Contributors are invited to write on the topic above from either a research or an activism perspective. Abstracts and contributions must be written in English and in a style accessible to a wide audience. Please submit abstracts to or

No later than 28th February 2015

GUEST EDITORS: Lillian Artz (UCT) and Britta Rotmann (DCS)

Conceptual Rationale:

It goes without saying that the experiences of women, not to mention their pathways to prisons, correctional facilities and other institutional spaces, are remarkably different than those of men. Yet, policy reform and prisoner advocacy initiatives – not to mention programmatic and security considerations within these facilities – continue to be based almost entirely on research evidence and theories that have been developed to explain the needs and experiences of men. Women continue to be referred to as a “special category” of offenders, often bundled (and bracketed) with other vulnerable groups such as children, the mentally ill and people with disabilities; categories of offenders who have very distinct health, mental health and institutional needs and requirements. Women prisoners are also largely unobserved in broader debates surrounding prisoners’ human rights, sentencing practices and prison reform.

Our knowledge of women in prison, who make up about 5% of the global prison population, shows that the impact of imprisonment on women, their children and other extended members of the family is hardly insignificant. This is particularly true on the African continent. While regional activism surrounding torture prevention, humane prison conditions and sentencing practices are gaining traction at the regional human rights level, little has been reported or published about the demographics of African women in prison, the conditions and circumstances which lead them to imprisonment, the impact of imprisonment and the needs of women as a prison population. Similarly, little is known about how female offenders experience prison life, or the impact of their incarceration on their health, well-being, and their connections to people in their lives. In 2001, South Africa prisons and sentencing expert van Zyl Smit observed that ‘there has been no systematic study of the imprisonment of women in South Africa or of the regime to which they are subject’ (p. 589). Almost a decade and a half later, South African researchers have produced only a handful of empirical studies that explore the lives and experiences of incarcerated women, past and present. This also holds true for the rest of the continent.

November 15th 2015 will mark the 5th anniversary of the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the “Bangkok Rules”). The Bangkok Rules were designed specifically for the needs of women in prisons and other custodial institutions. They symbolise the recognition that, internationally, there is a need to adopt and implement more gender-appropriate admissions and body search procedures, healthcare services, work and rehabilitation opportunities and family care and visitation policies. We would like to celebrate the adoption of these progressive international norms with a special edition of AGENDA on Women and Imprisonment in Africa.

We invite scholars, researchers, ethnographers, activists, prisoners (ex- and current, as well as other institutionalised women) and their supporters and advocates to submit articles for this edition. We invite papers that are empirical, theoretical, epistemological or experiential. We particularly encourage those who have had experiences with imprisonment or those that work with women in prisons – and other places where women are deprived of their liberty – to contribute to this edition. Stories and other creative works about detention and imprisonment are also encouraged, in addition to submissions on or by the following:

  • female political prisoners
  • detention of women during periods of civil unrest, armed conflict or states of emergency
  • the treatment of women in police cells, remand centres, prisons and other correctional centres, including forensic mental health institutions in Africa
  • women’s health, including mental health and reproductive health in prison
  • women with children in prison and pregnant female offenders
  • ‘Uniquely African’: stories of detained, incarcerated or institutionalised women in Africa
  • the intersection(s) of race, gender, class and sexuality in female prison populations
  • the promise and challenges of rehabilitation
  • the promise and challenges of reintegration/life after imprisonment
  • gender(ed) perspectives on crime and victimisation
  • personal narratives of incarceration
  • children and families of women in prison
  • women’s pathways to prison

See Editorial Policy for  submission details


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