Intersectionality and women who use drugs.
International Women’s Day 2021
The Women and Harm Reduction International Network (WHRIN) works to improve the availability, quality, relevance and accessibility of health, social and legal services for women who use drugs. On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2021, WHRIN issue the following reminder:
Women who use drugs are the experts of their own lives.
If you are involved in policy or programming that impacts women or drug users, it is critical to speak with and meaningfully involve women who use drugs, in all their diversity and on a level playing field devoid of stigma and judgement.
Without this, expect sub-optimal results, with partial or profound exclusion, reduced effect and wasted resources.
On this International Women’s Day, let’s pause for reflection on the changes of the past 12 months. The COVID19 pandemic has impacted heavily on women worldwide, accentuating pre-existing inequalities. In general, mainstream awareness of these deepening and unacceptable disparities remains very low. One of the barriers to awareness and change has been a tendency towards “otherism” in portrayal and perceptions of women who use drugs.
Intersectionality refers to the ways in which different aspects of a person’s identity can expose them to overlapping forms of discrimination and marginalisation. With its roots in the black feminist movement, awareness of intersectionality is very useful for understanding and addressing inequities experienced by women who use drugs. WHRIN work in this space can help to identify where this is affecting women who use drugs, bringing into focus the interrelation of systems of oppression. We can better identify specific needs and help ensure compassionate and effective policies and health options.
As a network, WHRIN is particularly concerned to tackle the intersections between patriarchy and prohibition – two forms of systemic oppression. To do this optimally we take into account additional axes of exclusion that impact on the experience of women who use drugs.
The spectrum of women’s experience varies enormously according to factors such as colour, sex, ethnicity, vocation, mental health, gender identity, religion, age, wealth, nationality, criminal record and HIV status. It is not difficult to imagine the barriers facing a trans woman who uses drugs from a strongly patriarchal ethnic minority in Russia. She will be unable to access public medical services due to ongoing fear over her drug use and the legal documents that define her as a man. Without accounting for the intersections between such factors, barriers to health and justice services will remain and discrimination and exclusion will continue.
As a network concerned with women and harm reduction, WHRIN will work to develop realistic approaches that take into account all our differences and complexities. WHRIN has begun to build alliances with organizations that have overlapping mandates, first focusing on organizations involved in harm reduction, drug policy, drug user networking, HIV, law enforcement, gender rights, sex work, and the women’s movement. We ask that these and other movements, organizations and individuals explore potential for commonality and join efforts with us towards resisting and overthrowing systemic oppression.
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