Irina was 21 when she first started using drugs. More than 30 years later, having lost her husband, her home and her business to drugs, she is still battling her addiction.

But, like almost all female drug addicts in this former Soviet state, she has faced a desperate struggle not only with her drug problem, but with accessing help in the face of institutionalised and systematic discrimination because of her gender.

“Georgia’s society is very male-dominated,” she told IPS. “And this is reflected in the attitudes to drugs. It’s as if it’s OK for men to use drugs but not women. For women, the stigma of drug use is massive. There are many women who do not join programmes helping them as they would rather not be seen there.”

Women make up 10 per cent of the estimated 40,000 drug users in Georgia, according to research by local NGOs working with drug users.

However, because of very strong gender stereotyping, women users have very low access to harm reduction services – only 4 percent of needle exchange programme clients are women and the figure is even less for methadone treatment.

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