International Women’s Day: Spotlight on women in the criminal justice system

New Delhi, India

March 6, 2018

While the International Women's Day (March 8) commemorates the women’s rights movement and celebrates women’s achievements across all spheres, it also serves as a stark reminder – of another reality that women are still fighting for genuine gender equality.

In India, the key criminal justice institutions of police and prisons reflect persisting gender discrimination, both within, and in their outward responses to women. Many of these are structural problems and require systemic solutions.

The condition of women in detention is alarming. They face everyday challenges ranging from issues affecting physical and mental safety, menstrual hygiene, and lack of care needed for lactating or pregnant women and lack of care for children living with their mothers in jail. Of the 17,834 women inmates, two-thirds are still awaiting trial. (A factsheet containing pertinent information regarding women in detention in India and their challenges is attached.)

Women working in the criminal justice system are also vulnerable. Policewomen are still barely visible within police departments, giving credence to the widespread perception that the police remains a male bastion. Data from 1 January 2017 shows that women constitute only 7.28% of the total police strength in India. No State or Union Territory is even close to achieving representation at 33%, the target laid down by the Government of India in 2009. (A fact sheet on the state-wise strength of women police, status of reservation and government initiatives to increase women’s representation is attached.)

Yet not all hope is lost as Parliament has paid significant attention to issues affecting both women prisoners and women in the police. On Women’s Day, CHRI commends these initiatives by Parliament, particularly the Committee on the Empowerment of Women. 

In December 2017, the Committee submitted a report on ‘Women in Detention and Access to Justice’, in the Lok Sabha and the report gave a slew of recommendations highlighting the vast gulf between rights promised by the legal system and the realities of women prisoners. It emphasised the need to revise existing prison manuals to bring them in tune with gender-based requirements.

This is the second report by the Committee on women prisoners, an earlier one on Women in Detention was tabled in 2001.

The following observations sums up the findings:

“Women in prison have experienced victimization, unstable family life, school and work failure, substance abuse and mental health problems. Social factors also marginalize their participation in mainstream society and contribute to the rising number of women in prison... (There is) a general disregard to the gender specific needs of women, as well as denial of many services and opportunities accessible to male prisoners.” (See link here )

Similarly, the Committee reviewed the working conditions of women in police in 2012-2013 (See link here) and highlighted critical gaps both at the policy level and in terms of facilities on the ground:

 “The requirement of women police has been found indispensable in many areas of policing. The increasing crimes against women which are becoming heinous and brutal have necessitated the need for augmenting the strength of women in police force…..that the very presence of women personnel in police stations could create a congenial environment for women who unfortunately become victims of crime or those who are from weaker sections of society to access police stations without inhibitions.” CHRI hopes this will become a reality

CHRI trail of enquiry: Women Behind Bars- Factsheet | Fact sheet - women police | Recommendations Working Conditions of Women in Police Force_2013 | Parliamentary Committee Recommendations and Observations

For more information, please contact:

Devika Prasad, Coordinator, Police Reforms Programme


Madhurima Dhanuka, Coordinator, Prison Reforms Programme

9331127001, 9748927001,

Kavita Bajeli Datt, Communications Officer