Home » Side Event: The impact of drug policies on women who use drugs: Perspectives on gender equality, human rights and harm reduction

Side Event: The impact of drug policies on women who use drugs: Perspectives on gender equality, human rights and harm reduction

Organised by the Government of Brazil, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Amnesty International, Harm Reduction Coalition, Eurasian Harm Reduction Network, International Network of People who Use Drugs, and Open Society Foundations. 

‘On the occasion of the UNGASS on the World Drug Problem, please join us for an important discussion about the impact of drug policies on women who use drugs. In this multi-disciplinary panel discussion, speakers will highlight new advocacy initiatives, personal experiences, lessons from harm reduction initiatives and research. Help us amplify a gender perspective at the UNGASS and launch a broader conversation on how to promote drug policies that support women.’

Moderated by Kasia Malinowska, Open Society Foundations.

Opening remarks by: H.E. Mr Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Brazil to the UN.

Thank you all involved in this panel. We had a productive session last March at the 70th session on gender equality. We encourage open dialogue and interaction with civil society. I especially welcome members of Brazilian civil society. We are honoured to sponsor this event. With the adoption of the SDGs and SDG5 we have a platform to promote gender equality. The CSW recognise the inspecting challenges that women and girls face. Law enforcement strategies involve unwanted effects. The document accepted today remarks a significant shift in progressive policies. There is a significant paragraph regarding incarcerated women. Most prisons are not prepared for the significant amount of women coming in. There is a vicious cycle of poverty and crime that needs to be addressed. I would like to reaffirm Brazil’s commitment to human rights and gender equality. The UN and international platforms have helped Brazil to develop progressive platforms to raise issues on human rights. Consensus documents play an important role in Brazil. Very pleased to be here in this event.

Farah Diaz-Tello, National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

A woman in West Virginia was charged and incarcerated for overdosing while pregnant and losing her child. Current policies set women back. We work mostly on the national level. We find that punitive drug polices affect women across the world, and serve as a form of double and triple punishment. Policies are put into place to protect children, but current policies take children away from their mothers. Public health and evidence-based policies are not implemented in drug policies in the U.S. This issue needs to be recognised as a women’s issue. We developed a women’s declaration calling for policies to protect women and children. We have more than 100 signatories from around the world, and hope that this is only the start of the conversation. Gender needs to be woven through all drug policies. Even with the understanding that change can’t come from the top, what happens at the top is important. We are looking towards 2019 and beyond.

Carrie Eisert, Amnesty International.

Really happy to be here. We know that drug policies have an enormous impact on women around the world, and this is not always recognised when policy is created. Human rights dimensions in criminalising drug use and impact the right to health, and they include women losing their children. Grave implications of health and human rights occur because of drug law. This creates a barrier to accessing health services. The specific needs of women, in particular pregnant women, need to be respected in drug treatment programs. Treatment centres may not be accessible to transgender people also.  Poverty, discrimination and low access to health care bring on adverse health outcomes. We need equal access to health services. Criminalisation increases stigma and results in lower access to health care. Future plan of action – work together for drug policies that respect human rights and gender equality.

Emma Roberts, Harm Reduction Coalition.

HIV outbreak in Indiana. I started in syringe programs 20 years ago. We are working to challenge stigma around drug use. As women, when we use drugs, we are seen as not conforming to social norms. We are dealt with harsher than men and have less access to harm reduction. We focus on health and dignity, for the individual and the community. We help women access health care and try to provide services. How can we improve these services by the legislators? Participant centred services, especially for women. Syringe exchange is not just about the syringes. There’s a lot of trust building to do, around addressing the shaming of participants drug use. Participants need to have a voice in harm reduction and drug policy discussions. Services need to be created around the public health approach. In harm reduction we recognise that there are so many social inequalities that women experience which leads them to drug use in the first place. All the layers of shame that these women experience need to be thought about. The final concept is pragmatism and realism, we need to address the needs of women, and need to do it globally.

Dasha Matyushima, Eurasian Harm Reduction Network. (joining via Skype). Hello! Police violence remains under reported in society. We have done regional campaigns to raise awareness of police violence against women. We developed a definition of violence to educate women on what violence is. We have had a lot of discussions on gender based violence – women are more vulnerable to violence, in particular police violence. There is no acknowledgement of police violence in outcome document. We want to have police on our side to help end this violence, we don’t want to work against them. Countries need to advocate for their citizens to help reduce this violence.

Ruth Birgin, International Network of People who Use Drugs.

‘Where gender and prohibition collide’. I am representing INWUD today. Women’s rights are not sufficiently recognised by UN drug control agencies. The war on drugs has created an exception where human rights are not recognised. The UNGASS document fails to mandate women’s access to OST and leaves to door open to gender based violence. We’re talking about taking children from their mothers. How can we aspire to integrate the sustainable development agenda when tough-on-drug policies victimise women and decrease acces to health and harm reduction services? Time to bring policies together to promote peace and health for all. There are flyers and flash drives to collect at the back.

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