Gendering the Scene: Women, Gender-Diverse People, and Harm Reduction in Canada – Full report

At writing, Canada is facing an unprecedented overdose crisis that is killing at alarming rates. Canada’s ongoing fixation on criminal prohibition as the primary approach to addressing drug use has led to a situation in which people who use drugs continue to face criminalization, political and social hostility, and limited access to harm reduction and health services. Punitive laws not only infringe upon their human rights, but also hamper their access to and limit the expansion of harm reduction and other health services.

In particular, women and gender-diverse people who use drugs are tragically excluded from conversations about people who use drugs. Despite the fact that there are marked differences among men, women, and gender-diverse people in terms of their drug use and how laws and policies affect their drug use, less attention is paid to their access to health services, including the need for gender-competent, culturally safe, and trauma-informed care and harm reduction services. This is especially the case in relation to gender-diverse people who use drugs, for whom there is a troubling lack of data — a shortcoming with implications for their access to health services. As researchers have noted, women — especially marginalized women — are differentially affected by drug-related risks and harms in comparison to men who use drugs.

This report highlights the state of harm reduction services in Canada in the context of gender and reviews the impacts on women and gender-diverse people that have been largely ignored until now.