With this story, UNODC contributes stories on the life of women suffering different forms of violence in commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, 25 November 2009

India: The burden of drugs on women

In almost all parts of the world, women at some point have been subjugated, exploited and faced social inequalities. When they work outside the household, they earn, on average, far less than men. They are more likely to work in precarious forms of employment with low earnings, little financial security and few or no social benefits. Women produce 75 to 90 percent of food crops in the world, and at the same time are responsible for the running of households. According to United Nations estimates, in no country in the world do men come anywhere close to women in the amount of time spent in housework. The Decade of Women became "Women do two-thirds of the world's work, receive 10 percent of the world's income and own 1 percent of the means of production." A woman's situation worsens if she is a drug user or HIV positive as she does not only suffer physically, but also socially due to stigma and discrimination. Drugs and alcohol can affect women also dually: as drug users and being partners of drug users.

In 2008, UNODC in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, commissioned a study titled 'Women and Drug Use in India: Substance, Women and High-Risk Assessment Study, 2008' to explore the specific patterns and conditions relating to drug use and women. The study explores the socio-economic conditions, social patterns and consequences of drug use on the health and wellbeing of women in India. It also focuses on the impact on reproductive health, sexually transmitted infections and HIV.

The findings of the study are telling:                                            

Drug use

• 78 percent of the women use tobacco and alcohol
• Nearly 75 percent of women drug users are heroin users
• 80 percent of the women drug users have not received any treatment for substance use
• Approximately, 75 percent suffer from psychiatric illness and nearly 40 percent of them have attempted to end their life


• While a majority of women in both groups have heard of HIV and AIDS, their knowledge of how it is transmitted and ways of reducing this risk is poor
• A majority of women are unaware of their own risk to HIV when engaging in drug use, unsafe injecting and risky sexual behaviour
• Only one in three women has ever been tested for HIV. Women are hesitant to share their HIV status because of discrimination. Nearly 30 percent of women are unaware whether their partner has been tested for HIV
• More than 40 percent had to seek permission from their partner to consult a doctor

With these findings, the study points to a clear need that much more needs to be done for women who are drug users or partners of drug users. What is essentially required is the development and implementation of comprehensive assessment and treatment programmes, that specifically focus on women as partners as well as users.

UNODC works for gender-sensitive laws and policies that reduce discrimination with respect to substance use, HIV and AIDS.

The study has been possible thanks to the contributions of DFID and UNAIDS.