Side-Event: Ending Gender-Based Violence for Women and Gender Non-Conforming People who Use Drugs

Gloria Lai: Welcome to the side event: Ending Gender Based Violence Against Women and Gender Nonconforming People who Use Drugs.

To start, Elizabeth Wilde, First Assistant Secretary, Development Policy Division, Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade, Australia, will be making opening remarks via video

Elizabeth Wilde: Australia is pleased to give support to this event. We are committed to protecting and promoting human rights without discrimination as a priority. We have worked to develop policies limiting discrimination, one such area of particular focus today is ending sexual and gender based violence. Australia is a proud member of the group of friends on the mandate of protecting against violence and discrimination. Women and gender nonconforming people face persistent stigma, prejudice and discrimination, and there are particular contexts of vulnerability for gender nonconforming individuals. Drug use is related to violence faced by trans people in particular and social exclusion limits access to justice. Women and people of diverse gender identities face stigma, discrimination, and sexual and gender based violence. Poor access to harm reduction services further compounds issues as gender remains a barrier to accessing services and we need to improve on gender inclusive and responsive health services for all people, including women who use drugs. It is important that we address stigma through trauma informed health services. Australia’s harm minimization approach considers health, as well as socioeconomic impacts and is central to our strategy combining both demand and supply reduction. Women who use drugs have specific needs requiring tailored services and programs. We are happy to be a champion of equal rights and working to end all forms of discrimination. We need to see human rights for women in all their diversity.

Gloria Lai: Our first speaker on the panel is Aire Kamiyama. She is the Key Affected Populations Coordinator for a community organization called IDUCARE in the Philippines.

Aire Kamiyama: Let me start by sharing with you a story of community experience in relation to this topic: Gender Based Violence against Women who use drugs

Her name is YUMI, a quiet girl with a son who is in her 20’s. She was illegally arrested for
drug use in her rented room. She was illegally arrested because no warrant was shown by the police when they barged into her room and took her to the police station. While in police detention, her arresting officer asked for sex in return for her freedom. She agreed, wanting to go home to her family. But the release as a promise was not fulfilled. She was still charged, and after the court proceedings, she was transferred to an overcrowded jail facility for women, most of whom have been charged for possession of drugs.

The other story is of KRIS, who had 2 children staying with a family member, who is in her
30’s. She was illegally arrested in her house without a warrant and the arresting officer
wasn’t wearing a uniform. The officer beat her up so severely that she had bruises and black
eyes and her face were all swollen. Because of that, she was detained in a hidden place in the
police station, and her relatives didn’t know where she was detained. It was as if she was
missing. She was secretly detained for a week to let the bruises in her face heal. Still in pain
from the police beating, KRIS was also sexually abused and raped while in detention. After a week, charges were filed accusing her of drug use and selling. For selling, there is no bail and
potentially means life imprisonment if decided by the Judge.

Women who use drugs are extremely vulnerable to gender-based violence.
The question we ask is: Who now is doing the Violent Criminal Act Here?

Some people say that people who use drugs are violent criminals. But it is the drug policies,
and those who enforce them are violent. IDUCARE works with civil society and community organizations to provide paralegal aid training and paralegal assistance to people held in the women’s jail. We work to help expedite their release from prison, and set up a Paralegal Help Desk at the IDUCARE Drop-In Community Center for people to access the services they need. Other parts of our work to help end gender-based violence include: Organizing sensitisation workshops on gender and rights issues that affect women who use drugs. These workshops target the police, service providers, and prison and rehabilitation centre staff. Making sure incidents of violence are reported and acted on. Providing or referring women who have experienced violence to a comprehensive package of care. We believe that: *WOMEN WHO USE DRUGS MUST BE AT THE CENTRE OF ALL ACTIVITIES*. And most importantly, we advocate for harm reduction and decriminalization, to end this violence.

Let me close with a question:
They say Harm Reduction is a western concept and doesn’t apply and work in the Philippines
But isn’t the War on Drugs a western Concept?
Why are they doing it? Does it work?
Now is the time to give Harm Reduction and Decriminalization of drug use a chance.

Gloria Lai: Thank you Arie for your courage helping women in difficult situations. The next presentation is by video – it is a statement on the Survivors Project by Centro de Convivencia É de Lei in Brazil

Survivors Project by Centro de Convivencia É de Lei: This intervention began with a video which can be viewed in the recording of this side-event.

Our project represents the first drop in center in Brazil monitoring the health of women who use drugs and we have become a national and international reference for harm reduction. We also educate our clients in political advocacy and represent thousands of people whose rights have been violated, raising their voice for people to hear. The data we have collected from a survey indicates a policy approach from the pandemic was problematic and remains to this day and mainly poor, black, and LGBTQ+ people are the target for rights violations which have no legal justification

Gloria Lai: Our next speaker is Ganna Dovbakh. She is the Executive Director of Eurasian Harm Reduction Association

Ganna Dovbakh: In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, we experience issues of gender based violence against women but at the same time we see that more than 30% of violence against people in key populations is caused by law enforcement, and for women police are the main source of human rights violations. This stops women approaching for help when they experience violence. There are several barriers faced by women in this situation: human rights abuses committed by law enforcement, along with lack of protection and lack of availability to services all cause barriers to accessing healthcare and social services. Women are afraid of approaching social services due to the increased violence and increased risk of human rights violations. Women can be identified by the official government list of people who use drugs, still implemented by many countries in the region, which can cause them to lose parental rights, and lose access to the family structure. Approaching any services can bring more rights violations than before. In relation to shelters available to those who survived gender based violence, these are completely closed for women who use drugs because, per state regulations for the shelters, they require sobriety. We need to address all the aspects of violence, the prevention of provisions of support, and we need advocacy for changing legislation. For many women, harm reduction could be the only service and only vehicle for interaction with other services available to them. This means that case management is a very hard job when people do access services. We are extremely proud of EHRA and our colleagues from countries in linking the women with other services and approaching discriminating social care to improve the situation for them. We have also run a number of trainings, with UNODC support, for law enforcement in countries in our region. The UNODC opened the doors for police to be made aware of issues and link services as intended and without discrimination and human rights violations. Our work supports paralegal services for women who use drugs – peer paralegal services, accessed by 1000s of people. In disaster circumstances, women who use drugs are among the very first at risk of violence during war. Thousands of medical facilities have been destroyed during the war in Ukraine, and while women are fleeing from the country, using drugs creates a vulnerability they need to cope with. All harm reduction in Ukraine also became shelters providing support and basic services – now basic comprehensive social care – food, shelter, sleeping bags etc. The women trust the harm reduction services and feel safe there. Gender based violence within the situation of a brutal war, in fact we are calling it a genocide against Ukrainian nation, is becoming more brutal, and additional tortures from absence of opioid substitution treatment in the occupied territories.

Gloria Lai: Josephine Achieng is our next speaker. She is a representative of the Women in Harm Reduction International Network in Kenya.

Josephine Achieng: Good afternoon everyone! As mentioned, I am a member of the Strategic Advisory Body of WHRIN – the women and harm reduction international network. The vision of our network is that all self-identified women who use drugs have unfettered access to quality, relevant health, social and legal services that uphold gender equality and human rights without diminishment from stigma, discrimination or criminalisation. Women and gender non-conforming people who use drugs experience gross levels of stigma, discrimination and violence. Not only do our communities experience much higher rates of violence than other women – at the hands of intimate partners as well as from the State – but women drug users also lack legal recourse due to the criminalised status of drug use. But our communities are working to highlight the unique ways in which drug policy combined with patriarchy creates environments of risk for women, trans and gender diverse people who use drugs. This presentation will outline some of the activities conducted by WHRIN in collaboration with community led organisations around the world in our collective efforts to secure safety for our communities. In particular, I will be talking about 4 examples:

The elimination of violence against women who use drugs (EVAWUD) campaign
The 3-day toolkit on integrating sexual and reproductive health services including gender-based violence services) with harm reduction programming for women, trans and gender diverse people
The WHRIN shelters model and the shelters toolkit for working with existing shelters to open their doors to women and gender diverse people who use drugs
And the expanding work by communities of women who use drugs with CEDAW (the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women).

The EVAWUD campaign ‘piggy backs’ with the pre-existing generalist worldwide 16 days of action to eliminate violence against women and girls – and in response to the prior exclusion and non-engagement of the wider campaign with women who use drugs.
EVAWUD activities have included awareness raising, social media blitzes; the launch of lived experience books videos and webinars; art and sport activities; press releases; public marches; podcasts; story-telling; formal meetings with parliamentarians, police, community lawyers, health officials and women’s ministries; national symposiums, empowerment and self-defence classes and more! EVAWUD has mobilised women and gender diverse people around the world in a growing push to ensure we are no longer overlooked in efforts to eliminate gender-based violence. This slide lists some of the countries where EVAWUD campaigns have been conducted in recent years. The impact of the campaign has been felt in ways beyond those originally expected. In addition to media coverage and capturing the notice of governments, some community participants report a sense of vindication and empowerment. EVAWUD has triggered ongoing activities (such as women only days and service additions) in drug user networks and among harm reduction providers wishing to improve their relevance to women who use drugs. The campaign is growing year by year and, with this collective effort, the voices of those involved cannot be ignored. In 2020, WHRIN and Frontline AIDS published the guide Advancing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women who use drugs, available in several languages. A training toolkit was subsequently developed to guide a 3-day workshop to train community-based and peer-led harm reduction service providers to put the guide into practice. THE workshop IS BEING ROLLED OUT across ten countries with an objective to expand access to quality sexual and reproductive health services for women, trans and gender diverse people who use drugs. The toolkit also provides interactive tools to support integration of the elements listed here, into harm reduction programming. Sexual and reproductive health services inherently include gender-based violence prevention and support services. So the kit includes practical tools such as individual safety plan and social support mapping materials and how to use them. During 2020/21 WHRIN and allies noted reports of escalating experience of violence and homelessness among women who use drugs as a negative impact of COVID19 lockdown conditions. At the same time, emergency shelter accommodation for women was continuing to exclude women who use drugs. This is a common scenario across most countries of the world. With a COVID response grant from the Robert Carr Fund, WHRIN rapidly established 3 model shelters in Kenya, Ukraine and Nigeria – along with policy and procedure based on elements summarized in this slide. The model shelters do not restrict duration of stay and receive new clients with very little form filling or interviewing beyond establishing that they require crisis support. Data collection involves use of a unique identified code and all referrals are client led. In addition to this approach, an advocacy kit has been developed for advocates to use with mainstream women’s shelters – which corresponds to identified barriers and how shelter managers might overcome barriers to access for women who use drugs. CEDAW remarks are binding and oblige member state response and reporting. This slide shows the concluding remarks from the Committee for our joint shadow report last year with Club Eney for Ukraine – representing a significant step forward for harm reduction and people who use drugs advocates in Ukraine. Working in collaboration with national level allies and partners to increase engagement from women who use drugs in CEDAW processes, We have been following the rostering of CEDAW country reviews to mentor, jointly research, produce and present shadow reports on the situation of women who use drugs. To date, reports have been submitted in this way for Indonesia, Portugal and Ukraine, with Australia currently in the works. Noting the sometimes-uneven response to these shadow reports from the Committee, we have also collaborated with partners to provide a briefing to the committee in their 85th session later this year – with the aim of improving their understanding of harm reduction and unique issues facing women who use drugs. WHRIN call for an end to the war on drugs to end this violence against women. Legislation practices relating to criminal justice must be reviewed to determine if they are adequate to prevent and eliminate violence against women who use drugs and to modify them in order to ensure that women who use drugs safety is radically improved.
It is necessary to meaningfully involve women, trans and gender diverse people who use drugs
Please join us in ensuring adequate resources and legislative frameworks to uphold the safety and human rights of women who use drugs. You are invited to visit our website to access the tools and reports I have referenced today. Thank you

Gloria Lai: To conclude our panel discussion, we will share a video presentation on the impacts of punitive drug policies on transgender women, by Quimey Ramos, of the civil society organisation known as CELS in Argentina.

Quimey Ramos: The panel concluded with a video which can be viewed in the recording of this side-event


Address Ganna and Josephine, when we talk about training for social workers, judges, law enforcement, you don’t talk about training for harm reduction people, just lawyers and social workers. You already have harm reduction workers literate in gender based violence issues. For me, it is very striking to realize that in the harm reduction services for most vulnerable gender based violence victims, it is not that well known and the reaction can be very stigmatizing

Answer: HR Services focused on HIV response could lack focus of specific staff to meet people experiencing gender based violence to provide crisis rapport and avoid retraumatization in shelter, in services. Training for shelter workers focused on this – building trauma informed services able to cope with the sequences of violence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *