Women's Rights Forums should be Inclusive of All
An Open Letter to the Organisers of Women Deliver and the Generation Equality Forum: High-Level Forums on Women’s Rights Must Not Ignore the Rights of Criminalised, Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women.
We, the undersigned1, call upon the organisers of Women Deliver and the Generation Equality Forum to ensure that these high-level forums on women’s rights are inclusive of all women, particularly criminalised, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women.
The Generation Equality Forum, convened by UN Women in 2021, was the largest forum on women’s rights in the last 25 years. The forum launched a series of ambitious actions to progress gender equality and billions of dollars were pledged by philanthropists and governments to support this agenda.
However, a key group of women and girls were left out of this process — criminalised, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women. Women’s incarceration is increasing at a faster rate than for men, up 60% compared to 22%, since 2000. The women’s prison population has increased by over 100,000 in the last ten years. There is a wealth of evidence that shows women’s incarceration is closely linked to gender-based violence, poverty and discriminatory laws.
Despite these glaring statistics, women’s incarceration was not a feature of any of the six Generation Equality Action Coalitions — key thematic action areas chosen for the global community to focus on for the next 5 years — including ones focused on Gender-Based Violence and Economic Justice and Rights. Women with lived experience of the criminal justice system were invisible throughout the forum, despite the sixth Action Coalition being focused on Feminist Movements and Leadership.
The Generation Equality Midpoint will be held in September 2023, bolstered by the Women Deliver conference in July. We are dismayed that, yet again, women’s incarceration is not a priority issue and that applications submitted by some of the undersigned organisations to hold an official event on this issue at Women Deliver were not accepted.
This is reflective of the marginalisation of the realities of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women across high-level forums, including the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)2. This contributes to lack of funding and policy reform which is needed to address the alarming increase in the criminalisation of women and the number of children detained with a parent.
We call upon member states, UN and other intergovernmental organisations, as well as the organisers of these high-level forums, to ensure that women’s incarceration is included as a priority topic. This includes at the upcoming Generation Equality Midpoint and CSW 2024. Consultations should be held with stakeholders working in this space. In particular, the voices of women with lived experience must be placed centre stage, such as the International Network of Formerly Incarcerated Women.
1. This letter was coordinated by Women Beyond Walls. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you to everyone who signed the letter and who helped to share it with their networks.
2. An analysis of side events and parallel events at CSW 2022 found that incarcerated women were entirely missing from side events and out of 800 parallel events, only four presentations specifically focused on incarcerated women.