International Women’s Day

Today is the International Women’s Day, a surely remarkable day for the history and achievements of women. I can’t help but thinking what women have suffered through the passage of the centuries, how much they fought for their rights and what difference they have made to the world, a certainly harsh and unfair world for them.

Everyday women are faced to hundreds of different challenges, have to take decisions and stand on their own two feet. At the moment I am writing, countless women are suffering from injustice, violence, illnesses, disabilities and many other harms.

I have come across many drug studies, reflected about drug issues, written about drugs, read statistics, but today I feel an absolute urge to write about women drug users. How are women defined in relation to drugs? Are they given the appropriate attention they deserve? Is drug policy adapted to their needs? Do drugs have to be addressed in considering their own, special needs?

Although drug use has often been treated as a non-gender-specific issue, data indicate that every aspect of problematic drug use differs remarkably between the sexes. And that makes absolute sense, since men and women are different, have been treated as such socially and historically and have different lifestyles.

Research has shown that women’s initiation and motivation to drugs is substantially different to men’s. Women historically have been vulnerable and physically weak and apparently this physical weakness has been the source of many harms. Sexual and physical assault is one of the main reasons why women resort to drug use. Rape, humiliation and abuse push women to start using substances, either as a way of erasing the harm temporarily, forgetting what happened to them and having a kind of pleasure. This ‘cause’ of drugs is one that differs importantly from the causes for which men start taking substances, since men do not experience sexual violence to the same extent.

Women are also mothers, experience pregnancy and motherhood. Drug using pregnant women and drug using mothers face stigma, discrimination and very often fail to receive an adequate, specialized treatment. In many occasions access to treatment services and to especially designed programs  for pregnancy is extremely difficult. If we add to this difficulty the stigma they are faced with, we realise how difficult is today for a drug using woman to become a mother.

Another category I am thinking about is the mothers whose children are involved in drug use. Many mothers do not know how to deal with their children’s problematic drug use efficiently, can get confused and depressed and feel uncertainty and embarrassment, which can have destructive results for their children.

Also, drug using women in prison are treated inhumanely, experiencing discrimination, and many times sexual abuse by the prison guards, in that way making me think that prisons should never be an option for women drug addicts. Let us not talk about pregnant women in prison who do not receive any specialised medical treatment. Not only don’t they get appropriate medical treatment, but in some countries they give birth under extremely cruel conditions: In some prisons across the US, women are shackled during pregnancy and while giving birth, to be prevented from escaping! Pregnant women who are chained face serious risks, as they can be injured during their movement to medical appointments and can get serious back pain that might affect their delivery. And, more importantly, who on earth could imagine a woman escaping while bleeding and delivering a baby? If we consider that women prisoners who are treated so cruelly are often drug users or had been sexually assaulted in the past, we cannot but wonder how can some supposedly civilized states breach basic human rights and dignity so openly.

Many states have abandoned this practice but there is still a long way to go until those practices are abolished once and for all. Drug users in prisons have access to gender-specific resources in only a few countries. It is time that every country adopted this approach!

To these special social, natural and cultural conditions, under which women develop, enhance or reduce their drug use, I will now add the DFSA (Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault) which refers to the drugs added to women’s drinks. More and more women get raped through this new evil way and the boundaries of consent and voluntary involvement are blurred, opening easily hence the way for men to exercise their will to women’s bodies.

How should society respond to these gender-specific challenges? The first challenge that has to be addressed is full equality in drug treatment, full respect and elimination of any signs of stigma. The second one for me is specialization in treatment, with the recognition that women have different needs and that equality obliges special attention at special groups and individuals.

Today let us all have a think about women’s needs, women’s concerns and women’s problems. Women’s health, success, happiness and self-definition must be at the centre of every contemporary society. Most importantly, women must, at last, have the chance to take their future in their hands, and this can be succeeded only if women have an important voice in policy making, representation and civil society. It is their time to act. Marilyn Monroe once said: ‘I don’t mind living in men’s world, as long as I am a woman in it’.  I don’t know what she exactly meant but what I know is that the world belongs to every human being that was born in it, hence every human being should have the freedom to define the world in their own terms.