States Must Take Concrete Action to Address the Overrepresentation of Afro-Descendant Women in Penitentiary Systems, IACHR Says

July 26, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – On the International Day of Afro-Latin, Afro-Caribbean, and Diaspora Women, the IACHR calls on States to take concrete measures to mitigate the overrepresentation of Afro-descendant women in penitentiary systems and to adopt ethnic-racial and gender perspectives with an intersectional approach in their criminal justice and penitentiary policies.

In various areas in their lives, Afro-descendant women face specific risks linked to the intersection of multiple vulnerability factors, including gender and ethnic-racial background. Poverty and extreme poverty further hinder their full, effective access to justice and their enjoyment of human rights and put them at a disadvantage compared to other individuals because they are more likely to be exposed to crime and institutional violence. Since they are more likely to be subjected to police scrutiny and criminal justice proceedings, Afro-descendant women reportedly face a higher risk of being deprived of liberty and are therefore overrepresented in criminal justice systems in the Americas.

The IACHR stresses that ethnic-racial and gender perspectives with an intersectional approach are crucial to fight multiple discrimination and systemic violence against Afro-descendant women. Integrating these perspectives into criminal justice and penitentiary policies must therefore go hand in hand with the adoption of certain measures to ensure that the conditions of detention faced by Afro-descendant women reflect the legality and proportionality principles and that, when these women are tried, the courts take into consideration, as extenuating circumstances, the specific risks they face, in a way that enables the application of sanctions that are proportionate with the seriousness of the crimes in question.

Finally, the IACHR calls on States to step up their efforts to allocate sufficient resources to the collection of statistical data concerning the situation of Afro-descendant women in penitentiary systems, taking into consideration intercultural, intersectional, and gender perspectives. The Commission further calls for comprehensive review of national legislation and jurisprudence, in order to remove explicit and implicit stereotypes about Afro-descendant women that have a differentiated, disproportionate impact on these women with regard to the criminal justice system.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 170/23

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