As it has been widely documented, violence against women in Latin-American countries, rooted on sexism and structural discrimination, has increased because of the armed violence context in this region, directly related to drug trafficking. Therefore, to stop the increase of violence against women an urgent revision of drug commerce prohibition policies is required.
Drug trafficking has been responsible for the emergence and strengthening of various criminal organizations, which defend their commercial interests by armed means, infringing on people’s human rights and cross-weakening the States and its institutions through corruption. Antidrug policies developed by the States have not stopped drug trafficking nor decrease drug use.
Recent studies on femicide show how women’s murder rate has grown almost three times that of men in the countries of the region most affected by drug trafficking, and how the cruelty of those crimes has also increased. This increase is directly related to new contexts and regional dynamics, characterized by the presence of gangs and criminal networks associated to drug commerce, which -far from seeing their actions affected by the policies that States have created to address them- have strengthened their business and have allied with traditional social actors (political, military and business) also guaranteeing impunity for their actions.
In the war against drugs, as in other armed conflicts, women have suffered disproportionately from the violence, since the historical discrimination that befalls on them, places women in special conditions of vulnerability. The structural violence faced by women because of being women, has increased and intensified in the context of conflicts generated by illegal markets in which their bodies have been used as battle camps in confrontation stages, and have received the brunt of the subsequent militarization of territories. This is because the formation of illegal armies exacerbates gender stereotypes and demands masculinities settled down on domination and the use of excessive force, as well as dependent and submissive femininities. In high violence contexts, cruelty against women has symbolic connotations within armed groups, which show no mercy to women’s bodies. But also those who don’t belong to armed groups, in high violence contexts like these, are able to have good access to arms and use them in the domestic sphere, against women, and also benefit from the weakness of the justice system and the consequent impunity.
Current anti-drugs policies, that keep its commerce illegal, also promote other illegal activities associated with drug trafficking such as trafficking in arms and human trafficking. This lack of regulation favors the crimes against women that can be committed on stages where the State is absent or complicit.
Criminal prosecution policies, which have proved their inability to act against the leadership of these criminal organizations have acted effectively against those who have less power in this trade instead: the “mules”. The increase of women in prisons in recent years -and its serious social effects- is precisely due to their involvement in drug trafficking as “mules” or sellers of the lowest scale, reproducing their structural discrimination.
It is necessary to analyze this problem beyond economical factors and a narrow concept of security to pose possible answers from a perspective of human rights and democracy, where the institutions work to protect the rights of people.
The States can not continue to ignore this reality: drug trafficking has led to increasingly widespread violence in the continent, threatening the stability of States and the operation of justice systems, all of which disproportionately affects women, placing them at the higher risk and vulnerability, reproducing their discrimination and favoring more extreme forms of violence against women.
Facing the serious armed violence situation in our countries, which is a scourge on our societies and our democratic institutions and affects women in a particularly severe way, a direct discussion of the current drug policy and to stop arms proliferation is urgent. The Sixth Summit of the Americas is an opportunity for the States to show their compromise with human rights and, in particular, the guarantee of women’s rights in the region, opening the debate on regulation of legal trade in drugs. The review of the current drug control policy is therefore a matter of human rights and should be an unavoidable obligation for democratic States.
 For a complete set of arguments supporting the need to end the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others, see the “Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy” (June, 2011). On line: http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/
 For an in-depth analysis about the link between drug commerce and femicide along with other forms of violence against women, see: Carcedo, Ana (ed.) (2010), No olvidamos ni aceptamos: Femicidio en Centroamérica 2000-2006, San José, Costa Rica. Asociación Centro Feminista de Información y Acción (CEFEMINA).
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