International Women’s Day: Uphold the Rights of Women Who Use Drugs

On International Women’s Day 2019, the Women and Harm Reduction International Network (WHRIN) wishes to highlight the lack of balance surrounding the sexual and reproductive health and parenting rights experienced by women who use drugs (WUD).

The issue of state intervention in the sexual and reproductive health and parenting rights of WUD is one of the many neglected areas related to the criminalization of drug use that disproportionally affect the lives of WUD around the world.

Due to the criminalisation of drug use, the choices WUD have regarding their sexual and reproductive health are often restricted and children are frequently removed from mothers who are competent parents. Consequently, women are often reluctant to disclose their drug use when seeking healthcare through fear of coercion and/or losing their children. Additionally, women who do venture to seek support are subject to harsher judgement and scrutiny if they are pregnant or have children.

WHRIN points out that drug use does not equate to bad decision making nor improper parenting and that all women should be free to have open and honest conversations about their sexual and reproductive health, parenting practices and drug use without fear of judgement and discrimination. Being able to seek health services, support and information without fear of reprisal is key to realising sexual and reproductive health and parenting rights for WUD.

WHRIN calls upon governments to:

  • Enforce the protection of women’s confidentiality, including the removal of any existing compulsory drug registration systems.
  • Include women WUD in and research or policies affecting them.
  • Remove any legislation that makes drug use per se an adequate justification for mandatory reporting to social services and/or the removal of children from their parents’ custody or other punishment or restrictions.
  • Ensure all WUD have access to good quality and non-judgemental sexual and reproductive health care.
  • Explore options to reform drug policy so as to better protect the human rights of WUD.
  • Expand resources and supports for WUD requesting parenting assistance.
  • Eliminate all punitive legislation associated with WUD who have children or who are pregnant.

Unfortunately, there is a long way to go before these aspirations are realised. The risk of losing sexual and reproductive and parental rights solely due to drug use is a harsh reality for many women across the world. Such loss is not only devastating for the mother as it also brings lasting negative impact on children, the family and the wider community, resulting in generations of traumatized and marginalised individuals and communities.  

On International Women’s Day 2019, WHRIN asks policy makers to demonstrate commitment to upholding the sexual and reproductive and parenting rights of women who use drugs. This can be achieved by empowering choice regarding sexual and reproductive health of WUD and providing supports to WUD with children rather than punishing with either the threat of or actual loss of child custody.

The use of drugs should not equate to curtailed sexual and reproductive health options, nor does it lead to inadequate parenting. Restricting the choices WUD have over their sexual and reproductive health is unacceptable and the removal of a child from their mother solely due to the fact their mother uses drugs, is deplorable and must stop.

 

*Claire Mawditt is Secretary of the Women and Harm Reduction International Network