Thomas et al. (2003) is of the opinion that when it comes to the access to medical care; female prisoners are often denied medical treatments as well as resources that are vital to their well being. This is not the case when it comes to their male counterparts. To understand, this case better, it is important to note that female prisoners require constant medical attention especially at the time of pregnancies, degenerative diseases etc. Further, they require superior sanitary facilities.
However, this is not often taken into consideration and when female inmates suffer disease which are largely treatable including but not in any way limited to miscarriages, cancer as well as anemia (sickle cell); there is often delay in the delivery of medications which in one way or the other are life saving. Further, for victims of HIV/AIDS, their medical conditions get worse as a result of unavailability of antiretroviral drugs. Hence chronic diseases which are at first instance treatable progress to more serious levels and it is only then that measures are taken to address the same, where in some instances, it turns out to be too late.
Next, women prisoners are subjected to untold humiliation in most instances by the male guards. For instance, there has been reports of male guards insisting on watching female prisoners shower, undress etc. Further, female prisoners are constantly subjected to full body searches by male guards whereas in most instances, the searches are largely seen to be groping and invasive.
There are also reports that female prisoners are often raped due to loopholes that allow guards to get back to those who report such encounters (Soohoo et al. 2008). Further, sexual exploitation comes about when guards force women prisoners to have sex wit them for occasional favors including but not limited to additional food.
It is important to note that to remedy the situation; institutional policies have to be adopted where the interaction between female prisoners and male guards is strictly governed. Such policies should be aimed at ensuring that amongst other issues, male guards do not constitute more than 50% of the total number of guards as well as ensuring that searches on female prisoners is executed by female guards only.
Next, there is an urgent need to eliminate the existing impunity in female jails. Complaints need to be handled promptly and disciplinary measures taken against the guards involved. At the moment, guards found of an offence are simply suspended or transferred to another prison. This is what natures impunity and hence the starting point as far as the enhancement of the rights of female prisoners is to handle complaints in a timely manner and punish offenders as per the existing legal provisions.
It is important to note that when it comes to stamping out the harassment of female prisoners, the concerted efforts of all the stakeholders is needed. This includes the government, prison officials, and inmates as well as rights groups. Without the concerted efforts of all the stakeholders, doing away with the harassment of female prisoners may be an exercise in futility.
Pollock, J.M. (2002). Women, prison, and crime. Wadsworth Thomson Learning
Flowers, R.B. (1995). Female crime, criminals, and cellmates: an exploration of female
criminality and delinquency. McFarland
Thomas, J. & Zaitzow, B.H. (2003). Women in prison: gender and social control. Lynne
Soohoo, C., Albisa, C., & Davis, M. F. (2008). Bringing Human Rights Home, Vol. 1,
Westport, Conn.: Praeger.