Side event: Implementing CND resolution 59/5: Mainstreaming a gender perspective in drug policy

Amb Bente, CND Chair. When we discuss SDG 5 and gender, we look into the special vulnerabilities in the health area and the needs of women and how they are being left behind. We must discuss rehabilitation, alternative development and prevention. This is really a key to our work and I think that it also goes strongly in the discussion on proportionality as it is a tragedy to see the overcrowded prisons and the pictures and concrete information that we are getting from overcrowded female prisoners. We are failing in our ability to target the main actors in the market. An increasing amount of women are incarcerated around the world, with children incarcerated with their mothers. I am pleased to welcome Aldo Lale-Demoz as a champion on this agenda.

Aldo Lale-Demoz, UNODC. We do not miss a single opportunity to promote the importance of gender mainstreaming including for proportionality and alternatives to incarceration. I will share what we do to promote and mainstream a gender perspective in drug policies and UNODC programmes. We are well placed to be a partner in this regard, with our 75 field offices from all over the world. We are assisting 25 countries since 1914 on this area. In Kenya, we support the police force on gender mainstreaming. In Kyrgyzstan, we work to increase gender in the police and the gender sensitivity in their line of work. In Panama, we help the prison system to meet the needs of women in prisons. We also have the first ever university programme. We also try to increase family visits for women incarcerated – this is a small programme, but an important one. We work in Egypt and Kenya with prosecutors on gender mainstreaming and avoiding violence against women. This is part of a balanced and effective drug policy, but it is also important to achieving the SDGs, SDG 5 on gender and 16 on peace and justice. I also want to stress sustained efforts.

Ambassador Alicia. As you know, mainstreaming a gender perspective into all public policy, but particularly when it comes to drug policies and programmes, is crucial to my Government. Building on our domestic efforts in this regard, and with the support of leading partners such as those gathered here today, we have also strived to raise awareness at the international level, of the need to bring an inclusive gender- specific approach into the global efforts to address the world drug problem. That was the main purpose of resolution 59/5, adopted last year by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Let us not forget that we are not working in isolation. The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development has clearly highlighted that achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls is paramount to achieving all of its goals and targets, on the path towards sustainable development.

Gender equality means the factual empowerment of women and girls, and is a necessary basis for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. When translating this into policy, this mandate should include an accurate analysis on the specific needs of those who are at potential risk, or most affected by certain manifestations of the world drug problem. It also means developing measures aimed at actively involving women and girls in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of policies, in order for them to truly address their specific needs.

For Mexico, the gender issue has a double commitment. It brings together two foreign policy priorities and, in turn, two areas of opportunity with considerable room for improvement in our domestic policy. On the one hand, the promotion of the gender perspective itself, and on the other, the interest in moving towards more balanced, more comprehensive and fairer drug policies.

However, we must be realistic. There are still many aspects of the drug problem, starting with the situation in my own country, that translate into gender imbalances that affect the development of women and girls who find themselves in vulnerable situations. And it is also important to recognize that a gender perspective is also about assessing how drug policies affect men differently, therefore adapting and targeting our interventions accordingly. Sexually transmitted diseases, sexual violence and drug-related crime are examples where women where women face a considerably disadvantageous situation.

Structural barriers such as poverty, unequal access to education and healthcare services, as well as a lack of opportunities, set out conditions that could possibly lead to an eventual involvement in differentiated links of the illicit drug traffic chain. Resolution 59/5 also highlighted how women who are sole or primary heads of household, or caretakers of minors, sick or elderly members of their families, may become involved in high risk activities, including illicit drug trafficking. This underlines en enforces the linkage between drug-related crimes and social vulnerability conditions.

Another example of specificities related to gender and/or age can be accentuated throughout the drug chain. For example: young women are regularly employed in the lowest links of the drug-chain, whereas young men are majorly exposed to more brutal physical violence and coercion. Both genders are used in a differentiated manner, as couriers and in the cultivation processes of illicit crops.

Still, nowadays, despite the efforts the international community or particular countries have made to achieve a better gender balance, women’s participation in the drug chain and drug abuse patterns constitutes a social transgression of the traditional gender roles, resulting in a double social stigma that affects key areas of reinsertion: such as limited access to health treatments or dominantly male- designed recovery and rehabilitation facilities and harm reduction services.

Moreover, there is still a larger probability for women to be constrained to cope with abuses and violence in return for protection, nourishment or more drugs.

But there is good cause for optimism as well. Let’s recall that gender equality and the provision of justice for minor drug-related crimes have not always figured in the debates on the world drug problem. The fact that we can do so now is a great step. It means, that through CND resolution 59/5, we have engraved a fingerprint, on which we must continue to build.

And we will strive to hold on to it and expand it. And let reassure you that Mexico has continued to do so not only at the CND, but in different multilateral and regional mechanisms, including the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission and the Inter-American Commission of Women, both within the Organization of American States, as well as in the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe.

At the national level, I also want to share one of our main efforts, which we have achieved thanks also to the collaboration that we have established among our national gender promotion entity (INMUJERES) and Equis Justicia para las Mujeres, which is here with us today. This collaboration, has us to join forces and create a space for inter-institutional dialogue to generate proposals that enrich drug policies with a gender focus.

Through a series of 4 inter-institutional dialogues, we aim at analyzing the current situation of women incarcerated for drug offenses in Mexico: an issue that ca not and should not be postponed any more.

The first of the round tables took place last January, and the next one will be held in April. Among the main challenges, we have identified the following:

1. The need to ensure that drug-related criminal justice processes fully consider a gender perspective, taking into account the specific context and circumstances of offenders.

2. The need to explore alternative measures to imprisonment, considering gender specificities.

3. The need to apply an intersectional approach, that is to say, how drug policies affect transgender, disabled and indigenous people differently.

4. The need to provide employment training within prison settings and to those who have already served their sentence, and to channel these people to existing gender-promotion and empowerment programs.

5. The need to create specific social reintegration programs designed according to gender specificities.

6. The need to reflect on the impacts of children living in prisons: include from the perspective of children, adolescents and single parents.

7. The importance of undertaking substantive legislative reform as a basis for the proportionality of sentences.

8. The relevance of certifying studies carried out in prison settings by offenders.

9. The overarching need for the collection and analysis of reliable data, particularly on the adolescent population in prisons.

In this sense, the implementation of CND resolution 59/5 Resolution includes all of the aforementioned elements and underlines the imperative to promotes an action- oriented transversal-gender approach to in drug-related policies and programs. We need to act here and now! So I invite you and your countries to share your own experiences and join us in this regard.

Ernesto Cortes, ACEID, Costa Rica. Costa Rica has the highest prison rate in Latin America for drug offences. There are still more men than women incarcerated for drug offences, but the percentage of women incarcerated for drug offences is much higher than that of men. Women incarcerated are at the lowest level of the drug trafficking chain. If we see the population by age, most men are young. For women, the highest rate is between 40-45 years old. They have to take care of their parents, elderly, children, etc. Incarceration impacts on the whole family and community. This has led Costa Rica to approve a law 2 years ago, Law 9161, to improve proportionality of women incarcerated for drug offences. Most women incarcerated had introduced drugs in prisons to their male partner or were forced to introduce these drugs, and the minimum sentence was 8 years. Robbery and assault is 5 years, so this was disproportionate. This law, 77bis introduced criteria for women for whom we could reduce sentences from  to 3 years: extreme poverty, household head, in charge of dependents, elderly women. There is only 1 women jail in Costa Rica, and it is the only one that does not have overpopulation – 150 women got out of jail because of the reform.

When these 150 women came out of prison, we all said: what are we going to give them. They don’t have a job or opportunities so the government and civil society established an inter institutional network for former incarcerated women. The network includes many institutions and ministries. Only a tiny minority of the women who entered the network have committed a crime again. The Justice Ministry has also introduced a law to integrate people into society is the cancellation of the criminal record depending on the crime committed. Before that, women retained a criminal record for 10 years, now it’s only 1 or two years.

We also have a restorative justice programme with a gender perspective, as well as a drug treatment programme under judicial supervision.

Luciana Pol, CELS. I come from a human rights NGO. We have also established some work in the UN in Geneva. In Vienna, we have done a lot of progress. But CEDAW, the Human Rights Council, etc. have done a lot of work on incarceration of women for access to human rights and health. They have already started identifying problems related to drug offences. With the implementation of this resolution, we would be smart to bring this perspective to Vienna to help us implement the resolution. I will review these mechanisms.

I will start with CEDAW which monitors the prevention of discrimination against women. They do periodic evaluations. in 2016, countries have been asked about the incarceration of women for drug offences. CEDAW has started to put this in their radar for the periodic country evaluations. For member states and ciil society we should encourage these recommendations. It issued recommendation 34 on the rights of rural women and how drug policies affect cultivators – we want to hear about what CEDAW has to say. Recommendation 33 on women’s access to justice, we can see challenges in access to justice. Recommendation 30 on post-conflict violence. Recommendation 24 on women and health recognises gender implications of treatment facilities.

The Working Group on prevention of discriminations against women of the OHCHR Special Procedures is composed of 5 women. It is about to release a report on best practices related to the prevention of discriminations in law and practice. This is relevant for implementing the resolution.

There is a very important contribution of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, calling for alternatives to prison for female offenders. In 2013, it conducted an analysis of incarceration and women, and questioned why the prison population was so high for women, and identified drug policies as the main reason for the rise in incarceration of women.

The Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, on Health, etc. can be included in our efforts for mainstreaming gender and recommend options for member states.

Implementing the resolution is also about including the lessons learned from these various mechanisms that have been discussing this topic for years.

Amb. Bente. Thank you for mentioning the working group of OHCHR. It took us 3 years to get that, working in collaboration with Mexico, and it was not easy. In the last plenary a speaker asked for a special exception for sharia. It is to our benefit when we are able to reach a consensus that it’s more difficult for some countries than others to implement a gender perspective.

Daniel Joloy, Amnesty International. The UNGASS proved that collaboration between UN in Geneva and Vienna was challenging. What are the opportunities for this to happen now?

Justice Section of UNODC. I refer to Luciana’s presentation on the relevance of intergovernmental work and a human rights perspective. But the rules adopted by the UNGA in 2010, the ‘Bangkok Rules’, provide a comprehensive legal framework for women in prisons and non-custodial measures for women offenders. This is not binding but it is comprehensive and has some weight as it is implemented by the UNGA. UNODC does some work for its implementation at national level.

Lisa Sanchez, MUCD. We got a good overview of the different levels of engagement at national and international level. I want to go back on system-coherence and resolution L8. What room do you see for the effective involvement of UN Women or the OHCHR?

Amb. Alicia. It is a priority for Mexico to bring more participation of other UN agencies to the CND and Vienna. The fact that Margaret Chan was at the opening of the CND was an important one and her speech was good and strong. We are striving to continue to bring as many people as possible at these events, and we need to be constructive on this issue.

Luciana. Thank you for the questions. There are opportunities. The OHCHR could be requesting some of the specific mandates to perform an in-depth report channelled by a Human Rights Council resolution. There was already a good report by the OHCHR before UNGASS where the gender dimension was mentioned. The agenda of these mechanisms is full though. Some ad hoc collaborations can be put together. But they can also be requested to report on this topic. We will have this year the opportunity to discuss the cross cutting issue of gender post-UNGASS so that could be a good opportunity for the debate.

Ernesto. We will have to keep looking at this issue, keep researching and following up on indicators with the 2030 Agenda and see how we can change and have a gender perspective in all our drug laws – not only on incarceration, but also on health. In Costa Rica we’re focusing harm reduction with a gender and youth perspective.

Amb. Bente. The regional level is very important, they also have human rights instruments. What the Human Rights Council is doing within the UPR process is very important. It is an opportunity for civil society to ask questions. It is a universal instrument and it is fair and equal to all. Looking at the UN in the years ahead, it will become tougher in terms of resources. We put a lot of resources from Norway for humanitarian crises. We must ensure that we allocate resources into human rights coherence more smartly, working with UN women and OHCHR. There is some resistance from some organisations to tackle the drugs issue. But when we talk about alternative development, gender and prevention, we must mainstream the drugs agenda and deliver as one. This pertains to the work we do in Geneva. The 60th CND was a milestone with the WHO Executive Directly. There is a good will to move forward at the top of these organisations. All of us in the room, with the dedication to the SDG 5 we must continue pushing at all levels.

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