International Women’s Day | Economic Empowerment & Accessing AOD Services

In News by AIVL

The theme of ‘Inspiring Inclusion’ on International Women’s Day 2024 is an interesting idea. As people who use drugs (PWUD), especially illicit drugs, we also talk about inclusion, and we have been for a long time. And equity. And parity. What we usually get, when the media talks about us, when politicians talk about us, even when some of our allies talk about us, is ideas like ‘They need support so they can stop using drugs so they can reintegrate back into society and contribute to the community again. Women who use drugs are particularly demonised and judged. Women who use drugs who have children, oh my goodness, that’s when the claws really come out. 

We already know women are thought about in terms of their family relationships, the wife, the mother, the woman who does the women’s work. Women tend to be employed in more casual and part time work than men, in jobs that are considered worth less and are then paid less. Women are also usually the main caregivers for young children, older people, and members of the family who have disabilities or need extra care.  

Add to this the stigma and discrimination women who use drugs experience and you see a completely different picture.  

Challenges Faced by Women Who Use Drugs 

  • Limited Access to Services: Women who use drugs have no or little access to women only harm reduction or alcohol and other drug treatment services. This is because there are very few in the poorly resourced Australian sector.  
  • Employment Constraints: Women who use drugs are less likely to have jobs that provide flexibility for accessing harm reduction or alcohol and other drug treatment services.  
  • Parental Stigma: Women who use drugs that are pregnant or have children are reported to child protection services when they seek support, even if they are following the recommendations. They are more likely to lose access to their children for using drugs without evidence of child abuse. 
  • Primary Caregivers: Women who use drugs who are primary caregivers are less able to take extended breaks from work and caring duties to attend detox and rehabilitation services. 

Consequences of Systemic Barriers: 

  • Women who use drugs may feel they have to manage their lives, and their drug use alone. 
  • Women who use drugs may be vulnerable to harms associated with drug use such as overdose.  
  • Women who use drugs may be vulnerable to harms associated with being a woman such as violence, lower pay, unsafe housing, unstable work, and a lot of other things they don’t want, didn’t ask for and don’t deserve.  

Until we overcome these kinds of barriers, we won’t have women accessing treatment services or achieving anything like economic parity for women who use drugs.  

Until we truly achieve equity for women and overcome stigma and discrimination towards people who use drugs, the intersectionality of being a woman who uses drugs will continue to have worse outcomes for all of us. 

A Call to Action:  

Let’s not just talk about inspiring inclusion on this International Women’s Day. Let’s actively work towards it. It’s time to recognise the unique struggles faced by women who use drugs. Dismantle the barriers, and pave the way for a future where equity, respect, and support are extended to all, regardless of their journey. 

Article written by AIVL Director of Advocacy, Ele Morrison.