Gender Responsive Approaches

Government of Canada - Department of Justice

gender-responsive understanding of criminalization is essential because women’s experiences and pathways to crime are unique. A gender-responsive approach recognizes that women’s pathways into criminalization are connected to experiences of victimization and the effects of trauma. Developing policies, programs and procedures that reflect these differences can improve the management, programming and service delivery models for women offenders, while also being culturally appropriate and non-discriminatory.


Gender-responsive approaches include the following guiding principles:

Gender-responsive approaches “require an acknowledgement of the lived realities of women’s lives, including the pathways they travel to criminal offending and the relationships that shape their lives” (Bloom et al. 2003, 2).

  • acknowledge and show how gender and other intersecting identity factors make a difference in how people experience the criminal justice system;

  • create trauma- and violence-informed environment based on safety, dignity, and respect;

  • address substance use, trauma, and mental health issues through comprehensive, integrated, and culturally relevant services and appropriate supervision;

  • dedicate more resources to studying the experiences of women in the criminal justice system, particularly women with other intersecting identity factors;

  • develop policies, practices, and programs that are relational and promote healthy connections to children, family, and significant others;

  • provide women with opportunities to improve their socio-economic conditions; and,

  • establish a system of community supervision and re-entry with comprehensive, collaborative services.

Trauma Informed Responses

National Center for Trauma-Informed Care

An increasing body of evidence tells us that the overwhelming majority of women in jails and prisons have experienced trauma that has scarred their minds and hearts. They may have survived rape, assault, or childhood sexual abuse, or they may have witnessed violence done to others. Trauma can result in physiological changes in the way our brains respond to danger, especially when the trauma is repeated. It has also been linked to depression, suicidal tendencies, chronic anxiety, hostility, impaired ability to relate to others socially, and many other serious consequences in personal life. The experiences that trauma survivors have in the criminal justice system, far from leading them to positive changes in their lives, often add new trauma and deepen their wounds. Many of these women will never be able to break out of the narrow trajectory that constricts their futures unless the justice system and their communities can help them to focus on the root problem: trauma, its lasting effects in human lives, and the need to begin the healing process. Here is what we know: According to most estimates, trauma is an almost universal experience among people who use public mental health, substance abuse and social services, as well as people who are justice-involved or homeless.1 n While individuals with trauma histories are the majority of those served in behavioral healthcare and criminal justice systems, trauma survivors are not likely to seek treatment specifically for trauma-related symptoms.2 n Justice-involved women are more likely to have experienced physical and sexual abuse than male offenders or women in the general population.3