International Women’s Day: How the drug war affects women.

The drug war is wrong for many reasons, but as today is International Woman’s Day we have decided to dedicate this post to the drug war and the consequences it creates for women.  International Woman’s Day is about addressing the inequalities that women have to face around the world.  Though much has been done to transform women’s lives, the struggle to free women from patriarchy is far from over; as such, it is important that we do not forget that this issue is still unresolved to this day.

Re:Vision supports International Women’s Day

I’d like to talk first about the discrimination women face from the male dominated, often violent (and therefore paranoid) world of the black market drug trade from a personal perspective.  I have found that women are often turned away or simply have no way to safely introduce themselves to the black market traders. I grew up in South London and went to a comprehensive school  awash with cannabis.  During my time there I was introduced to the drug and decided that I quite liked it.  The only problem was that the only way to get hold of it was through hanging out with the ‘bad boys’ of the school.  I managed to gain their trust through a close male friend who would act as mediator between me and them; it was impossible for me to get hold of things without his presence as I simply wouldn’t have known who to ask and would have been treated with far less respect.  On one occasion, I was told by my male smoking friend that one of the guys I had met, though not spoken a word to, had wanted me to perform oral sex on him and had asked my friend if I would. I feel grateful that I had that male friend there as a mediator as I believe the ‘bad boys’ might not have been so discreet about their desires had he not been there to chaperone.  Nothing about the described situation is good.  Why was I smoking while at school age?  Why were only boys attracted to selling and smoking the herb?  Why was it so easy for them to get hold of it in the first place?  Cannabis is available all over the UK. Many of my male friends who do not smoke often claim it is incredibly easy for them to get hold of a dealer, for me and my female friends it was a different story.  This is just one personal and relatively minor reason the drug war is sexist.

There are many women who have faced far worse problems as a result of this unjust war.  In America women are being put in jail for what is termed “depraved-heart murder”.  Several women have been given life after their babies died before or shortly after birth, the reason?  The mothers are accused of taking drugs, such as cocaine, during pregnancy and had therefore perceived to have murdered their own child.  This is a disgraceful attack on women’s rights and bodies which has no foundation in science.   Women should always be viewed as sovereign over their own bodies.  This means that her own personal autonomy should not be subordinate to the perceived needs of any fetus inside of her.  If the state deems her a ‘bad mother’ then she should be given state support to help her become a better one, however, she does not exist to be a ‘womb-on-legs’ who’s worth to society is measured by the fitness of her offspring.  Furthermore, by being criminalised, pregnant drug users will become alienated and unable to seek help for their addictions; Many women would fear that if they sought support, should their baby die they would be held responsible and find themselves in prison for life.

A human being or a womb on legs?

Another way in which the drug war drastically affect women is in the case of drug mules.  A high percentage of foreign women in UK jails are drug mules – that is people used to transport drugs between borders illegally.  They often come from poor countries and areas involved with the production side of drugs, such as South Africa, Jamaica and Brazil.  Many of these women are coerced into their roles or have dependants who they are struggling to provide for.  It is hard for women in third world countries, who are less likely to have access to a good eduction and more likely to face constant sexism in the job market, to earn enough to provide for their family; especially if they don’t have a male to support them.  These exploited women often face worse charges than those convicted of grievous bodily harm, with the average charge being 30 months longer than GBH sentences according to the report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).  The long stretch of, on average, 84 months leads to alienation from their families who are left behind to struggle without them.  It could be said that this is due to the international nature of the drug war, which seeks to make drug sentencing laws consistent across the world.  Whatever the reason, it is hard to understand why these women are being treated worse than rapists who tend to get on average 79.7 months according to this report.

Recently the United Kingdom’s sentencing council has published new guidelines regarding drug mules, which take into account mitigating circumstances such as coercion and addiction. On deeper inspection of the new guidelines, we can see that the circumstances of the women involved in this black market are consistently ignored in favour of assessing the class, purity and quantity of the drug, as well as how much of a role they have to play in the trade, as a way of estimating sentences.  As ever she is a very bad girl if she moves heroin or a not so bad girl if she moves cannabis; May God help her if she seems to have any involvement in the business other than being a reluctant or unwitting drug mule.  It is a sad fact that the drug war has opened up yet another avenue through which women are being exploited by violent and powerful men.  If we end the drug war and put sensible rational policy in place to close this black market they are profiting from, then women will stop getting caught in this trap we have made for them.

Is imprisoning victims a harm reduction measure?

The darkest side of the drug war, however, has to be its links with the human trafficking industry, which mainly targets women and children who are sold into labour or sexual slavery.  Drug cartels and human traffickers are usually the same people.  The drug cartels take advantage of an impoverished production country – Mexico is a good example – and ship the money and people to richer nations where they can sell them for high profits.  The drug war helps to keep these third world countries in poverty by denying them the chance to create a legal drug industry and creating a black market which empowers men to exploit women and children through lack of regulation.  A regulated industry would supply people with jobs and help the economy through tax revenue, allowing these production countries to regain their dignity.  Impoverished struggling women are given hope that they might find good jobs abroad, only to find themselves at the feet of paying customers whose leaders apparently started this drug war to help them and everyone else.  What is really going on here?  Where is the dignity in this situation?  Human trafficking is a big operation motivated by incredible profit margins and I won’t pretend that ending the drug war will end human trafficking, however, I will say that the drug war has led to this industry’s phenomenal success and continues to supplement it.  Lets stop it now.

At Re:Vision we see any discrimination as a vile act.  All the above are just a few examples of the discrimination women face in this unsuccessful, unjust drug war.  By no means is it only women who are affected by the drug war, but we bear the consequences of many of its failings.  You do not need to be a supporter of drug use to see the discrimination of the drug war and support the push for drug law reform. If you agree with us, or even if you’re still utterly unconvinced, check out our website at