Red Cross: There’s no gender perspective in Colombia’s prison policy


The International Committee of the Red Cross warned on Tuesday that there is no effective gender perspective within Colombia’s criminal and prison policy, meaning that the specific needs of incarcerated women are not being met.

The report “Women and prison in Colombia: Challenges for criminal policy from a gender perspective,” prepared by the ICRC with Colombia’s Pontifical Xavierian University and Mexico’s Economic Research and Teaching Center (CIDE), says that specific gender policies can help guarantee the rights of “offenders and women deprived of their liberty.”

Oscar Ayzanoa, the ICRC’s criminal policy adviser in Colombia, told EFE that women are “a definitely different population that requires specialized attention, attention to different needs,” giving as an example the hygiene items they use.

“If there’s a prison administration that does not highlight these specific needs, suddenly it does not budget them or it doesn’t allow them in the parcels that relatives can bring them or that are given to (female inmates), and so it’s important to highlight this,” Ayzanoa said.

In this regard, he noted that - according to Colombia’s Constitutional Court - a gender perspective must be incorporated into prison policy to attend to these kinds of needs.

A total of 76.5 percent of the female inmates surveyed said that the number of sanitary napkins that are supplied to them is insufficient and less than half said that they had been given exams related to their specific gender and sexual and reproductive rights, including pap smears and HIV detection tests.

The report, for which 587 men and 536 women - all of them inmates at seven Colombian prisons - were surveyed, also found that of that group 75 percent were heads of families, 56.6 percent did not finish high school and 46.1 percent left home before they were 15.

“What we’ve seen is that the majority (of the women) are mothers who are heads of families, young people with children, the majority had not belonged to armed groups before committing their crime, generally this is the first time they’ve been in prison, they are from groups with very low economic resources,” Alexia Van Der Gracht, the coordinator of the ICRC’s Protection Unit in Colombia, told EFE.

Many of those surveyed had committed their crimes because of their low economic status or were involved in making, trafficking or transporting drugs, but among the women there were very few, if any, violent crimes against others, she added.

The study is a “call to the state to rationalize the use of prison. Prison can’t be the immediate response to criminal situations,” Ayzanoa said.

And Van der Gracht said that “If they’ve committed non-violent crimes, the cost to society can be much higher. Keeping them deprived of liberty can mean that their children have greater problems, which ultimately means an economic and social cost for Colombia.”