While the world celebrates Human Rights Day - the final day of the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence against Women, thousands of women who use drugs or are otherwise affected by drug policies across Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (CEECA) will not be part of it. Their stories are alike: they have been beaten up by police, in most cases for a number of times, most of them live with HIV, some are engaged in sex work and others live with abusive partner heightening the risk of violence and social exclusion.

Women who use drugs and/or are otherwise affected by drug policies are neglected and ignored by most of the governments in the CEECA region exposing them to the extreme forms of violence, harassment and sexual abuse at the hands of not only their abusive partners but also law enforcement officers, and are routinely subjected to physical and psychological abuse. With nowhere to turn, they find themselves without protection against violence from police, their partners, parents, and extended families and are often forced into criminal activities and/or commercial sex work to support their drug use further increasing the risk of violence, stigma and discrimination.

Lena from Ukraine will not be able to celebrate her Human Rights Day today because on December 9, 2013 she died following her brutal beating in the police detention to testify against her partner. It did not matter  she claimed she was pregnant and begged not to be beaten – her liver tearing up by hepatitis C, her immune system drained by her HIV status and her belly clearly showing signs of pregnancy. What mattered was her drug use and the fact that she was a partner of one alike her.

Nora from Kyrgyzstan will also not be able to celebrate Human Rights Day today. She doesn’t even know it is a Human Rights Day. Nora is more fortunate as she is alive and five months pregnant, involved in the treatment programme, specific for her drug use. When harassed by medical officials to abort a child or abused by her partner forcing her into criminal activities to earn money for his drug use, she has nowhere to go. She has previous experience of how police treats her hence she hides from them though unable to escape abuse, harassment and suffering she experiences in the medical settings as well as at home. There is nowhere to go, no protection offered, no mechanisms in place.

Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (EHRN) calls the governments of CEECA region to uphold the rights of women and eradicate all forms of violence that occur against women in the name of drug enforcement. EHRN further calls to pay attention to the side effects of drug policy implementation and direct and indirect impact it has on the rights of women, document and investigate such actions, punish the perpetrators and remedy those victims of such violent acts.

Currently EHRN is undergoing a special regional consultation initiative and urges its partners, civil society members, international human rights experts as well as representatives of people who use drugs and other stakeholders to take an active part in the process of shaping Regional Umbrella Campaign “Women Against Violence” addressed at combating police violence against women who use drugs in CEECA region. Campaign will be symbolically launched on March 8, 2013, International Women’s Day.

About EHRN:

EHRN is a regional network of harm reduction programs and their allies from across 29 countries in the region of Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (CEECA). The Network works to advocate for the universal human rights of people who use drugs, and to protect their lives and health. It unites over 450 institutional and individual members, tapping into a wealth of regional best practices, expertise and resources in harm reduction, drug policy reform, HIV/AIDS, TB, HCV, and overdose prevention. As a regional network, EHRN plays a key role as a liaison between local, national and international organizations.

Keep up-to-date with drug policy developments by subscribing to the IDPC Monthly Alert.