By Mary Catherine Alvarez, Regional Coordinator, IDPC Project on Women, Incarceration and Drug Policy in South East Asia

Introduction

In 2009, the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime (UNODC) produced a report assessing one hundred years of drug control since the 1909 Shanghai Opium Commission. The report identified and recognized the negative ‘unintended consequences’ of drug control policies: the creation of a criminal black market; the shift of policy focus from public health to law enforcement; enforcement in one geographical area resulted to diversion of illicit drug production to other areas; pressure on one type of drug led to the promotion of the use of other alternative drugs; and, the marginalization of and stigmatization against persons who use drugs.

Almost a decade after this UNODC report, these negative consequences of drug control continue to be suffered by a growing number of women incarcerated for drug-related offenses worldwide, and particularly in South East Asia. This policy guide aims to provide civil society organisations and stakeholders in the Philippines with information and policy recommendations on the situation of women incarcerated for drug-related offences.

Methodology

In 2018, the International Drug Policy Consortium, in partnership with Ozone Foundation in Thailand, LBH Masyarakat in Indonesia and NoBox Transitions, Inc. in the Philippines, embarked on a project called ‘Women, Incarceration and Drug Policies in South East Asia: Promoting Humane and Effective Responses’.

The project aims to encourage reforms towards reducing the levels of incarceration of women for drug offenses. The project also seeks to increase civil society engagement; gather support for proportionate sentencing and reduction of death penalty sentences especially for low-level, non-violent offenses; increase understanding of the extent and profile of women incarcerated for drug offenses and its wider socioeconomic consequences; and to promote alternatives to incarceration.

To these ends, the project partners in three countries in South East Asia conducted research studies on women incarcerated for drug related offenses. They also provided workshops and meetings for civil society organisations involved in women’s rights, drug policy reform and prison reform. National stakeholder’s consultations were held for relevant public institutions, organisations and communities to come together and discuss the research outputs while sharing their best practices, experiences and challenges as well as provide recommendations for national policy reforms.

This policy guide is a consolidation of the outcomes of these project activities in the Philippines.