Campaign to Eliminate Violence Against Women Who Use Drugs

With the International Campaign for the Elimination of Violence Against Women UNiTE, a UN
initiative of 16 days of activism, the Women and Harm Reduction International Network (WHRIN)
and Drug Policy Network South East Europe (DPNSEE), with campaign partners YouthRISE,
EuroNPUD and EWNA call for an end to all forms of violence against women and gender diverse
people who use drugs. The EVAWUD campaign highlights the need to end violence against women
and gender diverse people who use drugs and improve drug policies from a feminist, human rights
and harm reduction perspective.

Women and gender diverse people who use drugs are subject to extreme levels and a wide range of violence due to patriarchal norms combined with punitive prohibition of some drugs. State-driven stigma, criminalization, harmful gender norms, and corruption drive substantive health and safety harms. These act as barriers for women and gender diverse people who use drugs accessing critical harm reduction and gender-based violence (GBV) services.

Women and gender diverse people who use drugs experience GBV at up to 25 times the rate experienced by women in the general public. This violence includes, (but is not limited to) extra judicial killing, capital punishment, forced and coerced sterilisation and abortion, rape, sexual harassment, loss of child custody, bashings, imprisonment for personal possession or use, penalisation for drug use in pregnancy, along with other types of gendered violations, stigma and discrimination.

Woman and gender diverse people who use drugs around the world can face arbitrary detention, extortion, police violence, torture and ill-treatment, with well over a third of women in prison for drug offences and with the incarceration of women for drug offences spiking globally by 53% since 2000.

Due to the so-called “war on drugs”, survivors have little recourse and often no support, particularly in cases of violence from police, prison guards and compulsory ‘treatment’ centre staff. The experiences of violence against women who use drugs are even more extreme for those facing intersecting oppressions such as women of colour, sex workers, or trans women. Additionally, young people face more barriers to accessing essential health and harm reduction services due to policies and laws on age restrictions, affecting young women and gender diverse people.

WHRIN and DPNSEE and partners note that, by collaborating with groups of women and gender diverse people who use drugs and documenting peer led actions and services, the appropriate responses to these inequities and violations are clear.

Meaningful community involvement must feature as the cornerstone to all good practice responses in developing GBV services. As the criminalisation of drug use stands as a primary barrier between women and gender diverse people who use drugs and attainment of human rights including the right to safety, access to harm reduction and other essential health services.

Decriminalisation which removes all sanctions and punishment, including coerced or court-imposed treatment programs, for all people who use drugs, and all types of drugs is also imperative. Properly implemented decriminalisation will reduce the stigma and violence associated with the “war on drugs”.

Expansion of harm reduction and inclusion of violence prevention and mitigation, and gender sensitive, affirming and age-appropriate support services are also critical. It is also noted that sexual and reproductive health is now promoted as an additional essential service that should be incorporated within the harm reduction suite of services for people who use drugs, and that best practice service delivery integrates comprehensive GBV services.

DPNSEE and WHRIN, EuroNPUD, YouthRISE and ENWA call for an end to the “war on drugs”, to end this violence against women and gender diverse people who use drugs. Legislation and legal principles, procedures, policies, programmes and practices relating to criminal justice must be reviewed to determine if they are adequate to prevent and eliminate violence against women and gender diverse people who use drugs. If they are found to have a negative impact, they must be modified in order to ensure that people who use drugs enjoy fair and equal treatment.

Please join us in ensuring adequate resources and legislative frameworks uphold the safety and human rights of women and gender diverse people who use drugs.

 

Time for a new European approach on drug policy say people who use drugs

The EU DG Home Commissioner Ylva Johansson and her Belgian colleague Annelies Verlinden issued a statement regarding organised drug crime as threatening as terrorism, in which they emphasized a conservative and stigmatising approach to drug use. Their stament is quoted in the news here>>>.

The European Network of People who Use Drugs issued the following statement:

EuroNPUD was shocked to see the outdated and off-policy statements of EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson and Annelies Verlinden Belgium’s Minister for the Interior during a visit to Antwerp Docks holding people who use drugs responsible for violence committed by organised crime.  It is extremely unfortunate that EU Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johanson is not only using such outdated and stigmatizing language but also promoting the outdated vision of a drug free world.

 It is deeply concerning to hear such closed thinking from European leaders when across Europe we are seeing an increasingly pragmatic and reflective approach to drug policy reform, including initiatives on medicinal cannabis, the legal regulation of cannabis for adult use, psychedelic drugs and healing, and enhanced harm reduction such as drug consumption rooms, drug checking and heroin assisted treatment.

 Commissioner Johansson’s statement are also contrary to the EU’s very own Drug Strategy 2021-2025, which calls for EU action to reduce stigma against people who use drugs, and promotes increased and balanced investment in a broad range of demand and harm reduction services, discarding old-fashioned emphasis on prevention.

 All UN agencies signed up to the UN Common Position on Drugs, which “reiterates the strong commitment of the United Nations system to supporting Member States in developing and implementing truly balanced, comprehensive, integrated, evidence-based, human rights-based, development-oriented and sustainable responses to the world drug problem.” The Common Position supports the adoption of decriminalisation to create an enabling legal environment for harm reduction and drug treatment. “Importantly, some countries have decriminalized various forms of drug use, aiming to ensure treatment and services without any fear and intimidation and to remove stigma.” (Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights).

 Legal regulation is being successfully implemented in different settings with cannabis, and is considered by many experts as the most appropriate response to reduce the violence associated to illegal economies such as drug trafficking. Decriminalisation remains the major call for drug law reform as a sensible chance to end the human rights violations and racial injustice that are central to drug control and create the space for dialogue and change. EuroNPUD calls for the legal regulated control of all mind-altering substances and we understand this journey will take place incrementally.

 Calling for a focus “prevention and addiction free society” is populist propaganda.  Blaming those criminalised by drug control for the failings of prohibition is laughable given our current understanding of the poisoned roots of drug control. We now understand from US President Nixon’s advisor, John Ehrlichman, that drug control was introduced as an intentional tool of social control and racial injustice. It was readily adopted in Europe as it resonated with the continent’s imperial history.

 When drug policy remains an area of such evolving and developing policy and practice, it is extremely worrying to hear key European leaders demonstrating such closed and outdated thinking. This is a time for reflection and change. Europe deserves leaders able to engage in such forward-looking conversations.

Dozens of civil society organisations, including DPNSEE and our member organisations, supported this statement.