The Rights of Women Who Use Drugs: Expectation versus Reality

EHRN has initiated a research study to help gather factual evidence to prove violation of rights of women who use drugs in the three countries of Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

8 August 2017

The European Harm Reduction Network (EHRN) has initiated a research study to help gather factual evidence to prove violation of rights of women who use drugs in the three countries of Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (CEECA) – Armenia, Tajikistan and Estonia.  The research project is to be launched on the 8th of August in Tallinn and will start with an open dialogue between the community of women who use drugs and other parties concerned. The research team will then proceed with the study in Northeastern Estonia.

The evidence collection and analysis will be done by a team of experts in human rights, gender politics and health care in cooperation with representatives of the community of people who use drugs (PWUD). The research methodology was developed jointly with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

Тhe issue of women´s rights and empowerment is one of EHRN`s key priorities: in 2017 we have finished our three year campaign „Women Against Violence“, which was focused on developing partnerships with law enforcement agencies and mobilizing women who use drugs.

The new project is special in the way it employs the qualitative research methods to identify and document the conventional cases of violations of rights of women who use drugs in the CEECA region. Despite the fact that for years EHRN and its partners have been raising awareness of the issue of women´s rights in the context of drug control policies, very little have been done in terms of systematic evidence collection. The reports we do have either deal with just a few aspects of the problem (vulnerability to HIV, violence etc) or are based on secondary data.  Apart from coordinating the evidence collection and analysis under the project EHRN will be supporting the community of women who use drugs in their liaison with the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), European Court of Human Rights and other international human rights mechanisms.

Any social belief or stereotype built on the thesis that women who use drugs are less worthy of social benefits than those who do not use drugs is a form of violence in itself. Women who use drugs suffer from disproportional damage: they are deprived of parental rights, they have limited access to sexual and reproductive health care services (especially during pregnancy),   they are subjected to brutal police and domestic violence. Their stigmatization is complex and multifaceted, which makes them much more susceptible and vulnerable to HIV and other infections.

“The countries of the CEECA region have different levels of development and different drug control policies; however, the issue of discrimination against women who use drugs is as burning as it is widespread in all of them. Gender stereotypes account for systematic violence against women who use drugs and their double stigmatization and discrimination in many countries. What makes our region different is the fact that most of these cases remain unreported because neither law enforcement agencies nor women themselves realize how unfair and how utterly contradictory to any international norms this discrimination is. We think that only high quality research incorporating representatives of affected populations into the research team can really change the situation and help affected women recognize and protect their rights in different ways,” – says Dasha Matyushina-Ocheret, an advisor to Policy Reform Team at EHRN.

To facilitate the use of research results for the communities of Armenia, Tajikistan and Estonia in their reports and appeals to the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and other UN and European Council legal mechanisms (such as the European Court of Human Rights), EHRN and the Canadian Legal HIV/AIDS Network have developed a number of community-specific training tools and aids. They will be available for use at the website of EHRN.

The research has been organized by EHRN in the framework of the Program "Empowering women who use drugs and/or living with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. “DIALOGUE” funded by the LEVI STRAUSS FOUNDATION.