Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


High-level online event on the 10th Anniversary of the UN Bangkok Rules: Global Perspectives and the Way Forward

  07 December 2020


Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for joining us to mark the 10th anniversary of the UN Bangkok Rules.

I am grateful to our partners at the Thailand Institute of Justice and Penal Reform International for co-organizing this event with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

While women and girls account for less than 7 per cent of all people in prison, the female prison population has risen more than twice as fast as the male prison population over the past two decades.

In many countries, women prisoners are more likely than men to be first-time offenders, imprisoned for non-violent offences.

However, penitentiary and criminal justice approaches are largely shaped by the needs of male offenders and prisoners, with regard to prison regimes and health care, post-sentencing processes and prisoner rehabilitation programmes.

As a result, women prisoners suffer worse outcomes in terms of their health and safety, their families and communities, and their chances of building a better future after they get out of prison.

Gender-based discrimination in prisons and in the criminal justice system hurts women and harms our societies.

The adoption of the Bangkok Rules by the General Assembly stands as a milestone in the struggle to acknowledge and address this discrimination.

The Bangkok Rules offer essential guidance on meeting gender-specific health care and mental health care requirements, as well as addressing substance abuse among women prisoners, and providing gender-responsive HIV prevention, treatment and care.

Crucially, the Rules help to ensure the safety of women prisoners and to maintain their connection with their families.

Guidance on the use of non-custodial measures also takes into consideration women’s responsibilities as care providers for children and elderly family members.

As the custodian of the Bangkok Rules and of related international standards and norms, UNODC is proud to work with countries to promote their full use and application, as an important step towards creating more just and inclusive societies.

Since 2010, our Office has supported 30 Member States through our Global Programme on Prison Challenges and through field-based projects, focusing on prison management, criminal justice and prison reform, as well as social reintegration of women prisoners.

With the support of the Thailand Institute of Justice, UNODC is currently implementing a project focusing on gender-responsive non-custodial measures and social rehabilitation of women prisoners involving nine countries in Asia.

Moreover, we have developed a number of global tools to build the knowledge and skills of criminal justice practitioners and policymakers, including a Commentary to the Bangkok Rules; a Handbook and a Training Curriculum on Women and Imprisonment; and an e-learning course on Alternatives to Imprisonment for Women.

Working with our partners at UN Women, UNDP and OHCHR, we have published a Practitioner's Toolkit on Women's Access to Justice Programming.

And together with the Thailand Institute of Justice, we have recently prepared a Toolkit on Gender-responsive Non-custodial Measures. To pilot the Toolkit, we are currently conducting an online assessment of the use of non-custodial measures in Vietnam and Thailand.

Through our technical assistance in the field and with a focus on social reintegration, we supported the first project enabling women prisoners to access university studies in Panama, and we are providing vocational training in the construction sector to women prisoners in Bolivia under the UNODC “Building Freedom” project.

Furthermore, UNODC is scaling up skills-building rehabilitation projects in Bolivia, El Salvador, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan and Namibia to benefit over 1,500 female prisoners in five years.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The use of gender-responsive non-custodial measures, as well as the treatment of women prisoners and their social reintegration, need to be an integral part of countries’ efforts to build fairer and more resilient societies, as we strive to recover better from the COVID crisis.

In a welcome development in the spirit of the Bangkok Rules, we have seen a recent increase in the use of non-custodial measures to alleviate prison overcrowding and limit the spread of COVID, with many countries explicitly prioritizing the release of women held for minor offences.

UNODC remains fully engaged in supporting Member States with the implementation of the Bangkok Rules, in cooperation with civil society and other partners, for the dignity and rights of women everywhere.

I wish you fruitful discussions. Thank you.