The Women and Harm Reduction International Network and TalkingDrugs position statement on women who use drugs and the violence of law enforcement is published on December 10th 2019, International Human Rights Day, also marking the conclusion of the UN 16 Days of Action to Eliminate Violence Against Women.

Gender, drug use and violence

This statement serves as the beginning of a joint effort to recognise and address the specific needs and experiences of women who experience the violence of law enforcement in the context of punitive and prohibitionist drug policy. It acts as both a public expression of solidarity and as a call to action to find new, immediate ways to reduce the harm experienced by women who use drugs.

Because the war on drugs is fuelled by the criminal justice system, people of all genders experience the violence and harassment of law enforcement in relation to drug use in their everyday lives. Conversely, people with marginalised gender identities experience specific forms of gendered harm whether or not we use drugs or are directly impacted by drug laws. In effect, women and gender non-conforming (GNC+) people are at risk of gendered violence whether or not we use drugs, while the stigma and discrimination levelled at people who use drugs means that we are often turned away from or further harmed in supposed ‘places of safety’ when we do use drugs.

This violence includes, (but is not limited to) rape, sexual harassment and extortion, loss of child custody, imprisonment for mere personal possession, extra judicial killing, capital punishment and penalisation for drug use in pregnancy and parenthood. The intersection between gender and drug prohibition brings specific, overlapping forms of harm requiring specific and intersectional responses.