The Egalitarian: War on Drugs Week

This week we are focussing on the War on Drugs and how this affects women and girls globally. Often overlooked, women and girls face different stigmas, vulnerabilities and punishments when involved in drug use, abuse and the market. There is also a significant lack of consideration for women when looking at treatment, rehabilitation and health services regarding drug abuse.

Case Study: The Philippines

Philippine’s President Rodrigo Duterte was elected in June 2016 and has carried out a catastrophic “war on drugs” since his first day in office - named ‘Operation Tokhang’, it is one the deadliest drug war in the world. Victims included 54 children in 2016 alone. The main victims are the urban poor - the ones committing the lower level crimes regarding the drug industry, rather than those at more senior levels of the trafficking which get off with lighter sentences, or are not investigated at all.

Filipina women are impacted significantly by the war on drugs. Women and girls are the ones left behind when their partners, husbands, fathers and sons are killed in the violent state-ran anti-drug operations that disproportionately target the urban poor. Women and girls may be witness to the killings, that routinely take place during random assassinations in the street or home raids, causing distress, upset and post-traumatic stress symptoms. There are many widows, including teen widows and single mothers due to the appalling extrajudicial killings that take place. Many women do not work, meaning they have lost not only their partner, but the only income they have to survive. Women are disproportionately engaged in the drug-trafficking process by being drug “mules”, which is a growing concern. Normally harassed, blackmailed, uninformed or emotionally invested in their boss, women couriers are the most easy to catch on the ground. And face disproportionate punitive punishments for their actual lack of involvement.

The international community needs to do more to facilitate the improvement of the lives of those living in the Philippines. It is no mean feat - the President told a UN special rapporteur to "go to hell" for allegedly "interfering" in his country's affairs in 2018. There must be involvement of international criminal proceedings to end this murderous regime that has ultimately been created to assist the President in running a totalitarian style state, targeting opposition and the urban poor. Women and girls, refugees and immigrants and the lower class are affected by this regime, and the impacts are not focussed on enough.

Case Study: Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is a well-developed, western country in the Global North with progressive and modern attitudes towards drug users. However, their rehabilitation facilitaties still show that there is a lack of equality towards women drug users who do not benefit from harm reduction services as much as men do. For example, Spain has a well developed and available network of services both in and outside prison, however women still suffer from significant barriers that hinder their usage of these services. This lowers the chances of success rate that women have towards complete rehabilitation.

Women are subject to unequal negative stigma, due to their role in society as primary care givers and house-hold dominants, meaning that if women attempt to use harm reduction services they will be judged more than a man would. This stops women feeling comfortable and protected whilst using rehabilitation services, meaning they are reluctant to attend. Further, 88% of women who use drugs reported having ever suffered emotional or psychological damage, 71% indicated having experienced at least one incident of serious physical injury by a male partner. These figures highlight the parallels between women who are in abusive relationships and use drugs, abusive partners will restrict women from attending services, once again hindering their ability to get help.

In Barcelona, opened a harm reduction service that was created by women and is only used by women (and those who dont identify with a gender). Metzineres. Environments of Shelter for Women who Use Drugs Surviving Violence is the first integrated harm reduction program in Catalonia only for women and non-binary people. The workers, who are trained in all issues surrounding drug user such as domestic abuse, criminalisation and child-care, are seen as equal to those who attend the facility. Results have shown that there has a decrease in prejudices surrounding women using drugs now and there is an increase in women successfully getting help and support.

Our Editor, Elysia O'Neill, talks at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2018 about the impact of the War on Drugs on human rights globally, on behalf of a group of non-government organisations.

So what needs to change?

The international War on Drugs has a prohibitionist outlook on drug control and a punitive attitude towards solving the problem. These policies have disproportionate gendered outcomes which must be overcome with conscious solutions that consider women and girls’ needs globally. Here are some of the things that can be done to change this.

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