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Women Incarcerated in the Americas Demand Sweeping Changes

  • When
  • September 24, 2019 6:00–8:30 p.m.
  • Where
  • Open Society Foundations–Washington, D.C.
    1730 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW 7th Floor
    Washington, DC 20006
    United States of America
  • Speakers
  • Paulo Abrão, Juliana Borges, Kenya Cuevas, Brittney Floyd, Joel Hernández García, and Nkechi Taifa
  • In partnership with
  • Washington Office on Latin America and Equis Justicia para las Mujeres

Women around the world are being incarcerated at an astounding rate. Between 2000 and 2017, the total female prison population worldwide increased by 53 percent, while that of men rose by 19.

Punitive drug laws are the driving force behind women’s imprisonment: Most women are behind bars for minor nonviolent drug offenses. Many face racial discrimination and are victims of violence and torture while in detention. These women typically have little or no schooling, live in poverty, and are mothers. They usually enter the drug trade out of economic necessity or because it is a family business, but some are coerced by intimate partners or abusive family members. These women—and affected communities more broadly—are largely ignored in policymaking circles. 

To confront these challenges, the Open Society Foundations, the Washington Office on Latin America, and the Mexican NGO Equis Justicia para las Mujeres have been working together to raise the voices of women who are or have been in prison. These women are now demanding fundamental reforms to punitive drug policies and an end to the mass incarceration of women and girls in the Americas.

In addition, the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is producing a report on women deprived of liberty, with a focus on imprisonment for drug offenses. As a leading body in the inter-American system for the promotion and protection of human rights, this report will have a significant impact on national-level reform efforts. 

What are the most recent trends regarding women’s incarceration in the Americas? Who are the women behind bars? And how are they coming together and organizing for reform? Experts from the IACHR and from Brazil, Mexico, and the United States will investigate these questions and more in what promises to be an eye-opening conversation.

Doors will open at 6:00 p.m. for drinks and hors d'oeuvres. The panel discussion will take place from 7:00 until 8:30 p.m.


  • Paulo Abrão


    Paulo Abrão (opening remarks) is executive secretary of the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

  • Juliana Borges


    Juliana Borges is an anthropology researcher and writer and is a board member of the Brazilian Drug Policy Platform, Brazil.

  • Kenya Cuevas


    Kenya Cuevas is a trans rights activist and is the director of Casa de las Munecas Tiresias, Mexico.

  • Brittney Floyd


    Brittney Floyd is youth engagement coordinator at the WIRE (Women Involved in Reentry Efforts) and a social service representative at Washington, D.C.’s Department of Human Services.

  • Joel Hernández García


    Joel Hernández García is rapporteur on the rights of persons deprived of liberty for the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

  • Nkechi Taifa


    Nkechi Taifa is founder and director of the Taifa Group, LLC, a social enterprise firm in Washington, D.C. She formerly served as the advocacy director for criminal justice for the Open Society Foundations and Open Society Policy Center.

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