“I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved”
-B. R. Ambedkar.


The first question in the study of criminology is why a person has committed a crime. The reason
may be greed, anger, jealousy, revenge, or pride. Criminology is a subgroup of sociology which
includes the scientific study of crime, including its causes, responses by law enforcement and
methods of prevention and corrective treatment of offenders. The term “criminology” has been
derived from the Latin word ‘crimen’ which means accusation, and the greek term ‘logos’ means
to study; thus, criminology means the study of crimes. Those who study criminology are called
criminologists. They are mainly concerned with studying crime, criminals, causation of crimes,
prevention and punishments.
Feminist criminology involves critiques about how women offenders have been stereotyped,
ignored and distorted within traditional criminology. Why is it crucial that we recognize these
gender disparities in criminality?
If we’re going to approach social issues with a “whateverworks” mentality,
we must be clear on what it is that we’re trying to solve. We must know the
best strategy to use if reducing or preventing criminal activity is the objective. Understanding
sex-based criminality enables better rehabilitation treatments or even consequences that actually
discourage certain actions. Knowing the facts helps us analyse the issue, identify potential
solutions, and eventually put the best practices into practice.

Schools of Criminology
Before delving into the study of feminist criminology, let’s first discuss the various schools of
criminology. These are the classical school of criminology, the positivist school, and the sociological
school of criminology.

Classical School of Criminology

The classical school of criminology began in the eighteenth century as a reaction to the harsh
kinds of punishment that were prevalent at the time. Authors like Montesquieu and Voltaire
helped to foster the development of this new “classical” way of thinking by participating in
campaigns for more progressive views on crime and the punishments meted out by the legal
systems of the day.

The development of society also led to the development of new regulations
as the workers needed to be disciplined, and technology and property, in particular, needed legal
protection. Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham were among the prominent figures of this
school, and this school is primarily philosophical rather than scientific.

Their motivation camefrom the time of criminal justice institutions when the
law was applied very inequitably, often failed due to corruption,
and used torture and the death penalty frequently without justification.

The classical school of thought presupposed that people were rational beings who desired
pleasure and shunned suffering. To ensure that the suffering endured by offenders should be
greater than any possible pleasure received in committing the crime, they provided standard
punishments to every offender.

The punishments were crime-centric, not criminal-centric. Bentham’s contribution to
“classical” theory is based on his utilitarian philosophy, which held
that punishment, in the form of suffering, should always be justified in terms of a higher good.
Bentham was concerned with the happiness and well-being of the general populace.

The premise that human behavior’s is intended to maximize pleasure and minimize pain was at the core of
Bentham’s writing (the pleasure-pain principle).

Bentham thought that those who commit crimes
do so out of a desire for thrills, money, sex, or anything else that is valuable to them personally.
According to Beccaria, laws were necessary to ensure that penalties were fair and consistent with
the offence.

He held that the certainty of the crime and its likelihood of occurring, the speed of
the crime and the speed with which the punishment is meted out, as well as the severity of the
crime and the degree of suffering that is inflicted, are the three main concepts that determine the
effectiveness of crime prevention.

Beccaria believed that harsh punishments should be
commensurate with the crime committed and should not exceed the minimum requirements for
deterring the offender and others from committing similar offences.

The concepts this school gave did have some benefits, but the main flaw in this school of thought
was the uniform punishments, which left no room for each person’s unique circumstances. For
instance, juvenile offenders and those with mental illnesses received the same punishment as
other criminals.

Positivist School of Criminology

The school was led primarily by the three Italian philosophers Cesare Lombroso, Enrico Ferri,
and Raffaele Garofalo. The term “criminology” first appeared in the works of French
anthropologist Paul Topinard (criminology) and Italian criminologist Raffaele Garofalo
(criminologia) around the same time in 1885. Positivist criminology makes the assumption that
criminal behavior’s has a unique set of traits of its own.

Because of this, most criminological research carried out under a positivist paradigm has attempted to pinpoint crucial distinctions
between “criminals” and “non-criminals.” Some theorists have concentrated on biological and
psychological aspects, attributing the majority of the responsibility for the crime to the individual
and raising issues with individual pathology.
The positivist school of thought promoted the idea that punishments should suit the criminal, not
the crime. The crime-centric view of the classical school was a flaw of the classical school,
which eventually led to the development of the positivist school of criminology. Criminologists
conducted several tests that led them to conclude that criminals shared certain physical
characteristics, including those of their skeletons and brains. They claimed that many elements,
including environmental influences, contribute to people becoming criminals.

Sociological School of Criminology

Also known as the Chicago school of thought, this school introduced the theory that a person’s
socialization is also a reason for his criminal behavior’s. The school asserts that people are not
simply born good or bad; they are influenced by the people, societal situations, environment and
other external factors surrounding them. Development of other Chicago School theories like
differential association is social learning theory. This theory’s fundamental principle addresses
taught criminality or imitation.
Social learning theory focuses on the social reinforcements that follow these criminal activities
in addition to the idea of imitation. Whether or not delinquent behavior’s persists is heavily
influenced by the response to it.

The delinquency will likely continue if early delinquent
behavior’s is rewarded with higher social standing and the spoils of crime without significant
negative repercussions. However, crime is more likely to be decreased when it is identified early
and discouraged through counselling, social exclusion, and some form of punishment.

There are two main methods of the study, each of which includes several distinct paradigms.
The first one is social-structural criminological theories which look at how social contexts and
structures affect or are related to criminal behavior’s. It includes the Conflict theory, which has
its roots in Marxism and contends that the conflict between various classes in a capitalist society
causes crime. Laws are made by powerful groups to rule the powerless.

The second one is the social-process approaches theory which discusses how people commit
crimes. They basically claim that criminal behaviour is something that is learnt and that not
everyone exposed to the same social-structural factors ends up being a criminal.

The actual number of inmates residing in these women’s jails is 3,808,
with an occupancy rate of 56.3% (including five transgender inmates

The capacity of other jails was 22,659 for women prisoners, with an actual number of
inmates being 19,115, with an occupancy rate of 84.4% as of the 31st December 2021. The
highest number of female inmates are confined in Uttar Pradesh. However, Uttrakhand has the
highest female occupancy rate, followed by Bihar and Chhattisgarh.

The prime reasons for criminality among women are economic, social, psychological, physiological, illiteracy and low
education, drug and alcohol abuse, and superstitions. Major crimes committed by women are
kidnapping and abducting, murder, drug trafficking, prostitution and sex delinquency, child
marriage, theft, cruelty, and dowry harassment.


The main objectives of feminist criminology are to break the androcentric view and bring a
gender-neutral concept to criminology. It recognizes the causes of female criminality, protects
female crime victims, and provides a better prison system rehabilitation process.

Feminist research has addressed institutionalized sexism in criminological theory, practice, and policy and
has criticized accumulated knowledge concerning female offenders and victims. According to
feminist studies, girls are punished for actions that, even if not encouraged, are unquestionably
accepted as more ‘natural’ in boys.

Feminist researchers have also exposed the harsh reality that
women who report abuse sometimes find themselves the target of unwarranted suspicion from
criminal justice personnel.

The researchers in this field have also increased the visibility of
female victims, especially those who have been victims of sexual assault. Another significant
accomplishment concerns women’s fear of crime, which has been shown to influence and limit
social activity in public settings.

Alongside this research, much feminist attention has been paid
to how women participate in social control. Another noteworthy accomplishment is that a
number of feminist writers have recently focused on the idea that crimes against humanity like
rape, including mass rape, are manifestations of the gender order or militarized masculinity.
Other feminist writers have concentrated on the sexual victimization of women in war and its
connection to pornography.
However, along with all the work done on women as victims, there is room to develop additional
work on women as offenders. The gendered lens does enable us to see some characteristics of the
criminal problem more clearly, but how and under what circumstances is that clarity made
brighter or obscured by it? Understanding women’s entry points into crime are likely to benefit
from some of the emerging feminist ideas about women’s social and structural roles in
communities and ideas about their lifestyles. In specific feminist theories of crime and justice,
gender privilege over race must be addressed because it seriously obfuscates our understanding
of the issues at hand.

Written By Shivani Kumari Intern at Fastrack Legal Solutions LLP

Control theory is an illustration of this strategy. It emphasizes the essential traits such as
attachment to people and a ‘belief in the moral validity of rules’ that motivate law-abiding
conduct. Therefore, someone who lacks these traits runs the risk of turning into a criminal.
Feminist Criminology
The feminist school of criminology developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the time period
of the second wave of feminism. The previous study of criminology was based on male
criminals, and the theories were generalized for females. Feminist criminologists hold the
viewpoint that females are biologically different from males. Further, the societal roles
associated with women are also different from that of men, hence leading to different pathways
for deviance, crime and victimization. Early feminist criminologists identified three areas in
criminology where there was little research on women (compared to men), which they used as
justification for the need for feminist criminology. These topics cover women who commit
crimes, women who are victims of crimes, and women who work in the criminal justice system.
The school developed as a reaction to the male-dominated and stereotypical criminal justice
system. Dr Julian Herminda, in “Feminist Criminology”, has said, ‘the idea is not to push the
men out of the system but to bring women in.’ The main objectives of the study of criminology
from the feminine point of view were to understand the causes for which women commit crimes,
the reasons for women’s victimology and to discuss the incarceration and rehabilitation of
women offenders.
Women were given little consideration in most criminological writings and conversations since
they were categorised with juvenile and mentally ill offenders. According to Smart, women’s
lack of “civil and legal status” made it acceptable for them to be placed with juvenile criminals
and mentally challenged offenders because they were among the more ignored sections of the
criminal population.

He contended that criminology was always studied in relation to men,
namely in terms of a man’s motivations, rationality, and feelings of alienation, as well as his
victims, who were always men. The assumption that the man could speak for women was clear
in criminological materials, which clearly excluded women from the discipline of criminology.

Scope of study in feminist criminology

The study under Feminologist Criminology includes gender ratio, which is why the number of
females committing offences is less than that of males and the generalizability problem which is
how the principles derived from studying male behavior’s are made applicable to females. the
main focal point of the discussion is that gender matters and should be considered while deriving
the principles of criminology. The criminologists in this school have criticized various
stereotypical theories given by different jurists about women’s criminality.
This ‘sexism’ in criminology also affects how women who are not often considered criminals, or,
if they are, may be labelled as “mad, not bad”, are sentenced, punished, and imprisoned.
The notion that women who conform to the set rules of behavior’s and societal conduct are perfect,
submissive daughters, wives, and mothers who help society and men is completely out-of-date. It
is this notion that leads to the attribution of craziness to women. They must be mentally ill if they
ventured to defy their innate biological tendencies toward “passivity” and a “weakness of
compliance”, a traditional androcentric position that few academics have supported for decades.
To investigate the social, political, and economic experiences of women and to develop plans for
obtaining greater equality (through inequality) in women’s roles, feminism works within the
confines of the existing social institutions. This entails thinking about how men enjoyed the
privilege, how women came to hold roles of subservience, and how patriarchal ideologies might
be redirected to change society.

Stereotypical Theories on Women’s Criminality

Gender role expectations continue to dictate what is appropriate for both genders regarding actions and
attitudes. Breaking these standards may lead to various societal penalties, including verbal abuse, physical
violence, and even incarceration. These roles serve as a potent kind of social control that is upheld by
both informal and official means. Earlier criminologists have always seen criminality in women as a trait
of abnormality, deviance from the set rules of appearance, behavior’s and conduct. They have always been
depicted in terms of their supposed biological and psychological nature. In any case, women have fewer
options for committing any crime.
A woman’s place is in the house because of the domestic routine that keeps her at home, and they are
more hesitant to leave the house after dark because they worry about aggressive male conduct. Even at
work, men are more likely than women to have administrative or supervisory positions, making it more
difficult for women to commit serious crimes. We have discussed some stereotypical theories that many
criminologists have given regarding criminality in women. However, these theories have been criticized
by feminist criminologists.
Women Criminality is Related to Passive Role of Women in Sexual Activities
Sigmund Freud was of the idea that all women experience penis envy and therefore have an
inferiority complex over it, which they try to compensate for by indulging in criminal activities
like being narcissistic and exhibitionistic. He thought that women do not have much sense of
justice and are concerned mostly about scanty and trivial matters rather being pride as builders of

Physical Appearance Defines the Criminality

In his book The Female Offender (1903), the renowned criminologist of the positivist school
Lombroso claimed that short, dark-haired women with moles and masculine features tend to be
offenders. He thought these women were stronger than men and could handle the pain better, so
the prison would not affect them.
Female Criminality – A Result of Adventurous Spirit
The Unadjusted Girl (1923), the work of W. I. Thomas, claimed that women committed crimes
out of wish, in desire for new experiences and adventures. They feel suppressed by monogamy,
and hence their unutilized sexual energy is released into criminal activities.
Undetectable Crimes – An Attribute of Female Criminals
In his book The Criminality of Women (1950), Otto Pollack characterized female offenders as
sneaky, vengeful, unemotional and deceitful. He said that women tend to choose professions like
house help, nurses, maids, and teachers to remain undetectable. He believed that they suffer from
nymphomania and kleptomania.
Women Prison and Prisoners in India – An Overview
The Prison Statistics Report by National Crime Records Bureau, India, shows that there are total
of 32 Women Jails in India available in 15 States and Union Territories, with a total capacity of
6,767 inmates as of 31st December 2021.

  1. Feminist Perspectives on Gender and Crime: making women count
  2. Transformative Feminist Criminology: A Critical Re-thinking of a Discipline
  3. The Feminist School of Criminology: Definition & History
  4. “Prison Statistics India–2021 Executive Summary”, National Crime Records Bureau, India.
    Available at: https://ncrb.gov.in/sites/default/files/PSI-2021/Executive_ncrb_Summary-2021.pdf

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