“Remove barriers to women’s full and equal access to drug treatment” —Lakshmi Puri


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I take this opportunity to thank the Government of Mexico for organizing this timely side event, in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and welcome the strong link of this side event to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16. Indeed, efforts to tackle drug problems, in all their ramifications, should contribute to achieving the SDGs by 2030. 

There is also a specific SDG target 3.5, which aims to “Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol.” Together with SDG 16, referencing the link to organized crime, these two goals constitute the framework to guide international efforts against organized crimes. Additionally, SDG 5.2 on the elimination of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres, refers in particular to the issue of trafficking, sexual and other types of exploitation which frequently are part of the same chain of internationally organized crime.

In the most recent session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the Agreed Conclusions provided a road map for Member States and other stakeholders for a gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda. While issues of drugs and crime are not directly addressed in the Agreed Conclusions, they nevertheless are very pertinent in that they apply to the full range of goals. UN Women hopes that the Agreed Conclusions will also be useful to all actors and stakeholders working on drug policy definitions and implementation.

It is to be noted that during the opening meeting of the UN General Assembly’s Special Session yesterday, His Excellency President Enrique Peña Nieto acknowledged that UN Women can play a role in supporting Member States to implement strategies, policies and programmes on drugs. 

And I concur that much more work needs to be done to ensure that all drug policies, everywhere, are indeed gender-responsive, so that they actively contribute to the elimination of discrimination against women and girls and to the full enjoyment by women and girls of all their human rights.

Gender-responsive drug policies need to be based on evidence and there are clear gender differences in regards to the causes, as well as the consequences of women’s involvement with drugs, including use. Let me mention a few.

  • Globally women are imprisoned for drug-related offenses more than any other crime. Women’s involvement in the drug trade often reflects the limited economic opportunities and gender-based discrimination in societies.
  • While women generally occupy the lowest ranks of the drug trade, they often face severe criminal penalties, which are often not proportionate to their offence.
  • Women drug users face greater stigma, and a lack of gender-sensitive treatment facilities may lead to a deficit in women’s access to treatment. Globally, only one out of five drug users in treatment is a woman even though one out of three drug users is a woman.
  • Women who use drugs are often seen as unfit parents and risk losing custody of their children and pregnant women who use drugs in some cases are faced with civil or criminal detention.
  • Women who use drugs also face a higher rate of contracting HIV and are at a higher risk of experiencing violence including sexual violence.

Therefore, as stated by His Excellency President Enrique Peña Nieto yesterday, “for drug-related offenses, proportional sentences and alternatives to imprisonment, that also incorporate a gender perspective, must be prioritized. Disproportionate punishment—which leave women and children in vulnerable situations—far from resolving the problem, generate vicious cycles of marginalization and criminality. Moreover, we must provide treatment, education, rehabilitation and social reintegration services for prison populations.”

We need to build on and strengthen the knowledge base to support targeted policymaking. Indeed, given these observed differences, there is an urgent need to improve our understanding of the impact of drug policies, including of criminal law, on women and their families, and of the needs of women who use drugs. This is necessary to ensure that such policies do not perpetuate discrimination against women or disproportionately affect women.

Such knowledge is required in regards to all facets of drug policy, including in regards to demand and supply reduction and related measures. The criminal justice response must take into account gender-based differences. Alternative development efforts need to be fine-tuned so that women can benefit equally.

We advocate that gender-specific knowledge, including data disaggregated by sex, research and evidence on women’s socioeconomic context should be the basis for targeted policy responses.

For example, drug-related sentencing should consider the level of women’s involvement in crimes and alternatives to sentencing should be considered. Responses should aim at promoting the health and well-being of women and their families. National legal systems and policy frameworks should support prevention, remove barriers to women’s full and equal access to drug treatment and prevention services, and ensure women’s enjoyment of their human rights.

In order to achieve gender-responsive policies and programmes, strengthen the knowledge base and to reform legal systems, women’s leadership and participation is crucial. All responses to drug problems must include women’s leadership and full and effective participation in prevention, harm reduction and all other responses and interventions. This should include greater representation of women in justice systems, including in law enforcement.

Further, national gender equality mechanisms should work closely with relevant national mechanisms tasked with drug control and prevention to help shape policies that contribute to the realization of gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls and women’s human rights. Civil society, including women’s organizations, should be an integral part of such efforts.

In closing, I wish to acknowledge Mexico’s leadership in the General Assembly, through the resolution on international cooperation against the world drug problem, as an important tool for national action. In particular, UN Women welcomes that the resolution clearly draws attention to gender equality perspectives and women’s contribution to solving the problem.

UN Women will continue to engage in the UN Task Force on Transnational Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking as Threats to Security and Stability to help strengthen a gender-responsive approach to world drug policy.

Thank you.