The Alice Project is named in honor of Alice Nungu, a Malawian woman who was sentenced to death after killing her abusive husband while defending herself and her elderly mother from his drunken attack.
In 2015, with the help of the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide, a court finally heard about the years of intense abuse that Alice endured before sentencing, and ordered her immediate release.
She had languished on death row for over 12 years, fading from HIV, inhumane living conditions, and lack of food. Only weeks after her release, Alice died, with her mother by her side.
The Alice Project honors Alice and the many other women and girls who have suffered under legal systems blind to the discrimination, violence, and trauma that have marked their lives. It combines research, advocacy, and legal representation for women facing the death penalty to illuminate their unique challenges and draw connections between the causes and consequences of the wrongs they suffer.
- The first report of The Alice Project is Judged for More Than Her Crime: A Global Overview of Women Facing the Death Penalty (September 2018).
- The Center also produced a factsheet with Penal Reform International on prison conditions for women facing the death penalty (October 2018).
We estimate that at least 500 women are currently on death rows around the world. While exact figures are impossible to obtain, we further estimate that over 100 women have been executed in the last ten years—and potentially hundreds more. The countries that execute the greatest number of women are the world’s two leading executioners: China and Iran. In the last ten years, China has executed an estimated 20 to 100 women a year (1% to 5% of its total executions) and Iran has executed at least 38 women in the past three years (1.8% of its executions, on average).
Women generally make up less than 5% of countries’ death rows, with the notable exception of Thailand, where women make up 18% of the death row population.
Most women have been sentenced to death for the crime of murder, often in relation to the killing of family members in a context of gender-based violence. The next largest category of women sentenced to death has been for non-violent drug offenses. This is despite the fact that international law forbids the application of the death penalty for anything falling below the "most serious crimes" standard of intentional killing.
Categories of Vulnerability
Youth, forced and/or child marriage, mental illness or intellectual disability, migrant worker status, poverty, and race and ethnicity are all factors that increase the risk that a woman or girl will be sentenced to death. Many women on death row fall into several of these categories, compounding their vulnerability. Experiences of trauma and/or gender-based violence permeate all cases of women on death row.
Women and their Children
Children born to a woman on death row are generally allowed to stay with their mother for the duration of nursing, after which they are removed from prison and placed with family or in state care. Only infrequently are children detained on death row, and if so are normally only allowed to stay until a certain age. The Bangkok Rules oblige prisons and states to act in accordance with the “best interest of the child” standard, for which there are no guidelines in the context of women on death row.
- Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide, New Cornell Study Documents Injustice and Discrimination Against Women Facing the Death Penalty Around the World, Sep. 2018.
- Marcos González Díaz, Pena de muerte: cómo degradan a algunas mujeres antes de ser condenadas a la pena capital, Oct. 17, 2018.
- Death Penalty Information Center, “Judged for More Than Her Crime”: New Report Examines Worldwide Use of Death Penalty Against Women, Oct. 2018.
- Delphine Lourtau and Sharon Pia Hickey, Expert Blog: Judged for More Than Her Crime: A Global Study of Women Facing the Death Penalty, Penal Reform International, Oct. 10, 2018.
- Sabrina Mahtani, The Invisibles: Women on death row in Africa, Africa Portal, Oct. 10, 2018.
- United Nations Office of the High Commissioner, An Entire Life Sentenced to Death, Oct. 10, 2018.
- United Nations Special Mandate Holders, World Day Against the Death Penalty 10 October 2018: Women and girls on death row require specific gender-based responses and policies, Oct. 10, 2018.
- Death Penalty Focus, “Women on Death Row: Invisible Subjects of Gender Discrimination”, Oct. 12, 2018.
- CND Blog, “Live reporting from the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs”, Mar. 19, 2019.
Last updated on April 4, 2019