By Mary Catherine Alvarez, Regional Coordinator, IDPC Project on Women, Incarceration and Drug Policy in South East Asia

The numbers of women in prison and pre-trial detention in Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand have been steadily increasing in recent years. More than half of all the women in prisons in these countries are held for drug-related offences. In Indonesia and the Philippines, over 60 percent of incarcerated women are charged with drugs cases, while in Thailand, the figure goes up to over 80 percent, many of them for low-level non-violent offences such as possession and drug consumption. This data is presented and discussed in policy guides for the Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand and that are being launched today at the 7th Asia Pro Bono Conference held this week in Hong Kong.

The three policy guides also present research findings about women incarcerated for drug-related offences conducted by LBH Masyarakat in Indonesia, Ozone Foundation in Thailand, and NoBox Transitions in the Philippines, with the ultimate aim of reducing the numbers of women held in prison and on death row in Southeast Asia under the IDPC project ‘Women, incarceration and drug policy in Southeast Asia.’

The project also aims to engage affected community stakeholders, especially women in prison and formerly in prison, therefore national consultations were held in each of the three countries. Representatives from government and civil society were presented with the research study results and they came up with recommendations on how to address the most pressing concerns involving women incarcerated for drug offences. Some of these concerns include access to legal assistance, access to health care and other services while in prison, the women’s experiences of stigma and discrimination and the urgent need for alternatives to incarceration. These issues are addressed in the policy guides with recommendations anchored on international human rights instruments including the Mandela Rules and the Bangkok Rules for the protection of the rights of incarcerated women and the outcome document of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) 2016 on drugs.

IDPC and project partners, together with civil society and community allies, will use these policy guides to continue to advocate for reforms in drug and sentencing policies in Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and other parts of South East Asia, towards reducing the number of women incarcerated for drug-related offences and protecting the rights of those who are already incarcerated.