Women continue to suffer in jails

Poor living conditions, lack of privacy are hallmarks of detention facilities across Punjab

KHALID RASHEED October 25, 2022


Just like male prisoners, incarcerated women in jails across Punjab have it rough but their ordeal is further exacerbated due to a disregard for their hygiene, privacy, and safety.

As per records obtained by The Express Tribune, more than 900 women across the province are currently serving time behind bars in various offences.

However, despite the high number little has been done to make jails women-friendly for these prisoners, which has led them to believe that be it a life of incarceration or freedom, women in the country are not safe.

Rabbiya Bajwa, a prominent lawyer based in Lahore, reiterating the sentiment, told The Express Tribune that women in Pakistan suffer regardless of whether they are at home or in jail.

“In prisons across the province no one does anything to address feminine hygiene or increase access to healthcare for female jailees,” Rabbiya remarked, adding that infections like jaundice, tuberculosis, and cholera are rampant in jails.

The lawyer further informed that pregnant female prisoners had it even worse.

“They are not given the required nutritional support that is needed during pregnancy nor is there any concept of prenatal healthcare.”

Syeda Farah Hashmi, who heads a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working for the rights of imprisoned women, agreeing with Rabbiya’s assessment on the plight of female jailees, said that poor jail conditions was an understatement.

“Prisons for women do not even have lady doctors, so the female inmates are reluctant to seek help,” Syeda informed, adding that this was one of the reasons why allergies and skin diseases were common amongst female prisoners.

Presently, a huge chunk of the total incarcerated women population of Punjab is based in 4 cities of the province with Central Jail Lahore, at first place, which has 134 female prisoners; followed by Central Jail Rawalpindi which has 125; Multan Women Jail which has 92; and District Jail Faisalabad which has 86.

Even though they are 4 of the biggest cities of Punjab, Rabbiya is of the view that discrimination in access to legal aid is prevalent, which results in women staying behind bars for longer.

“Even in the bigger cities female inmates do not receive timely legal aid, which deprives them of the right to bail and their cases linger on for years,” she informed.

The lawyer opined that the courts system already posed several challenges for women; hence it was the state’s job to provide legal aid to female prisoners in particular.

Apart from the lack of access to legal aid, Rabbiya believes that the government has done little to ensure the rights of women prisoners.

“There is no check and balance mechanism in the prisons. Resultantly, the privacy of female jailees is violated and some even face sexual harassment. However, the staff is never held accountable.” Inspector General (IG) Prisons, Mirza Shahid Saleem Baig, when asked about the plight of female prisoners, said that steps had been taken in the right direction and the situation was improving.

“Presently, women prisoners are being treated according to the jail rules,” Mirza said while talking to The Express Tribune.


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