As part of our advocacy to draw attention to the impact of carceral systems on women and girls, Women Lead Network has been raising our concerns to the United States Mission to the ICCPR (International Convention on Civil and Political Rights). The ICCPR is one of the few Conventions that the U.S. has committed itself to uphold as a signatory and through ratification. Fundamentally, the ICCPR requires member states to ensure freedom from discrimination, equal rights, freedom from torture and access to humane treatment in detention.
As in our previous work, we centered our comments and focus on the impact of detention on women and girls and the inhumane cross over between victimization and incarceration. Our comments include drawing attention to the inhumane practice of sterilizing incarcerated women without their consent and the lack of access to resources supporting survivors of gender based violence resulting in their acts of self – defense and subsequent incarceration. You can download our detailed comments at the end of this blog.
As part of this work we will be joining other Civil Society Organizations in Geneva, Switzerland this month to raise these issues with the U.S. Mission in advance of their report to the ICCPR on Tuesday, October 17th. We look forward to their efforts to address these issues and stand in solidarity with other Civil Society Organizations.
On March 15th, during the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York, Women Lead Network hosted human rights defenders and advocates in a virtual parallel event. We are honored to join you all today to highlight critical human rights abuses experienced by women in the U.S. Denice Labertew and Kimberly Wong along with students from the California State University, Northridge Criminology and Justice Studies Department, joined Diana Block from California Coalition for Women Prisoners to discuss the forced sterilization of women in detention settings and the criminalization of self defense for survivors of gender based violence. Women Lead Network is a collective of women who work to ensure that women’s needs are central in discussions about world problems and that they are engaged as leaders in solutions to those problems. This includes all who identify as women, as well as femme, gender nonbinary and other birthing folks.
Excerpt from the event: “Although decreasing in size during the pandemic, The U.S. still has the largest carceral system in the world. According to their own data, the U.S. incarcerates more than 1.2 million people, not including those in immigration, juvenile and Pre-Trial detention which would push the carceral population to significantly over 2 million. While only 10% of the prison population are women their incarceration rates have increased 2-4x faster than their male counterparts over the last 3-4 decades due to the gendered effects of carceral schemes like the “war on drugs”, mandatory arrest policies for domestic violence and the criminalization of sex work.
Parallel to this landscape is the dwindling of access to bodily autonomy for women, femme identified and gender non-binary folks. While the criminalization of abortion in a post Roe society and the criminalization of gender affirming care are two examples, access to bodily autonomy has been precarious for many American women for decades. Reproductive justice advocates have raised the red flag long before Roe became law in 1972 and have noted that Roe, while a critical tool to provide important access to reproductive care, had significant gaps that prevented women across a cross section of vulnerability from accessing true reproductive freedom most specifically poor women, women of color, trans women and other birthing people, incarcerated women, undocumented women, disabled women and the list goes on.
This is why we are raising these issues here today on a platform that looks at the implications of human rights abuses on women and strives to intervene in and rectify the devastating impacts.
Recently I was asked what is meant by the term “Criminalization of Gender” that we use in the title of this event. This is an excellent question and I thought it might be a good place to start our discussion today.
Criminalization is the process that society uses to determine criminality or what and who should be punished by the state (meaning government). Criminalizing gender means that criminality or punishment is distributed along gender lines. For example, if we look at the increased criminalization of abortion at the state level since Roe V Wade has been overturned, those who will be, and are, disproportionately impacted are women (or other folks who can get pregnant). Another example is the impact of the “War on Drugs” . While it has been framed as a neutral policy it has had a disproportionate impact on low income women and women of color. It’s also important to recognize that existing focus on sex work as a crime has a disproportionate impact on women (including transwomen). The phrase “criminalizing gender” shines a light on the usually invisible experiences of women in the criminal legal system.
Criminalizing can also describe the ways in which specific punishments get connected to certain types of crimes or prisoners. The issues we’ll be raising fit into both of these categories.
First: We’ll be highlighting the human rights abuses experienced by incarcerated women (and other birthing people) who have been subject to sterilization procedures without their full consent. Many have gone to prison medical personnel with complaints ranging from period cramping to between period bleeding and emerged from Medical having been completely sterilized without consenting to the procedure. When justifying these procedures, egregious excuses were given that it would “save taxpayers money since these women would likely end up incarcerated again or on welfare”. This would be considered a way that a specific “Punishment” might be targeted at women. Let’s not forget that because the carceral system is also racialized and classed that these women are disproportionately women of color and poor women.
The U.S. played an integral role in developing the U.N. Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and their 2015 revisions The Mandela Rules and yet, as noted previously, incarcerated women are subjected to medical procedures that were unnecessary and unconsented to. The U.N.’s Committee against Torture has acknowledged denying abortion care can result in “physical and mental suffering so severe in pain and intensity as to amount to torture”, and the same can be said of non-consensual sterilization. Additionally, the U.S. has an obligation under the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (The Bangkok Rules) to ensure that incarcerated women are treated humanely and are provided appropriate healthcare which includes the same standard of care available to women on the outside. Informed Consent is key to the appropriate provision of healthcare and is a standard of care that prisons have failed to provide many incarcerated women.
The second issue we’re looking at is what we might call “criminalized survivorship” for survivors of gender-based violence. Domestic violence survivors, sexual assault survivors, human trafficking survivors are often prosecuted for “fighting back” or what we’d more appropriately call “resistive violence”. Their sentences tend to be much more significant than the sentences received by those who are abusive or who are traffickers (abusers 2 years manslaughter, victims 15-life homicide). Also, these survivors may be charged and prosecuted for crimes like defending their children, taking their children when they leave an abuser, engaging in sex work to support themselves so they don’t have to return to an abuser…and of course, immigration violations due to the inhumane crossover between immigration and the criminal legal system. Because of the gendered nature of these types of victimization, this impacts disproportionately women, both cis and trans.
International customary law lays out the reality faced by survivors of gender-based violence and recognizes that this is a global issue that is being addressed around the world. The U.S. has regularly implemented laws that recognize and criminalize a variety of forms of gender-based violence, including the Violence Against Women Act, but continue to fail to meet their obligations in protecting women from these harms. Additionally, while the U.S. has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which explicitly requires states to protect women from gender-based violence, it is a signatory obliging it to act in good faith towards CEDAWS’ ratification and to follow it’s guidance until that ratification is secured. If the United States met its obligation to protect ALL women from gender-based violence these survivors would not need to engage in the actions that resulted in their incarceration. Additionally, the first rule under the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders is to KEEP WOMEN OUT OF PRISON including eliminating pre-trial detention and increasing the use of post-conviction sentencing schemes that are gender sensitive. If the U.S. were meeting its human rights obligations most survivors of gender based violence would never be incarcerated.
We will hear today from students at California State University, Northridge’ Criminology and Justice Studies Department, Human Rights, Crime and Justice class who have been studying these issues and will share their findings related to the U.S human rights obligations in addressing or preventing the topics I mentioned earlier.
We’ll also hear from the folks who are doing the heavy lifting of abolition and working to protect their sisters’ human rights. Diana Block from the California Coalition of Women Prisoners will share the work of those directly impacted by these abuses and their programs to resist the ever-increasing impact of the Prison Industrial Complex on women
While women’s resistance movements have been an equitizing factor in gains made for women, we also recognize that we cannot fully engage in a true discussion and advocacy for women without also understanding the impact of trauma both interpersonally and systemically. On an interpersonal level, trauma from gender-based violence, including that violence perpetrated by the state, can impact the way that women respond to incidents of abuse and affect their self-perception. At a systemic level, living with sexism, racism, homophobia and misogyny and within carceral settings can have an insidious effect on women’s lived experiences and world view compounding their reactions to interpersonal trauma. Kimberly C. Wong, LCSW, and expert in trauma resilience, will help us to understand the impacts of trauma on women who experience gender based violence, including carceral violence.
Finally we’ll give you an opportunity to develop your own understanding of the problem and to engage as an accomplice in dismantling the systems that have caused these abuses during a “community conversation” where we can share ideas and ask questions to develop your own plan for action to address these harms. .
Again, we thank you for joining us and look forward to our shared learning and advocacy.”-Denice Labertew, J.D., Master of Human Rights
Join us for our event during the NGO/CSW67 Forum on Criminalizing Gender: Human Rights, Criminalization and Bodily Autonomy held during the U.N. Commission on the Status Women convening on Wednesday, March 15th at 1pm (PT)/4pm (ET). You can access the event by registering for the NGO/CSW67 Forum. https://ngocsw67forum.events.whova.com/
This is a virtual event
“The United States carceral system is the largest in the world. This parallels the diminishing capacity for women in the United States to access bodily autonomy in a Post Roe society.
However, many women have known all along that agency related to their bodies was precarious. Women whose work has been exploited by corporations and criminalized through systems of justice, have known. Women who have experienced sexual violence in the military have known. Women who cannot access necessary medical care, including gender affirming care, have known. Incarcerated women have known, all along, that the intersection between incarceration and bodily autonomy has left them to endure decades of medical neglect and unconsented to medical interventions. Women who have experienced gender based violence have known, all along, that the criminal justice system was not going to help them, and may even, in fact, harm them if they tried to escape that abuse. Women have known, all along, that while the U.S. promotes “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” as the center of its Human Rights Agenda, the reality of who qualifies for those protections remains contested.
This event will highlight the experiences of women who have been abused by the U.S. Criminal Justice System and the advocacy being done to repair the harm. It will bring to light issues impacting women within the U.S. carceral system, in particular the forced sterilization of women in detention settings and the criminalizing of self-defense for women experiencing gender based violence
Women Lead Network has partnered with the California State University, Northridge, Criminology and Justice Studies Department to bring to light human rights abuses facing incarcerated women as well as some alternatives and remedies that can address past abuse and mitigate future harm.”
“Caring for myself is not self indulgence, it is self preservation and that is an act of political warfare” -Audre Lorde.
We’ve been resting.
In fall of 2021 WLN took an abrupt, yet necessary, hiatus to rest and evaluate how we focus and expend our energy. Our work on the Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. consumed much of our collective soul requiring our laser focus on the experiences of the horrendous human rights abuses faced by women and girls who were fleeing unthinkable conditions, only to be met with abuse where they sought safety.
As women leaders we recognize the impact of that work and the resulting collective trauma and pushed the pause button so we could nurture ourselves and recover to continue our important work.
We have returned to that work now with a commitment to “adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). We are glad to be among you again.
California is now accepting applications to compensate survivors of forced sterilization. From the California Latina’s for Reproductive Justice:
“The California Forced or Involuntary Sterilization Compensation Program provides reparations to survivors of state sponsored forced or involuntary sterilizations under California’s eugenics laws from 1909-1979 and survivors of involuntary sterilizations in women’s state prisons after 1979.
Applying for compensation is completely confidential and will not impact your Medicaid, Social Security, Food Assistance, or other federal or state benefits and compensation will NOT be considered for community property, child support, restitutions or a money judgment. Visit victims.ca.gov/fiscp for more information.
This program is an important step for California in confronting its shameful history and taking a bold stand against the racist, sexist, and ableist practices that perpetuate health inequities to this day. The CA FISCP was co-sponsored by Back to the Basics Community Empowerment (B2B), California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ), and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) in collaboration with the Belly of the Beast filmmakers and team.”
This is work that was lead by women. We are proud to spread the word to ensure access to justice.
Join Women Lead Network, Alquimia Global and Women’s Economic Empowerment Global at the U.N.’s 65th Commission on the Status of Women. The Parallel Event will focus on women migrants and refugee’s capacity for resilience under the most challenging conditions. Come join the event by registering on WEE Global’s site
March 17th concluded the Universal Periodic Review of the United States with a public response to the more than 300 recommendations by the Human Rights Council. The U.S. stated their acceptance, rejection or reservation of these recommendations during the Human Rights Council Convening at 6:30 AM EDT (3:30 AM PDT).
Afterwards, Women Lead Network joined other Human Rights Defenders to respond. You can view the video below:
See or full statement below:
“These statements reflect the collective work and concerns of Women Lead Network, a collective of women committed to centering women’s experiences in human rights discussions and the Women’s Rights Working Group of the US Human Rights Network. When we center women’s experiences, we include all who define themselves as women, as well as other birthing and menstruating people
Throughout the Universal Periodic Review, the Women’s Rights Working Group consistently raised the issues of women in the United States by bringing forward 3 themes: Maternal Mortality, Reproductive Access, and Gender Based Violence. Women Lead Network centered the intersectional experiences of women related to these issues by focusing our attention on women and girls in U.S. immigration detention.
It is with significant relief that we are able to move forward on these issues under an Administration that has promised to look at, and address, many of the concerns we have raised to date. To be clear, however, our work is not done. Many of the issues raised by women related to their health, safety and well-being were issues long before the previous Administration rolled back hard-fought protections and continue to be critical for women to enjoy full access to their humanity.
Today in the Biden Administrations response we learned that:
They intend to to develop a plan to fully implement laws that prohibit sex discrimination, to include sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination and address gender inequality including a willing focus on reproductive health access for women “at home and abroad”.
They have committed to addressing racial justice and other forms of discrimination and have begun by instituting various policies including “anti-bias training”
They have committed to “humane” immigration practices, in particular for children, as well as criminal justice reform.
They have committed to “meaningful engagement” with tribal communities when policy decisions are made.
As to ratification of Human Rights treaties like CEDAW, they have stated that they agree with them from a policy perspective and are committed to “working towards ratification”.
In terms of COVID 19 they have committed to meaningful access to healthcare including making it “more affordable” and to protect reproductive healthcare for women.
We also heard comments praising the U.S. for its shift in position on women’s reproductive rights on a global level and its commitment to addressing gender based violence, along with questions about the lack of commitment to some issues impacting women like paid parental leave and continued confusion on the Helms Amendment which continues to frustrate efforts towards women’s well-being internationally.
However, we remain concerned that the lived experiences of women have not fully been reflected in their commitments.
For example, we did not hear any specific intention to address the human rights of women in detention settings, whether prison or immigration detention, who have been sterilized without consent or sexually assaulted by their detainers.
We did not hear about a commitment to ensure full access to healthcare for every individual in order to reduce maternal mortality which disproportionately impacts Black and Indigenous Women.
While we heard some commitments to include protections for sex workers and Trans women, who are disproportionately impacted by gender-based violence, conflation of sex trafficking and sex work continues to create dangerous conditions and limit protections.
And we heard no mention of how they intend to address the impacts of COVID 19 for women, specifically,
*whose job loss has constituted 80% -100% of the reported job losses some months during the pandemic,
*who are disproportionately caregivers, including informal caregivers who have not been prioritized for vaccines,
*are a majority of health care providers who will have long lasting effect of trauma from the pandemic or
*how they’ll address the profound impact on the gaps in women’s careers and education due to their disproportionate responsibility for the at home “teaching” of children during the pandemic.
It is critical, that we remember that while the U.S. may return to its status as a “global leader” in human rights, the experiences of its own women must reflect that position. It is also critical that we remember that the lived experiences of women in the United States intersect with many of the issues most impactful in all communities. Criminal Justice, Worker’s Rights, Racial Justice, Health Care Access, Clean Water, Land…all these issues impact women specifically.
So, we call on the Biden Administration and other federal, statewide, and local policy makers to:
*Engage with grass roots women’s groups to facilitate ground up solutions to all domestic problems
*Ensure that diversity is not simply a catch phrase and that Women of Color are centered as leaders in solutions to problems at home and abroad.
*Apply a gendered lens to every problem and solution that is presented: specifically looking to the impacts of any policy, position, approach, or action on women in all their intersectional experiences.”
Women Lead Network and our partner, Alquimia Global, have continued to partner on raising the issues facing refugee and migrant women and girls in the United States. In 2020, WLN partnered with Alquimia to engage in advocacy with the United Nations leading up to the Universal Periodic Review of the United States in November of 2020. As a result, many recommendations were raised by the Human Rights Council addressing the treatment of migrant women and girls in U.S. immigration detention.
Women Lead Network and Alquimia Global are continuing these partnership efforts through the production of a Human Rights Report on Women and Girls in U.S. Immigration Detention (tentative release July 2021). WLN and Alquimia are also partnering to highlight this issue at the UN Women’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65).
The sixty-fifth session of the Commission on the Status of Women will take place from 15 to 26 March 2021. The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), is a global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. This year’s theme is “Women in Public Life: Equal Participation in Decision and End Violence; Achieve Gender Equality”.
The Women Lead Network/Alquimia Global Event will take place on March 25, 2021 at 9:30am (PT). Stay tuned for registration information.
Women Lead Network is joining organizations around the world for the 16 Days Campaign. Each year between November 25 (International Day Against Violence Against Women) and December 10th (International Human Rights Day) organizations across the globe use the 16 Days Campaign to call for the elimination of gender-based violence (GBV).
In 2020, the campaign’s focus is on informal women workers whose lives and livelihoods have been acutely impacted by COVID-19 and the unprecedented economic crisis that has followed.