To date, there is extensive evidence of the differences between women and men regarding substance use. Epidemiological studies show that even though women are less likely to initiate drug use than men, they start earlier and are more susceptible to develop an addiction. Women are also more vulnerable to drug-related pathologies, such as liver and cardiovascular diseases, and are more exposed to sexual and physical abuse and violence and to sexually transmitted diseases. At the same time studies of gender differences in drug treatment show that reasons why women and men seek help are often dissimilar, and that psychological, biological and social gender differences are important factors for the success of diverse types of treatment and for retention into treatment.
Most strategies for drug prevention and recovery in the world are, however, tailored to men, with the result that they have little or no impact on women. In many countries, especially in developing countries, women who use drugs are facing cultural, social and religious barriers and stigma that hinder them from accessing the existing health and social services, even more so as regard the services dedicated to treatment and recovery from substance use disorders.
In 2010 UNICRI initiated the project “DAWN – Drugs, Alcohol and Woman Network”, supported by the Department for Drug Policy of the Presidency of the Council of the Ministers of the Government of Italy, to address gender differences in drug use and addiction, and to promote gender-responsive drug policies in drug prevention and recovery.
The aim of the project has been to establish a network of experts on gender differences in substance use and addiction recovery, who can advocate and assist in the development and implementation of evidence-based interventions, policies and best practices which are tailored to the particular needs of women.
The project is enshrined within the UN Sustainable Development Agenda, with regard to access to justice and social development, access to health and promotion of women’s rights and empowerment in their social, cultural and religious position in society.
The project is also carried out within the 2012 Resolution, Promoting strategies and measures addressing specific needs of women in the context of complete and integrated drug demand reduction programmes and strategies approved during the 55th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). The resolution calls on Member States "to consider incorporating female-oriented programmes in their drug policies and strategies" and encouraged "to integrate essential female-specific services in the overall design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes addressing drug abuse and dependence"
Through this Resolution, UNICRI received a specific mandate to continue in assisting and supporting Member States in developing and adapting measures and strategies, at the national, regional and international levels, addressing the specific needs of women as an essential element of more effective, just and human rights-based policies.
In this framework, the project has supported collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), to establish guidelines on the prevention, treatment and recovery from substance use tailored for women and girls.
To download the UNODC Guidelines on Drug Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation for Girls and Women click here:
The DAWN project also works as a Think Tank, to gather the most advanced research findings and scientific evidences from the international expert community and to stimulate scientific debate and knowledge diffusion on the most effective approaches to gender-responsive drug use prevention and recovery strategies. Innovative approaches are diffused through participation in conference and meetings and through advocacy activities to facilitate gender mainstreaming in policy and operational agendas. To this end, the project published in 2013 a good practice manual “Promoting a gender responsive approach to addiction”, which provides practical examples of gender mainstreaming in addiction services, as well analyses the most relevant factors influencing the development of addiction in women and girls. Protective and resilience factors, as well as the association with violence and trauma and the specific characteristic of female recovery processes are some of the issues presented in the book.
To download the DAWN book "Promoting a gender responsive approach to addiction" click here
Over the years, the project has organized networking conferences, advocacy events and training opportunities to assist professionals and policy makers in mainstreaming gender considerations in their working agenda.
As with other gender related health aspects, the recognition that female substance use has different roots than male substance use should serve to redirect working practices towards the goal of ensuring that women and men receive information, assistance and care tailored to their needs. In this process of recognition and redirection, the consideration of female addiction could be reframed within a more coherent policy incorporating social and health determinants. To this regard, project DAWN promotes discussion on the concepts of Accessibility, Affordability and Acceptability of health and social services and their alignment with women’s needs. Policy coherence across different areas would facilitate the effective use of resources, in order to close the gaps in treatment, overcome barriers to equitable care and build clinical capacity in creating a female focused research agenda.
Related documents and links: