Contexts of confinement: gender perspective in infrastructure
The situation of women deprived of personal liberty is critical and the inequalities they face in society are also reproduced in confinement. In pursuit of better living conditions, the development of gender perspective may make a difference in improving access to their rights.
According to data shared in June 2021 by the Ministry of Justice of the Province of Buenos Aires, there are 1611 women deprived of their personal liberty in the prisons of such district.In contexts of confinement, gender inequalities affect women’s everyday lives. The inequalities existing outside are also reproduced in prison.
These inequalities occur every time women’s rights are violated: education rights, health rights, sexual and reproductive rights, working rights, right to live in a healthy environment, among others. Moreover, gender exclusion merges with other exclusions such as social class, ethnic, migratory status, sexual orientation and different disabilities. Living in prison worsens as a consequence of these exclusions.
Undoubtedly, confinement generates a very strong impact in the life of women mainly because of their social role as breadwinners. For the majority of women this causes a split in the family group and a breakage of family and affectional bonds. For instance, for women who are mothers, being in prison means a complete separation from their sons and daughters. This problem worsens as visits tend to be occasional due to the distance between the place of residence and the prison, the cost of moving from one place to the other, and the family difficulties, among other reasons.
Based on women’s testimonies included in public reports and academic research, we know that infrastructure in confinement facilities does not guarantee human integrity. In general, women’s prisons show a great deal of damage and neglect in building conditions; lack of air circulation and natural and artificial light; lack of adequate spaces for recreation, conjugal visits, family reunions, and specific areas for playing and sharing with their boys and girls. A common characteristic is that architecture does not take into account gender perspective, that is to say, infrastructure planned considering women’s specific needs.
What can we do to improve these spaces and make them more adequate for women and their visits? What transformation can we obtain from infrastructure?
A seed experience
Two years ago, we began thinking about a project that allowed us to improve the conditions in which women who are deprived of their freedom receive visits from their families and get access to moments of leisure and recreation. So, together with San Martín University Center (CUSAM), the Penitentiary Service of the province of Buenos Aires, and the Civil Association “Los Amigos de Barrio Sarmiento”, we decided to carry out a project at the Penitentiary Unit Nº 46 of San Martín, where 100 women live.
The project consists of the extension and improvement of the visiting and recreation room of this Unit so that women can have the possibility of leisure time and access to a space for training, rest, and meetings with their loved ones in a nice, fit, and well cared environment. At the same time, it is meant to promote the rights of children and teenagers who visit the prison regularly.
As regards the work methodology, in EWB-Ar we aim at promoting the decision-making processes and the prominence of the women addressed through different instances. Therefore, the project involves the participation of 15 women in prison who are studying at the CUSAM, in the design as well as in the execution of the project, through courses related to the construction and improvement of spaces.
To conclude, we consider that it is essential and necessary to adopt an intersectional gender approach in penal and prison policies, including the development of an infrastructure that focuses on women’s rights.An infrastructure in which the life of every woman matters; an infrastructure that seeks to abolish the inequalities and generates opportunities; one that makes encounters, but also intimacy, possible. An infrastructure that makes the space more fit to live in, that signals other possible present time, and that gives us hope for what is coming.