UNODC is cosponsor of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS - UNAIDS
Drug use among women is an emerging concern in South Asia. The impact of drugs on women as caregivers carrying the burden of the drug use of their male family members is sizeable and cannot be underestimated.
South Asia is a region where women have traditionally been vulnerable. It is true that all SAARC countries have ratified the UN Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the key international human rights instrument on women's status. Moreover, the CEDAW recognizes women's right to equal opportunities and life chances in the family, the community, and within all countries that belong to the international community. Nonetheless, in the context of drug abuse, women face challenges related to blame, stigma and discrimination to a much larger degree than their male counterparts. As a result, the burden that women carry is significant and includes economic, emotional difficulties, neglect of children, loss of security, compromised dignity, violence and crime, and health risks - including HIV.
The trajectory of HIV infections in South Asia clearly demonstrates that
gender inequality is powerfully linked to the epidemic. Feminized poverty and discrimination against women and girls intersect with issues of forced migration and trafficking, thereby contributing to increased risks to HIV. In addition, there is the large unrecognized burden of care that women shoulder in providing support to family members, at high cost to themselves. Recent data on the spread of HIV points to clear evidence of how the epidemic has spread beyond the high-risk groups and is now affecting younger women and adolescent girls within the households. The proportion of women living with HIV/AIDS has risen steadily in recent years. Today in India, approximately 38.4 per cent of the 5.1 million adults
(IMPORTANT: footnote on revision of estimates in July 2007) living with HIV/AIDS are women. Of these 57 per cent were of rural background. According to the UNODC/Government of India household survey on the extent, pattern and trends of drug abuse in India, there is a serious risk of transmission of HIV and other blood-borne viruses to partners of infected drug users, and of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
UNODC's philosophy on women is based on respect, inclusion and equal opportunity. Overall, UNODC's programmes are focused on providing support to vulnerable populations. In South Asia, this focuses heavily on women and girls who may also be themselves (injecting) drug users or spouses of (injecting) drug users, victims of human trafficking, and women in difficult settings such as prisons.