Every 8 March, the world conmemorates the International Women's Day, following a UN General Assembly resolution in 1977. In honour of all the women who are struggling every day for for their rights, freedoms, livelihoods and security, UNODC contributes a story on women drug users in Nepal who reach out to their communities to prevent drug use and HIV.

Nepal: The lesser known heroes

Women reach out in the community to deal with drug use, HIV and AIDS

Dristi Nepal is a non-governmental organization that manages a drop-in centre (DIC) in Kathmandu. The centre provides services exclusively to women drug users. Since December 2008, Dristi has reached out to 150 female clients, of which 60 percent seek follow-up care. The remaining 40 percent are known as "transit clients", which means that they visit Kathmandu for treatment and then return to their hometowns.

The room on the first floor of the DIC is full of young and middle-aged women dressed in bright colours. They are not just drug users who regularly visit the drop-in centre for follow-up care and treatment: they have a more promising role to play- that of an outreach worker.

Parina Subba, programme director of the organization says, "an emerging problem is that the women visiting the centre, had developed an unhealthy dependence on the clinic. They would visit everyday and expect to be provided with food, shelter, child care and legal support. We needed to address this issue.  Since we work with outreach-based intervention programmes, we decided to engage them in this work. Today, we have 30 skilled women who work as outreach workers and have been nicknamed 'the lesser known heroes' of the community!"

The effectiveness of outreach interventions depends largely on the skills of the workers and the appropriateness of the services provided. The organization ensures that every woman they train as an outreach worker understands her responsibility and the comprehensiveness of the services provided.

The role of these women is to reach out to drug users especially female drug users rather than waiting for them to visit their drop-in centre, which is a more traditional approach. Often, women tend to avoid institutional treatment centres for fear of being stigmatised and prosecuted and may not approach the centre at all. Women drug users are more vulnerable to HIV infection since many of them are involved in sex work and drug use. They often report sexual violence and are forced into unprotected sex. One of the senior outreach workers says, "our aim is to contact female drug users in the communities where they live, socialize, use drugs and educate them on issues related to drug use, HIV and AIDS. We also share information on the means to reduce the risks of acquiring HIV infection through sharing of injecting equipment and sexual contact." Another woman adds, "central to our work are referrals to other services that provide drug dependence treatment, including oral substitution treatment, collection of used syringes, abscess management and HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis C testing."

It is difficult to imagine that, once, most of these women did not dare venture out of their rooms for fear of discrimination. Today, these women walk proudly through the city, visit every bar and slum to carry out their work.

Outreach workers and clients outside the drop-in centre in Kathmandu, Nepal

This initiative is supported by the UNODC project "HIV prevention treatment and care for female drug users, female prisoners and women living with HIV and AIDS in Nepal". This was made possible thanks to the contribution of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.