UN Human Rights Council 42: Women & Addictions

SI UN Representative in Geneva, Berthe De Vos, attends the United Nations Human Rights Council 42: ‘Women and Addiction’ panel discussion, and considers the issues surrounding women and addiction and the provision of their human rights.

“This debate was in collaboration with Dianova International, an NGO engaged in addiction treatment and prevention, community development, and assistance to vulnerable people facing hardship.

Addiction to alcohol, cocaine, narcotic drugs, opioids and other addictive behaviours remains a serious worldwide problem. One with significant gender differences when it comes to its origin, its consequences and its treatment. Recent studies have indicated that addiction in women is on the rise. Despite the drivers and behaviours associated with addictive substances differing vastly between men and women, most research, to date, has been observed from a male dominated perspective.

Studies show that women who have experienced trauma or violence, are much more likely to develop addiction problems. Moreover, women tend to develop into addiction much quicker than men. Dr Lori Post, one of the speakers, explained that their study had shown that the pharma industry (prescription drugs via GP) and internet (easy access to medication) need to take responsibility for their part in increasing women’s addiction. Their impact on addiction has been shown to be more powerful than that of street drugs. Moreover, women face more addiction related stigma than men. This stigma, coupled with social barriers such lack of childcare, pregnancy, or legal fears causes women to be less likely than men to seek treatment.

Another speaker, Ms. Jennifer Hasselgard-Rowe, emphasised that when looking at addiction, we need to focus on the most neglected women in society: those in jails and prisons, particularly as that number is increasing. Women are serving more (and longer) sentences for drug offences than men. But the jails are not designed to meet their different needs and treatments. This neglect has a serious impact on these women while imprisoned, and when they rejoin the free world again. Because of the neglect of specialised treatment during their time in prison, the cycle does not break, and probation violation is the most likely outcome of the unaddressed addiction. Followed by more severe crimes and sentencing. In essence, they lack the right to effective help and become victims of the system and their addiction. A vicious circle!

Women experiencing addiction are too often subordinated and deprived of their human rights. Much more data mapping is needed to make the public aware of this neglect and to push governments to adapt prisons and jails to the necessary needs of the addicted women. So that no one experiences the feeling of uncontrollable helplessness and unimaginable hope.”

Panel discussion held September 18,2019, moderated by Ms. Lois Herman, Managing Director WUNRN, Women’s UN Report Network.

The following speakers were present:

  • Federica Bertacchini, International Projects Coordinator, Dianova International;
  • Jennifer Hasselgard-Rowe, Executive Coordinator, Geneva Platform on HR, Health & Psychoactive Substances;
  • Lori A. Post, Northwestern University Medical School – Researcher on Addictions.

Remark: small audience of 10 people.

Click here for more information on this event.

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