W4GF Statement: Support – Don’t punish women who use drugs

June 26th marks the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. This year’s theme is on the creation of healthy and safe environments for children and youth, Listen First- Listening to children and youth is the first step to help them grow healthy and safe  to increase support for prevention of drug use based on science and thus creating well-being of children and youth, their families and their communities.

Women4GlobalFund (W4GF) and partners bring into focus the voices and lives of women who use drugs. Women who use drugs are often caregivers and are impacted by harmful drug policies that do not support women’s enjoyment of their right to lead full lives together with their families. The connection between the impact of gender inequality on women who use drugs and the impact of punitive legal frameworks must be understood as reinforcing each other. Structural gender inequality impedes the development of effective drug policies that adequately understand and address the rights of women who use drugs. Additionally, punitive legal frameworks under current drug policy regimes reinforce gender inequality and the negative impact of criminalisation is visible in police violence, stigma and stereotyping faced by women who use drugs.

National responses to people who use drugs are often retributive and linked to criminal sanctions. Women who use drugs are more criminalized compared to men who use drugs and face more serious charges leading to tougher sentences. Advocacy campaigns continue to amplify the negative effects of punitive approaches to drug users on prevention and treatment efforts. Support. Don’t Punish. advocates for the decriminalisation of people who use drugs and calls for policy reform to guide treatment and prevention. Punitive measures and draconian laws in many regions, particularly in Eastern Europe and Asia, continue to punish and incarcerate women for possession and drug use. Criminalisation impedes women’s human rights; silences human rights violations and blocks access to services. Women who use drugs are afraid to advocate for themselves and it is often dangerous for advocates to speak on behalf of women who use drugs.

To read the full statement click here

We call on Governments, researchers and the Global Fund 

We need Governments to do the following to protect and uphold the rights of women who use drugs:

  • Decriminalise and depenalize drug use and possession for personal use
  • Ensure services and treatment are rights-based and uphold principles of voluntary, non-coercion and confidentiality, preferably delivered within communities
  • Provide funding and ensure access to comprehensive health care services, including SRH, HCV, HIV prevention strategies recommended by UNODC, WHO, and UNAIDS, especially in prisons. Ensure that future interventions that transition incarcerated women to community-based HIV clinical care are gender-sensitive
  • Develop mechanisms that guarantee personal safety and privacy that allow women to report incidents of violence without fear
  • Provide access to free legal assistance for women who use drugs in case where their rights are violated to ensure violence and unlawful actions are investigated, including those committed by healthcare providers, social workers, law enforcement officials
  • Improve legal framework to ensure uninterrupted substitution therapy for women who use drugs, including access and availability to integrated services, support and opioid substitution treatment (OST) during and post pregnancy.

We need researchers to:

  • Highlight the reality women who use drugs face and their susceptibility to HIV and Hepatitis and the biological impact of drug use on women
  • Capture the diversity of women who use drugs and that recognises the intersectionality within different populations of women who use drugs
  • Focus on women who use drugs, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities, young women, women who are incarcerated, women living with HIV and sex workers, as key considerations in treatment, research and support.

We need the Global Fund to:

  • Encourage countries to support human rights and evidence based interventions for women who use drugs
  • Strengthen the capacity and engagement of women who use drugs in Global Fund supported programmes
  • Support community driven research that collects and explores qualitative data to address and improve the lives of women who use drugs.

The full W4GF statement was endorsed by: European Network of People who use Drugs (EuroNPUD); Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA); The Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS (EWNA); International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW) Global; The International Network of People who use Drugs (INPUD);  The International Network of Women who Use Drugs (INWUD); International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW); The Global Network of people living with HIV (GNP+); Positively UK;  The Women and Harm Reduction International Network (WHRIN).

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