Women in Custody: Gender Specific Challenges

Contributed by Miranda Morton

On 23 October 2014, Penal Reform International hosted a side event of the Third Committee, 69th Session of the UN General Assembly sponsored by the Mission of Thailand. The event, so titled “Women in custody—gender equality challenges and opportunities in crisis and conflict situation”, focused on identifying pathways that lead to the imprisonment of women and defining issues that face incarcerated women.

This event reflected a paragon of partnership between NGOs and UN Missions. Penal Reform International, the host, is an NGO that “promotes fair, effective and proportionate responses to criminal justice problem worldwide”. Sponsorship came from the Mission of Thailand in part due to Princess Bajrakitiyabha’s pivotal role in the development of the UN Bangkok Rules.

The UN adopted the Bangkok Rules (officially, The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders) in 2010. Previously, there had been a gaping chasm in international standards addressing the specific needs of women in the criminal justice system. The Bangkok Rules establish appropriate practices for providing gender-specific healthcare, treating women humanely, preserving their dignity during searches, protecting them from violence, and providing for their children (who are all too often incarcerated with their mothers).

Since officially confronting the gender-specific challenges posed by female prisoners in 2010, the present challenge is shifting from paper to practice. With so many actors and authorities involved in the treatment of state offenders, deliberate application must include civic education and involvement. Reversing blanketed incredulity and public discrimination against detained women can ameliorate some of the greatest challenges facing women in the prison system.

Key challenges include: inadequate provision for female hygiene, unjustified use of restraints, solitary confinement and its psychological effects, supervision by male staff, inappropriate touching resulting from searches, sexual violence, lack of defense attorneys, and insufficient provision for family contact (incarcerated women often find themselves in an overcrowded facility far removed from their homes because female prisons are few and far between, making it difficult for family members to visit).

Discriminatory practices towards female prisoners are not just an issue in war-struck or volatile countries—these issues also exist in established countries with developed economies and institutions. To learn more, please visit: http://www.penalreform.org/.


Extreme Poverty Eradication in the Least Developed Countries

By Theresa Carthy

Today I attended an event on the state of the least developed countries (LDCs) in 2014 with a special focus on the eradication of extreme poverty—hosted by the Permanent Mission of Benin to the United Nations and the Office of the High Representative for the LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS (OHRLLS).  Extreme poverty is a crucial issue to the LDCs with over 75 percent of their citizens living on under US$2 per day, and close to 51 percent living on under US$1.25 a day.  Not only are the LDCs characterized by low per capita income and low human capital development, these countries face structural obstacles as well.

Eradicating extreme poverty is the first of the Millennium Development Goals and key to graduation from LDC status.  The event panelists all stressed that sustainable economic growth is key to reducing extreme poverty.  Growth alone is insufficient; it must be based in meaningful structural transformations which drive its sustainability.

Professor Augustin Fosu from the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research in Ghana described four main thematic determinants of extreme poverty in LDCs: the growth-inequality-poverty nexus, institutional frameworks, infrastructure and service delivery, and gender inequality.  Regarding the growth-inequality-poverty nexus, he explains that poverty-reduction programs are more successful in countries with lower rates of income inequality.  Decreasing inequality is a key facet of poverty reduction because it allows for a more favorable distribution of income.

Professor Fosu posited that higher institutional quality is connected with greater progress in poverty reduction.  A strong rule of law, an effective government, controlled corruption and political stability have all been found to decrease poverty and increase income in a country.  Fosu also advocates for the development of key infrastructure in LDCs. Inadequate transportation networks, for example, limit LDC’s access to larger economic markets.  Lack of proper electricity, water and sanitation services, as well as social services, are major hindrances to growth and contributors to extreme poverty in LDCs.

Mr. Moez David, the Director of UN-Women explained the negative relationship between gender inequality and rates of poverty along with Professor Fosu.  They highlighted that women represent a disproportionate number of the world’s poorest people.  Increasing gender equality in education, health and employment are all key to women’s empowerment and graduation from poverty.  One often invisible instance of gender inequality in LDCs is in the form of women’s unpaid labor.  Women take on the bulk of care and domestic responsibilities in these countries without pay.  Child care and parental leave during and after pregnancy are lacking social services in LDCs.  One striking example of the hours of unpaid labor done by women is water-fetching.  Three-fourths of water fetched in LDCs is done by women; this amounts to 40 billion hours per year in total labor.  This job is not only unpaid, but often unacknowledged.  Most of the work done by women does not appear in national or international data.  Lack of recognition and pay in these sectors is detrimental to women’s empowerment, and the disproportionate burden of care and domestic responsibilities on women blocks their access to basic rights such as education and paid work.  It is only through comprehensive structural changes which promote sustainable growth, reduce income inequality, empower women, and strengthen institutional frameworks and public services that the tragedy of extreme poverty in LDCs can be eradicated.


“The Fordham Ram” covers Impact Initiative

A big thanks to Amina Bhatti, a staff writer for the The Fordham Ram, for taking the time to research and write about the Impact Initiative. Please let it be known to all Fordham students that there are many ways to get involved at the United Nations. After all, Fordham’s very own mission statements stresses the importance of preparing students “for leadership in a global society”.

To find Amina’s article, follow this link:


The NGO Committee on Education

By Theresa Carthy

The NGO Committee on Education brings NGOs together to discuss how the topic relates to the UN agenda.  The Committee eventually consults the United Nations and the larger NGO community on a variety of topics related to education and the mission of the UN—including increasing access to both primary and higher education in developing countries, maintaining education infrastructure in times of crises, and the intersection between education and public health.

At this past Committee meeting on Thursday October 16th, one key issue discussed was the connection between education and the rise of the Ebola virus.  The crisis demonstrates the costs of non-action.  Part of the reason why the virus was able to spread almost unchecked throughout West Africa was lack of healthcare infrastructure and lack of healthcare education infrastructure.  If governments had been proactive in developing institutions for higher education such as medical schools and building hospitals, West Africa would have been much better prepared to deal with the outbreak.  Lack of native doctors and other healthcare workers at the onset of the crisis is an unfortunate reason as to why it spread so quickly.

The need for education never stops; this crisis not only stems from a failure to educate but furthers lack of education.  Many West African schools have closed as a result of the outbreak.  It is critical that these children are not left behind in their education during their formative years due to the Ebola outbreak.  It is important to develop both formal and informal educational infrastructures that can continue to educate children during times of crisis.

The NGO Committee on Education explores international education issues such as these and brings them to the attention of other NGOs and the UN.  Other NGOs can provide further research and expertise, and can work on the ground globally to correct injustices related to education as well as help to create infrastructure which further promotes it.  By consulting with the United Nations, the Committee hopes to influence national and international government policies related to education.

The Role of Nonprofits in a Time of War

By Miranda Morton

On the morning of 16 October 2014, the Fordham University Center for Nonprofit Leaders hosted a very special event as part of their “Coffee, Conversation, and Connecting” series. Ambassador Hamid al-Bayati, the former permanent representative of the Iraqi mission to the United Nations and author of the book, “From Dictatorship to Democracy: An Insider’s Account of the Iraqi Opposition to Saddam”, spoke about the role of domestic and international nonprofit organizations in a time of war.


Mr. al-Bayati (far right in photo above) opened with the straightforward comment that “NGOs are the first to arrive and the last to leave”, immediately conveying his attitude towards the importance of NGOs. He explained how NGOs respond more quickly to crises and are not bound to state whims. However, NGOs often lack the wherewithal in terms of capital and resources to fulfill their missions—for this reason, Mr. al-Bayati called upon the general public to support NGOs through participation. As far as funding goes, Mr. al-Bayati highlighted the absolute necessity of nonprofits to partner, partner, partner—he recommended NGOs strive for a large network including corporations and governments.

Mr. al-Bayati’s lecture was especially unique because of his own personal experiences. For years, Mr. al-Bayati fought in opposition to Saddam Hussein’s reign in hopes of a one-day democratic and pluralistic Iraq. With ISIS presently casting a cold shadow on his utopian hope (and the international community’s meager response), Mr. al-Bayati has summoned local NGOs to partner with Iraqi NGOs.


Above: Myself (Miranda), Ambassador al-Bayati, and Theresa.

Integrating Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice into the Wider United Nations Agenda

By Miranda Morton

On the afternoon of 9 October 2014, Theresa and I attended a briefing entitled “Integrating Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice into the Wider United Nations Agenda”, hosted by the Qatar Mission. The purpose of this promotional event was to give a preview of The Thirteenth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, which will be held in Doha, Qatar, from 12 to 19 April 2015.

The 2015 Doha Congress will address how to integrate “crime prevention and criminal justice into the wider United Nations agenda to address social and economic challenges and to promote the rule of law at the national and international levels, and public participation”. The tentative agenda items include identifying the following: previous successes and challenges in implementing policies meant to promote the rule of law, international cooperation to counter organized crime, comprehensive approaches to prevent emerging forms of organized crime, and national approaches to increase public participation in strengthening crime prevention and criminal justice.

To learn more about the coming 2015 Doha Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, check out these links:



International Day of Older Persons

By Theresa Carthy

On Thursday October 9, Miranda and I celebrated the International Day of Older Persons at the United Nations. The objectives of the event were two-fold: to highlight concerns specific to older persons and integrate them into the post-2015 development agenda, and to draw attention to examples of groups dealing successfully with aging.

The first half of the event featured speakers who discussed the intersection between the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the rights of elder persons. The narrative of the Millennium Development Goals is about improving people’s lives, but so far they have tended to disregard the lives of older persons. The goals, as well as the processes taken to achieve them, are blind to the needs, concerns and well-being of the elderly. For example, a series of interviews revealed that elderly folks in Burkina Faso lament the lack of healthcare geared towards their demographic, that in Costa Rica older persons complain that they feel scared trying to go pick up their pensions, and that in the Philippines they are disappointed in their lack of employment opportunities. It is crucial that the post-2015 development agenda work to fight these injustices, and instead promote generations of active, engaged and socially secure older persons.

The panel speakers gave different perspectives on means to successfully integrated aging populations. The leaders of the Intergenerational Alliance in El Salvador stressed the importance of everyone—youth, elderly and anyone on the margins—working together. They believe that the mechanisms for change should be organic; they should occur at the grassroots level. They should come from the bottom-up, not just top-down. The MDGs are insufficient for change if they exclude the voices of the people who need to be helped.

Vladimir Cuk spoke on behalf of the International Disability Alliance about the increasing overlap between the elderly and the disabled due to the increasing number of disabilities amongst the elderly and the disabled population’s longer lifespan. Akiko Ito, the Chief Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities/DSPD/DESA at the United Nations, presented examples of elder persons who are thriving in different aspects of life. For example, Ali Amanbayer, a 66-year old with a serious spinal injury, rose to become the leader of Kazakhstani Union for the Organization of People with Disabilities. He then pursued his political interests and became the Advisor to the Minister for Labor and Social Protection—the first disabled man to hold a position that high. The point of her presentation was to highlight the value which elder and disabled perspectives contribute to society.

David Ryan from Intel discussed the intersection of well-being of older persons and technology. Technological innovation can provide the elderly with new social outlets, better healthcare which brings them greater self-sufficiency, and daily living assistance. Finally, Stephen Johnson, the co-founder of Aging 2.0, talks about bringing excitement, innovation and diversity to products for older persons. He stresses the importance of social connection and joy in any care, program or technology directed at the elderly.