Statement at the 31st PCB under agenda item 2.0 Gender-sensitivity of AIDS responses
Thank you for the opportunity to speak. On behalf of Eurasian Harm Reduction Network and International Gender Policy Network I would like to draw your attention to the issue of violence against women who use drugs.
Violence puts women and girls at risk of HIV and prevents them from accessing essential services. Women drug users and sex workers in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) fare worse than most. Violence affects them extensively due to a combination of repressive drug laws; patriarchal societies; limited or nonexistent opportunities to report abuse; lack of access to adequate health care; and insufficient legal, social, psychological and treatment support. Women who use drugs are often involved in sex work, and those women face even greater barriers because they are viewed as being guilty of the “double crime” of using illicit drugs and sex work.
Of note is that much violence against these women is state-inflicted, through discriminatory policies and law enforcement practices. Systematic violence occurring at the hand of state institutions indicates a clear and persistent refusal of governments to recognize and uphold basic human rights. The widespread stigma against women who use drugs and sex workers encourages self-stigma, thereby reinforcing their inability to seek and obtain protection from violence.
One urgent message must be recognized and acted upon: drug policies provoke violence against women who use drugs and are involved in sex. These policies therefore must be reformed. Legal, social and political changes are needed to create conditions in which all women—drug users or not—are less threatened, safer and have consistent access to the full range of comprehensive health and other services available to all others in society.
The individual and public health consequences of the status quo are alarming for numerous reasons, including that EECA is, as noted by UNAIDS, “the only region where HIV prevalence clearly remains on the rise”. EECA countries and other countries with injecting drug use driven HIV epidemic will never be able to reverse the spread of HIV without reforming current policies that do nothing to address—and in some cases essentially promote—violence against women.
We ask UNAIDS, UNODC, UN Women and other co-sponsors to support our efforts to eradicate violence against women and promote drug policy reform respectful of human rights and gender equality.