This summary note outlines how the world drug problem and drug control regimes intersect with gender equality and women’s empowerment. It is not comprehensive or prescriptive, but it is meant to inform the work of the UN System Task Force on Transnational Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking as Threats to Security and Stability in its preparation for the 2016 Special Session of the UN General Assembly.

UN Women does not address the drug problem directly, either in its first Strategic Plan (2011-2013) nor its current one (2014-2017), but is a member of the task force and shares its main message that transnational organized crime, including drug trafficking, fuels violence, corruption, and income inequality, inhibits legitimate social and economic activity, poses a serious threat to public health and international peace and security, and undermines gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Women’s rights or gender equality rarely feature in discussions about the world drug problem. Men are, after all, a large majority of those using or trafficking drugs. Women’s roles, both as participants and victims, are underestimated and understudied.

However, it is clear that the world drug problem is undermining gender equality, and that a gender perspective is needed in all efforts to prevent and respond to this issue. For example, in the Northern Triangle in Central America (Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala), the drugs problem is mainly responsible for the skyrocketing levels of violence in those countries, with the highest homicide rates in the world.

In Honduras, femicide has increased by 93 percent since 2009. This is directly linked to increasing levels of sexual violence and sex trafficking, and the humanitarian crisis provoked by tens of thousands of unaccompanied boys and girls trying to cross the US-Mexico border in 2013 and 2014. In Colombia, women in rural areas are mainly responsible for the food safety of their families, but the fumigation of coca crops affects other crops and water sources, while crop substitution programmes mainly benefit men, who are traditional title holders and often the sole beneficiaries of agricultural extension services, training, credit, and tools. In Afghanistan, only 4 percent of female drugs users have access to treatment facilities, despite the high rates of opium and heroin use among women. As just one example of how drugs and violence against women are interrelated, in December 2013 an addicted husband cut the nose and lips of his wife in front of their children when she refused to give away her jewelry to exchange it for drugs.