This is the first of our series “Eliminating Violence Against Women Who Use Drugs”, see part two here.
November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and marks the beginning of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence that will run until December 10th, which is the International Human Rights Day. Since the introduction of lockdown policies and stay-at-home orders, rates of reported domestic violence cases have been increasing all over the world – so much so that UN Women has dubbed this ‘The Shadow Pandemic.’ This year more than ever, it’s especially important to draw attention to the issue of violence against women and other forms of gender-based violence.
State social and healthcare services worldwide are geared towards containing the coronavirus crisis, and luckily most service providers realized that already vulnerable populations cannot be neglected in the process. Opioid substitution therapy has been rightfully deemed an essential service, along with needle and syringe exchanges, and there’s honest effort from the side of most states to provide shelter for everyone where they can safely physically distance.
Our systems can rarely find time, though, to include gender-sensitive approaches in service provision, and at a time like this it can especially easily be sidetracked. Women are bearing most of the burden of this pandemic, either as frontline workers in essential services or as primary caregivers for their families. Some women use drugs to cope with the pressures put on them right now. Some women use drugs to deal with the pressures put on them as women in general. Some women use drugs to cope with the violence experienced at home right now. Some women use drugs to cope with the violence experienced at home in general. Some women use drugs, period.
Other women are engaged in sex work. Some of them might use drugs as well. They might be transgender women. They could be living with HIV. They could be pregnant. They could have a criminal record. They could be immigrants. They could be experiencing homelessness or be at risk of becoming homeless.
They can be all of these things as once, and that is a result of an intersectional structural violence against women that is deeply embedded in our societies and institutions.
They need inclusive services right now that can cater to their physical, emotional, and healthcare needs.
They need us to start paying attention to their experiences.
They need us to make structural changes in how our societies respond to trauma.
We need to build inclusive and responsive societies from this collective trauma we’re experiencing. In the process, we need to remember that we will always be as vulnerable as the most vulnerable amongst us.
Join the campaign led by the European Network of People Who Use Drugs and Women and Harm Reduction International Network, wear orange, and organize events and actions to fight the violence and stigma experienced by women who use drugs!