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What Role Does Education Play In Rehabilitation Of Women Prisoners?

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This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

Jails and prisons are traditionally associated with men. Indeed, an overwhelming percentage of incarcerated individuals all over the world are men. In India, the situation is no different. There are only 31 women’s jails spread across 15 States and Union territories in the country, with most states having no specific accommodations for women.

A lot of the time, women are housed in separate enclosures within male prisons. In short, the prison system has been conceptualized for men. How then do women within this system find their place? Are adequate resources available for the needs of women? What role does education, as a part of the process of rehabilitation, play here?

Representational image.

The Question Of Children

Education for women in prisons extends to their children as well. According to the data collated by the National Crime Records Bureau, 8% of the 19,913 women prisoners had their children live in jail with them in 2019. In many situations, the children have no one else to look after them. They can remain with their mothers in jail till the age of 6, after which state-run institutions keep them. This means that these kids do not learn how to cope with the outside world and remain disadvantaged.

What Is The Current Situation For Incarcerated Women And Their Children?

When prisoners are educated, they are less likely to return to jail and are more likely to get jobs and become meaningful members of society. The National Prison Manual (2016) affirms that “education of prisoners benefits the society as well as it leads to their rehabilitation and reintegration.”

To that end, it delineates a diverse and inclusive educational structure, taking into account the education level of prisoners, their aptitudes, and interests. Further, education in the manual is not only regarded as academic education but also vocational, social, cultural, computers etc.

Moreover, the education of illiterate offenders between the ages of 18-21 is considered mandatory.

Given this elaborate blueprint of education for inmates, it follows that considerable investment, in terms of infrastructure, resources, and educators must be provided.

However, a 2018 report on Women in prisons by the Ministry of  Women and Child development states that visits by the NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) to various prisons found that most prisons did not offer universal education to women. Access to higher educational levels was negligible, and even in prisons where libraries exist, women prisoners can’t often access them. Lack of staff, planning, and teachers all create a hindrance in educating the inmates.

Even in vocational education, the options available to women prisoners are less marketable than the options given to male prisoners. The skills they learn while in prison are often not enough to be utilized upon release and cannot sustain them financially.

For the women prisoners with children, the manual lays down that creches be made available so that they can receive an education. It makes it compulsory for women to spend an hour a day on education.

However, most prisons do not have creches. This makes it difficult for the children themselves to begin and continue their education. Since they cannot join regular schools, younger children will have to rely on curricula followed by the creches. Without functioning creches, their education gets compromised. Further, these children may not be able to cope with the outside world, given that their socialization is restricted to female inmates.

Older children are put in state-run child care institutions, but as exemplified in this report by Prayas, they face a lot more difficulties like stigma, financial issues etc.

Representational image.

What’s The Solution?

State governments need to draw up and implement standardized educational programs for their women inmates. This will ensure that a certain quality of teaching-learning is achieved and that a minimum standard is maintained.

Further, an emphasis needs to be placed on practical and vocational skills that will remain relevant after their release and will help the women get back on their feet. In West Bengal, for instance, the Computer-Aided Adult  Literacy Program has been launched to educate inmates on how to use, learn from, and engage with computers.

Similarly, for the children of the women prisoners, specific facilities need to be made to ensure that they are educated and looked after properly. NGO’s like the India Vision Foundation actively work towards rebuilding the lives of these children. If prisons reach out to these NGOs and work with them, then an ecosystem of structure and support can be built for the children.

The author is a Kaksha Correspondent as a part of writers’ training program under Kaksha Crisis.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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