Globally, women who use drugs make up approximately one-third of the population that uses drugs. Yet, the needs, interests and voices of women who use drugs are consistently neglected and sidelined in policies, programming and harm reduction services.

On the 26th of June, 2015 the Global Day of Action we call on UN agencies, governments and community leaders to take action in addressing the harmful consequences of the war on drugs on women’s lives.

Women are highly vulnerable to the negative impacts of the current prohibitionist framework. The intersection of gender inequality and the criminalisation of drug use, means that women are driven away from essential health and social services. Women experience greater stigma and discrimination, as they are often perceived to be ‘fallen women’. Their lack of decision-making power and economic resources, as well as vulnerability to physical and sexual violence heightens the risk of HIV, Hep C and other blood-borne viruse (BVV) infections.

Where harm reduction services do exist, they are not tailored to the particular needs and realities of women. Many existing services lack structured support systems and are not integrated with sexual and reproductive health and other social support services. To address this critical gap, we need strategic information in order to design and implement appropriate and gender-sensitive responses.

There is a critical gap in existing data on women who use drugs. From the data that does exist, we can see a disproportionate percentage are being punished – in the United Stated the number of women incarcerated for drug offences has increased by 800% over 30 years – whilst a minute amount are being supported, with a mere 0.003% of women who inject drugs in Eastern Europe accessing opiate substitution therapy. This trend needs to be reversed.

WHRIN ‘Support Don’t Punish Women who use Drugs’ infographic pools existing data, in order to draw attention and much needed focus on the needs and rights of women who use drugs.

Women and Harm Reduction International Network calls for:

  • Ending the War on Drugs – people and women who use drugs should no longer criminalised
  • Alternatives to Imprisonment – prison is not an effective remedy, has negative impacts on public health and long-lasting, and detrimental social impacts
  • Greater strategic information – need for gender-aggregated data on population size estimates, women’s access to services, and other relevant information  
  • Gender sensitive harm reduction services - to be tailored to the needs and priorities of women, and integrated with other health and social services for women
  • Strengthen capacity and resources – towards developing and scaling up gender - sensitive harm reduction programming and services
  • Address violence against women – strengthen legal and social protection mechanisms for currently criminalised populations

Finally, and predominantly women who use drugs need to be consulted, engaged and involved in all stages of policy development, programming and service delivery.

End the War on Drugs and on Women who use Drugs.

Support Don’t Punish women who use drugs, by respecting and protecting rights to health and dignity.

The interactive WHRIN infographic can be found here

Please share our message widely using: #supportdontpunish #womenwhousedrugs @WHRINwomen

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