Drug Policy and the Fundamental Human Rights of Women who Use Drugs: Briefing paper to CEDAW

Across the world, women who use drugs endure intersecting forms of discrimination related to gender, drug use, HIV status, mental health conditions, and other factors. They are denied basic rights to equality and non-discrimination, life, the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, family, information, privacy, and freedom from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

While these fundamental rights are espoused in different international treaties, scant attention has been paid to the millions of women who use drugs worldwide, who suffer from criminalization, stigmatization, and marginalization by political, legal, and medical actors, as well as by society as a whole. This situation is particularly egregious in the Russian Federation, whose drug policy is highly punitive, as will be discussed in this report.

Through an in-depth analysis of the relevant human rights standards and interpretations of those standards, this report aims to assist advocates and stakeholders in the human rights system in addressing the multiple human rights violations of women who use drugs. Specifically, it examines the intersectional discrimination suffered by women who use drugs; the need for a public health, rather than a punitive, approach to drug policy; the link between drug dependence and mental health conditions; and the importance of a gender sensitive response to drug dependence that accounts for reproductive health, pregnancy, and relations with children.

For more information on the CEDAW Committee’s Russia and Kyrgyzstan concluding observations, please see here: