Violence Against Women

COPCAT Shorts – Gender-Responsive Non-Custodial Measures Toolkit

Occasionally something really good just slips right by, leaving you wondering how you ever missed it in the first place? One would think that, battened down in the nation’s capital while waiting for life to jump-start, there would be precious little else to do than to keep up with current developments in the wonderful world of human rights law and criminal justice.

Alas, on this occasion it was the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ) to somehow fly so swiftly and stealthily low so as to successfully avoid the radar reflectors of Ontario.

Not to worry, published just a few short weeks ago via a high-profile webinar launch, UNODC and TIJ unleashed on the coronavirus-locked-down world a highly rated Toolkit on Gender-Responsive Non-Custodial Measures. While not the most flashily or zippily titled resource, it most certainly does what it says on the tin.

A deeper dive into this new publication reveals an abundance of useful advice and guidance on alternatives to prison at all trial stages. Its introduction offers a depressingly succinct summary of the toolkit’s overall purpose:

Women are the fastest growing prison population across the world. As further outlined in this toolkit, poverty, discrimination, violence and a punitive legal responses are some of the key underlying causes behind the increase in female imprisonment. The harmful and negative impact of imprisonment on women, their families and communities has been widely documented.

More hopefully, it continues:

Since the adoption of the United Nations Rules on the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules), which complements the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules on Non-custodial Measures (the Tokyo Rules) and the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules), there has been increased attention on gender-responsive treatment of women in prison. This toolkit seeks to provide support and guidance on taking steps to ensure that women in contact with the law are not detained or imprisoned unnecessarily and that detention is used as a measure of last resort. The starting point for this toolkit is to take the least interventionist approach possible, acknowledging that in certain situations contact with the criminal justice system can be harmful to women. (1)

The 90-page publication is accordingly divided into the following three primary sections:

  • Identifying the needs of women in contact with the law;
  • Ensuring gender equality in the use and application of non-custodial measures;
  • Special categories of women.

The second section is the most comprehensive part of the toolkit, focusing on the different trial and sentencing stages in any given criminal justice process, accentuating the availability of non-custodial measures at all such phases. In so doing, it closely examines an array of alternatives to detention such as bail, arrest and supervised release in the pre-trial stage, combined with non-custodial sentences such as fines, suspended sentences, deferred sentences, home detention, community treatment orders, and community service orders during the later sentencing instances.

More impressively still, UNODC and TIJ are currently hosting a series of webinars under the title ‘Gender-Responsive Criminal Justice and Prison Reform‘, which run until 24 June 2020. Please click on the link above or see the flyer below for more detailed information:

As the flyer itself states:

Criminal justice and prison systems face unprecedented challenges that are amplified by the COVID-19 global pandemic. In a system primarily designed for men, gender-responsive approaches are crucial to ensure no one is left behind. Sustained action is needed to address the disproportionate increase in the imprisonment of women, and the lack of gender-specific health care and social reintegration programmes in prisons.

Readers could do much worse than idle away a few well-spent hours in the company of these virtual and non-virtual resources.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime are certainly no strangers to these pages, despite the organization’s somewhat deceptive moniker. The website has previously thrown a spotlight on its other first-class materials, including on the Nelson Mandela Rules and the importance of internal inspection of places of detention. In a word, UNODC continues to place into the public domain many excellent criminal justice-related materials with an invaluable human rights bent.

The Thailand Institute of Justice has similarly authored multiple first-class publications, not least the widely known and highly respected Global Prison Trends series, which it co-publishes with Penal Reform International.

If you were at a loss with what to do with yourself today, dear quarantined readers, then this short summary may have given you at least a couple of useful ideas. Apart from the endless house-work, full-time employment, and home-schooling your multiple children that is to say…

No matter, thank you for your visit. It will get better.

School Closed – Travis Wise (2020).

Download the publication, Toolkit on Gender-Responsive Non-Custodial Measures.

Find out more about TIJ and UNODC’s global webinar series on ‘Gender-Responsive Criminal Justice and Prison Reform‘.

Read the Executive Summary of Global Prison Trends 2020 and the full report.

View other recently published prison-related materials with a focus on women and deprivation of liberty.

Posted by mp in Prisons, Tools, Violence Against Women, Women prisoners

Places of Deprivation of Liberty and Gender – New Publication

The newly published title Places of Deprivation of Liberty and Gender will undoubtedly be of significant interest to human rights actors focusing on the situation of women in Canada’s different closed institutions. Authored by Omar Phoenix Khan and jointly published by the DCAF Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance, OSCE-ODIHR and UN Women on 18 December 2019, the publication arrives as one of the latest installments in the so-called Gender and Security Toolkit.

This highly welcome resource is featured among a series of Tools and Policy Briefs issued by the said international organizations on a diversity of human rights topics, including policing and gender, justice and gender, and security sector governance, sector reform and gender.

Canadian human rights actors and detention monitors working on issues relating to the deprivation of liberty will unquestionably find the new tool both absorbing and useful. According to the introductory overview of the publication, the intended purpose of Places of Deprivation of Liberty and Gender is as follows:

“This Tool is designed to be used by all actors working in connection with people who have been deprived of their liberty. These include policy-makers, legislators, institutional managers, front-line staff, members of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and others.

The main focus of the Tool is related to deprivation of liberty within criminal justice facilities, although much of the content presented here may also be relevant to deprivation of liberty in other settings, such as administrative detention, military detention centres, immigration centres and refugee camps.”

As highlighted in its opening section, the publication sets out to achieve the following objectives:

  • It outlines why integrating a gender perspective is important in closed institutions;
  • It provides a vision of what such facilities would look like if they successfully integrated a gender perspective into their policies and practices;
  • Real-life examples are offered of specific steps that have been taken to integrate such a gender perspective into places of deprivation of liberty;
  • In this same connection, practical guidance is offered to different engaged actors, including policy-makers, operational staff and civil society representatives.

For this writer, chapter 4 titled ‘Guidance for advancing gender equality within places of deprivation of liberty’ is especially illuminating, as it is replete with everyday examples of good gender-related detention practices, drawn from an array of national jurisdictions.

Moreover, the chapter’s focus on an issue close to the heart of the Canada OPCAT Project – independent oversight and monitoring – is especially welcome. In this same connection the report states:

“Organizations that provide independent scrutiny of conditions within places of deprivation of liberty and the treatment of people held therein are a vital cornerstone of any system hoping to ensure sustainable and equitable humane treatment of all such people.”

This undeniable reality is exceedingly well put by author Omar Phoenix Khan.

Solitary confinement
Cell Number 5 by Allissa Richardson (2011).

Other themes of distinct interest include the following: the need for internal oversight and data collection (as highlighted previously on this website); staff selection and ongoing training; infrastructure and accommodation; non-threatening intake and admission of detainees; transfers and searches; risk and needs assessment; healthcare; as well as visits and access to the wider community, among others.

The institutional self-assessment checklist included in chapter 5 of the tool offers an additionally practical benchmark for measuring success in integrating a gender perspective across these and others themes.  

All told, Places of Deprivation of Liberty and Gender very well complements various other useful resources currently available on gender in closed detention settings (for other materials please see under Other Resources) and consequently deserves a much closer look.


Explore Places of Deprivation of Liberty and Gender and the Gender and Security Toolkit.

Read Preventing and Addressing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Places of Deprivation of Liberty.

See Guide to the rehabilitation and social reintegration of women prisoners: Implementation of the Bangkok Rules.

Posted by mp in Tools, Violence Against Women, Women prisoners

COPCAT Shorts – Prohibition of Torture in the Context of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is perpetrated every day against millions of children, women and men worldwide. It is experienced by all generations, nationalities, cultures and religions and on all socioeconomic and educational levels of society. It constitutes a major obstacle to the universal fulfilment of human rights and to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and it severely damages the physical, sexual, emotional, mental and social well-being of innumerable individuals and families, often leaving lasting trauma not only on its direct victims but also within entire communities. For countless people, it makes the home a place of danger, humiliation and untold harm, rather than a place of refuge, trust and protection.

In the light of these observations, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is of the view that domestic violence cannot be regarded as a private matter, but constitutes a major human rights issue of inherently public concern that requires examination, inter alia, from the perspective of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment. Building on the work of his predecessors and other mechanisms, the Special Rapporteur conducted extensive research and broad stakeholder consultations with experts, government representatives, international organizations and civil society organizations, including through a general call for submissions in response to a thematic questionnaire posted on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The present report reflects the resulting observations, conclusions and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur.”

UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Relevance of the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to the context of domestic violence (UN Doc. A/74/148, 12 July 2019) §1 and 4.


Read the UN Special Rapporteur’s report here.

Explore what the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women stated about domestic violence in Canada following the 2018 mission to the country in July 2019 report.

See what the UN Committee against Torture said about gender-based violence in Canada in its Concluding Observations from December 2018.

Read the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada and its focus on multiple forms of gender-based violence.

Posted by mp in Domestic violence, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Violence Against Women