Women and the Criminalization of Poverty


Mahtani, Sabrina. 2013. “Women and the Criminalization of Poverty.” Signs 39 (1): 243–64. doi:10.1086/670919.


Author: Sabrina Mahtani


The year 2012 marked ten years since the end of Sierra Leone’s brutal eleven-year civil war, which had and continues to have a significant impact on girls and women. Sierra Leone reflects the global trend, with women representing a minority of the prison population. With so many competing needs, Sierra Leone often places penal reform low on the priority list of postwar reconstruction efforts. Women in conflict with the law are often seen as perpetrators and thus as less deserving of the limited assistance efforts available than “victims,” such as women who have suffered gender-based violence. The nature of imprisonment, lack of empowerment, and social stigma make female prisoners and former prisoners nearly invisible, resulting in neglect of their experiences and voices. Building on six years of work with girls and women in conflict with the law, this article seeks to examine the factors behind the growing rates of incarceration of women in Sierra Leone. It explores how marginalization, low socioeconomic status, gender disparities in many areas of social and political life, and weak state institutions result in the law having a particular negative effect on women. The difficult experiences of women in detention and the continuing challenges of reintegration can cause further victimization and have detrimental effects on children. International and domestic gender reform efforts need to incorporate and support this neglected population as part of wider gender justice efforts.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, Civil Society, Gender, Women, Girls, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Post-Conflict, Rights Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2013

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