With the International campaign for the elimination of violence against women 2020, Youth RISE and the Women and Harm Reduction International Network (WHRIN) call for an end to all forms of violence against women who use drugs.

Women who use drugs, including trans and gender non-conforming people, are subject to extreme levels and a wide range of physical and psychological harm due to punitive prohibition of some substances. This violence includes, (but is not limited to) extra judicial killing and capital punishment, forced and coerced sterilisation and abortion, rape, sexual harassment and extortion, loss of child custody, imprisonment for mere personal possession or use, penalisation for drug use in pregnancy and other types of gendered violations, stigma and discrimination. Due to the war on drugs, women survivors have little recourse and often no support, particularly in cases of violence from police, prison guards, compulsory treatment centre staff and intimate partners.

Youth RISE and WHRIN call for an end to the war on drugs to end this violence against women. However, while the war continues, harm reduction providers are encouraged to recognise and respond with more immediate approaches such as: offering psychosocial support; STI services; support to develop safety strategies; violence prevention sessions; assisted referral to clinical care where women who have been raped can access post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and emergency contraception.

In many locations, existing women’s shelters do not accept women who use drugs, usually on the basis of unfounded fears and lack of experience. Harm reduction service providers can establish strong relationships with women’s shelters to ensure that women who use drugs have access to the support they need and receive non-judgmental support from all such crisis services.

Harm reduction services should also provide women only spaces or service times to better ensure inclusion of women who have been subject to gender-based violence. All harm reduction services should endeavour to engage women who use drugs staff and build peer expertise, services and systems for violence prevention and support.

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