Community report by Dean Camerilli
Users: Our Voices, Our Lives, Our Health
Dasha Ocheret, Lithuania
Ruth Birgin, Australia
session consisted of five presenters, from different parts of the world, who
have had experience with using drugs. The resounding message was that there are
profound problems with many harm reduction and HIV-related services for women
that use drugs, and further that women who use drugs are also heavily affected
by drug policies in a way different from men. If we are going to address some
of these shortfalls we need to hear and magnify the voices of women who use
Sex work and drug use
E. Kokkini, Greece
Kokkini talked about a situation in Greece in which sex workers and suspected
sex workers were abducted in the middle of the night and on the street by the
police and then taken to a camp used to process illegal immigrants. There, they
were all forced to have an HIV test and the women who tested positive were photographed
and their images handed over to the local press. TV news reported the program
as successful in removing these women from the streets who, they outrageously
claimed, were putting society at risk. There was an overwhelming feeling that
the general public where happy with what the Ministry of Health had done.
then criminalised, and the women were jailed solely because they were HIV
positive. This was one of the worse examples of criminalisation and
violence relating to HIV seen to date. Human rights activists lobbied and
eventually the women were released. They received compensation for what
happened, as well as an official apology from the Police.
Violence against women who use
United Republic of Tanzania
Masanja spoke the situation facing women using drugs face in Tanzania. The
law currently prohibits discrimination based on gender but it is not effective
because the judicial system takes into account customary and Islamic
number of complaints has drastically escalated in recent years, but there are
still no laws which punish domestic violence. Many women are reported to be
killed by their husbands or commit suicide after repeated violence. Many women
have simply accepted that violence is a part of married life for women in
the region need better information to know how to challenge this behaviour, and
need the support of the global community for their basic human rights.
Sexual and reproductive health
Enity Pakma, from India, talked about drug use with a focus on alcohol, heroin
and cannabis. Most commonly identified health problems were primarily related
to the women’s drug and alcohol use, reproductive health and mental health.
Other notes of concern mentioned include social exclusion, violence, children’s
welfare, and financial difficulties. She indicated a strong need for women-only
integrated health services, women-only detoxification and rehabilitation
services, mental health services, sensitisation of mainstream health workers,
free access to medicines, assistance meeting basic needs, and a safe place to
engage in sex work.
Opioid substitution therapy for
E. Bulan, Indonesia
Bulan is a member of PKNI Indonesian drug user network is and is actively
involved in research with women who use drugs.
has been available since 2003 in Indonesia: at the clinic that Erni accesses
there are a total 70 clients, however only 8 are women. She discussed how women’s
families must provide a “guarantee” prior to being able to access methadone treatment.
High on their list of needs were employment
opportunities and help with looking after their children; and these are just a
few of the barriers mentioned that stop women from being able to access the
services they need.
Track D report by Le Minh Giang
Issues faced by women who use drugs
are often invisible or neglected in HIV/AIDS research and program agenda. The
session brought together a number of women from different countries (Greece,
India, Indonesia, Tanzania and Australia) to speak powerfully about experiences
of their own or their communities as well as about their work in advocating for
and supporting other women who use drugs. Their testimony provided painful accounts
of marginalization, multiple layers of stigma and discrimination, human rights violations.
However, more importantly, we also learned about their courage and
determination to overcome hardship and challenges. One woman in Indonesia got elected to become a
member of the National Assembly, and her story was an inspiring example that
begs question of what is considered as “success” in the fight against HIV. In
addition to neat statistics and facts provided by scientists throughout the
conference, the narratives of the women, sometimes messy, are what would be
driving the fight against the epidemic forwards. The efforts by INPUD
(International Network of People Who Use Drug) and INWUD (International Network
of Women Who Use Drug) to bring to the fore both the challenges and the
commitment of women drug users themselves are invaluable in the fight against
not only the HIV epidemic but also against injustice and inequality. Discussion
highlight further the need to collect systematic data about women who use drugs
and the social, legal and health issues that they face.