Archive for the ‘women’ Category

This is an article by a journalist we know called Amie Ferris-Rotman, who recently covered our World AIDS Day 2011 protest at Russian Embassies around the world. It is a story you rarely hear, about women who use heroin/opium in Afghanistan. Shunned by society and often beaten if discovered, these women have got a lot to hide. It is hard enough being a dependent heroin user in any city in the world but to be a woman in Afghanistan, trying to support a habit with children, hiding it from everyone you know, not allowed out on your own -let alone allowed out to score -it must be unimaginably difficult. Heroin is always a bit of relief in any situation where things look really hopeless, so it is no wonder it catches on in a country where there have been 3 generations of war. Detering hunger, giving one a sense of purpose, permitting on to put things off til tomorrow, what they just couldnt possibly do today anyway, heroin is the perfect drug, post war. There are  no numbers to detect just how many women are addicted to opiates in Afghanistan, and sadly we also know the rise of pharmaceuticals on the black market has risen exponentially since the most recent war, with thousands of people buying blackmarket antidepressants, sleeping pills etc, to try and stave off nightmares, PTSD, depression and trauma. Medecin Du Monde do an amazing job as an NGO providing the only methadone clinic available in Kabul, in the whole of Afghanistan. Government officials seem loathe to roll it out further claiming fears of another opiate appearing on the street. Thanks to Amie for writing this up. The website where it appeared is also really interesting; TRUST.ORG is a gateway website to the services of Thompson Reuters Foundation, dedicated to empowering people in need with trusted information.  This story appeared under the TRUSTLAW.ORG section, which is a global hub of free legal assistance, news and info on good governance and womens rights. Amie’s article appears on the website here.
A drug addict waits for her turn to see doctors at the Nejat drug rehabilitation centre, REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

By Amie Ferris-Rotman

KABUL, April 1 (Reuters) – Anita lifted the sky-blue burqa from her face, revealing glazed eyes and cracked lips from years of smoking opium, and touched her saggy belly, still round from giving birth to her seventh child a month ago.

“I can’t give breast milk to my baby,” said the 32-year-old Anita, who like other women interviewed for this story, declined to give her full name. “I’m scared he’ll get addicted

She was huddled with other women at the U.N.-funded Nejat drug rehabilitation center in the old quarter of Kabul, having sneaked out of her home to avoid being stopped by her husband from going outside alone.

With little funding and no access to substitution drugs such as methadone, treatment is rudimentary at Nejat for a problem that is growing in a dirt-poor country riven by conflicts for more than three decades.

Afghanistan is the source for more than 90 percent of the world’s opium, which is used to make heroin, and more of it is being grown than ever before.

While it is not uncommon to see men shooting up along the banks of the dried of up Kabul riverbed in broad daylight, women in the ultra-conservative culture of Muslim Afghanistan are expected to stay out of public view for the most part. They often have to seek permission from a male relative or husband to leave their home, and when they do they are encased in the head-to-toe burqa.

“I am not allowed to leave home for medical checks. What can I do? I am a woman,” Anita said matter of factly.

Like many of Afghanistan’s female drug users, Anita picked up the habit from her husband.

Like other women interviewed for this story, Anita asked that only her first name be used. Shrouded in stigma, female drug users is a topic that is almost never mentioned in Afghanistan.

They agreed to tell their stories to a reporter only through an intermediary they trusted.


Opium poppy cultivation in a country that has been growing the plant for a thousand years increased 7 percent in 2011 from the year before, due to a spike in prices and worsening security, according to a survey sponsored by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

In 2011, the farm-gate value of opium production more than doubled from 2010 to $1.4 billion and now accounts for 15 percent of the Afghan economy, the UNODC says.

Opiate consumption in Afghanistan, where it has long been a medication but in recent years has been used increasingly for recreation, is also on a sharp rise. The UNODC says Afghanistan has around one million heroin and opium addicts out of a population of 30 million, making it the world’s top user per capita.

No estimates are available on how many women are addicted to opium or heroin. Nejat estimates around 60,000 women in Afghanistan regularly take illegal drugs, including hashish and marijuana.

“There has been a definite increase amongst women drug users over the last decade,” said Arman Raoufi, director of harm reduction for women at Nejat.

Smoking opium costs around 200 Afghanis a day ($4), a very expensive habit in a country where a third live beneath the poverty line. Women send their children to collect scrap and bottles to help pay for their habit, or resort to begging, extending a hand to cars from beneath their burqa on busy streets when their husbands have left home.

“My husband took on a second wife and began to ignore me, so I started to smoke his powder (opium) and now must beg,” said Fauzia, 30, a petite mother of five sitting in the corner of Nejat, her embroidered floral slippers poking out from under her baggy trousers. She said she was terrified that her husband and male relatives might discover she was seeking treatment on her own at the center.

Treatment options are sorely limited. A pilot project launched two years ago by Medecins du Monde, which gives methadone to drug addicts, is the only one in the country.

The National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) wants to roll it out across the country, but the Ministry of Counter-narcotics has objected, saying it would introduce yet another narcotic onto the black market.


With her five-year-old son tugging on her unwashed burqa, 30-year-old Najia said she has smoked opium for nine years.

“It is so hard for me. I have kids. I’m poor. I’m not able to work — my husband won’t allow me,” said the raven-haired mother of four.

Najia said she picked up the habit from her husband after he returned from his job as a labourer in neighbouring Iran.

Raoufi at the Nejat center says the return of migrant workers and refugees, who fled to Iran and Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, and the bloody civil war and Taliban rule that followed, is the main reason behind the rise in female drug addicts.

Increased street prostitution since the fall of the Taliban, which policed the trade more rigorously than the government does today, has also contributed, he said.

Iran has the second highest heroin abuse rate in the world after Afghanistan, according to UNODC. Afghan addicts among the 1 million refugees in Iran have become such an issue Tehran has started to expel them.

“Our relatively open borders are not doing us any favours,” said Feda Mohammad Paikan, who heads the NACP working under the Afghan Ministry of Public Health. “Most addicts get hooked in Iran, and many of these men have wives.”


Afghanistan’s female narcotics problem is now filling the country’s largest women’s prison, Badam Bagh or “Almond Orchard”, on the outskirts of Kabul.

Of its 164 inmates, 64 are opium and heroin users, double what it was when the clinic started in 2008, said clinic doctor, Hanifa Amiri.

“There are simply more drugs out there available to women now,” she said, waving a medical-gloved hand over a prison courtyard, where burqa-clad female relatives were bringing gifts of pomegranates and flat naan bread for the inmates.

With cropped black hair, a leather jacket and a henna tattoo of a scorpion on her hand, inmate Madina looks nothing like an ordinary Afghan woman.

One of seven injecting heroin users in Badam Bagh, she lives with her teenage son and daughter in prison, where she has been for seven years since she killed her husband.

She said she murdered him after he forbade her from prostituting herself to support her habit, said Madina, the only inmate at the prison who agreed to speak to Reuters.

“I would love to give it all up, but how am I meant to, as a woman?” the 37-year-old mother of two said as she scratched at the scabs on her arm, dark red from recent use.

She supports her habit by selling handmade sexual aid tools — stuffing compacted wool into condoms — to other inmates, several of whom have developed lesbian relationships.

HIV and AIDS is becoming a more serious issue, largely spurred by injecting drug use, and could reach the general population if not tackled properly.

A new strategy being rolled out by the health ministry to target more women in counseling and HIV testing is being met by opposition from the strong conservative forces in Afghan society.

“HIV and drug use are viewed as evil in Muslim society, and even more so for women,” said specialist Mohammad Hahn Heddait, who works at the infectious diseases hospital under the ministry of health. (Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Michael Georgy and Bill Tarrant)


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This is an excerpt from a fellow bloggar, Harriet Thacker, a freelance Journo from Brighton. Her blog is generally on “a little bit of feminism and a little bit of other stuff” and today she has written up about a festival which seems to be growing year on year (look out for it next year) at the Southbank. Although admittedly I found out about this too late (I will certainly look out for it next year) I found Harriets article so interesting -on the issues about how the current funding cuts are hitting women hardest, and how it is more important than ever that the hard fought for gains women have made over the years are not savaged by the patriarchal ideology and reforms of the current coalition government.

Harriet says…

“Is it any surprise that these cuts have gone through so smoothly with only 21 of the 119 government ministers being women? Of the 113,000 local government workers who faced redundancy 73% were women; 77% of NHS workers set to lose their jobs are women and of the 710,000 public employees cut 65% were women. Not only are there the staggering job losses that have led to female unemployment being at a 25-year high, but women now also face cuts to legal aid.”

International Women’s Day was celebrated across the country this week, but as female unemployment in the UK reaches a 25-year high solidarity amongst women is more important than ever.

International Women’s Day has been recognised for over a hundred years and was proposed to honour women’s advancement while also serving as a reminder of the continued vigilance and action required to gain and maintain women’s equality.

Women in the UK are now facing the fact that for the first time in living memory their freedoms are in reverse. With cuts to child benefit, legal aid and job losses in the public sector women are losing out in a huge way.

In London this weekend the Southbank Centre is hosting the Women of the World Festival 2012. Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of Southbank Centre, said: “’Throughout history, many women’s achievements have gone unnoticed or unsung. I created WOW – Women of the World Festival to celebrate the formidable power of women to make change happen, to remind us of our history, to draw attention to injustice, to enjoy each other’s company and to encourage men to add their support as we set out to achieve a fairer world. I was overwhelmed by the positive response to WOW in 2011 and am excited to build on this success with another great festival at Southbank Centre in 2012.” (For more of the festival see Harriets blog, it sounds awesome!)

Harriet goes onto say…

Despite promising to be “the most family-friendly government ever” the cuts are tailored to a model of a male breadwinner and a dependent female carer. Is it any surprise that these cuts have gone through so smoothly with only 21 of the 119 government ministers being women? Of the 113,000 local government workers who faced redundancy 73% were women; 77% of NHS workers set to lose their jobs are women and of the 710,000 public employees cut 65% were women. Not only are there the staggering job losses that have led to female unemployment being at a 25-year high, but women now also face cuts to legal aid. As qualifying rules tighten, half the women suffering domestic violence will lose legal aid. Wives facing divorce could stand to lose legal aid rendering them powerless to fight for custody of their children and sharing assets while husbands may afford lawyers.

Ghanimi says: “[The cuts] are inequitable, devastating and wholly unnecessary. Inequitable because women, the poorest and most vulnerable will suffer most. They are devastating because cuts to health, legal aid and welfare, for example, will leave the most vulnerable without the help and support they absolutely depend upon. They are unnecessary because there are alternatives such as a redistribution of wealth. Every year, for example, tax avoidance and evasion starves the British economy of an estimated £95 billion, probably more. It’s immoral for billionaires to pay less tax than people on ordinary incomes and yet this is routinely the case and positively encouraged. It’s no surprise then that the richest 1% have seen their income doubled since the 1970s in contrast to the rest of us. The Government is cutting tax inspectors, which says much about their priority on tax avoidance. Also, the rhetoric that the cuts being necessary to pay off the deficit seems increasingly absurd. Our deficit is actually increasing, not falling. The cuts are depressing our economy and the impact will be felt for a very long time.”

International Women’s Day this year has been more important than ever to draw women together and to raise awareness of what is actually happening to women in the current climate. The International Women’s Day website itself acknowledges the dangers of apathy: “The new millennium has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women’s and society’s thoughts about women’s equality and emancipation. Many from a younger generation feel that ‘all the battles have been won for women’ while many feminists from the 1970s know only too well the longevity and ingrained complexity of patriarchy.”

It is up to women to be the change we want to see in the world, to stand up against the reversal of our freedoms and not let apathy take those rights away from us.

To get involved with Brighton & Hove Women Against the Cuts visit www.bhwac.wordpress.com or on Twitter @BrightonHoveWAC
For the rest of her insightful article about Britain for todays woman, click for her blog here

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Deutsch: Junge Frauen auf dem Markt von Chichi...

International Womens day; Empowering young women and girls living with and affected by HIV.

Statement on International Women’s Day 2012


On International Women’s Day 2012 the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS (GCWA), calls on its members, as well as all United Nations agencies, governments and donors to intensify efforts to engage and empower girls and young women living with and affected by HIV.

This is urgent because:

§  Every minute a young woman, between the ages of 15 to 24 becomes infected with HIV [1].

§  Globally, young women aged 15-24, are most vulnerable to HIV with infection rates twice as high as in young men.[2]

§  HIV is the leading cause of death of women of reproductive age.

Women and girls often face barriers in accessing HIV prevention, treatment and care services as well as sexual and reproductive health services due to factors such as lack of status and limited decision-making power, lack of control over financial resources and restricted mobility.[3]

Girls and young women can also face age-related barriers, such as parental consent laws or policies, which impede their access to HIV and sexual and reproductive health services and comprehensive sexuality education. Over the next ten years, more than 100 million girls in developing countries are expected to be married before their 18th birthday – mostly to older men and often against their will.

Girls and young women living with HIV also can be faced with stigma and discrimination––from their peers, families, health workers and communities. Key affected groups of women, such as women engaged in sex work and using drugs, can experience disproportionate levels of stigma and discrimination. This makes women who are engaged in sex work and/or use drugs less likely to access HIV prevention and treatment services as well as general health services.[4] HIV has left thousands of girls caring for their younger brothers and sisters after the death of their parents. The missed educational opportunities and inherent poverty further adds to their vulnerability to HIV, as well as unintended pregnancy.

All women and girls require greater efforts to secure their human rights.  We need to work together to:


1.       Enable girls and women, in all their diversity, to protect themselves from HIV infection, and live their full potential, free of stigma and discrimination, sexual violence, coercion and abuse.

2.       Promote sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and young women, and ensure their access to comprehensive HIV and sexual and reproductive health services.

3.       Enable girls and young women access to comprehensive sexuality education and information.

4.       Advance and support the realization of all human rights of girls and young women.

Today on International Women’s Day, our commitment to girls and young women living with and affected by HIV is stronger than ever. By building and strengthening partnerships, and jointly advocating for the rights and needs of girls and young women. By mobilizing and empowering girls and young women living with and affected by HIV, we can help turn the tide of HIV and inspire them to determine the future they want.

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Eve McDougall's sculpture

Girls Behind Bars: Female Experiences of Justice Together Our Space Gallery, London EC1V 9BE

An exhibition of artworks by current and former women prisoners is on show at the Together gallery in London’s Old Street. Mental health charity Together organised the exhibition with to share these women’s experiences of justice in conjunction with Eve McDougall, a former prisoner who served a two-year sentence in an adults prison in Scotland when she was 15 for breaking a window. Eve is one of the women in our women’s group GLADA Womens Voices.

It is a very powerful and thought provoking exhibition with some really brilliant pieces of work and has been a well attended exhibition throughout. It is highly recommended as worth seeing by numerous people and organisations – and we fully agree!

It is on until June 10th. See the link below to the Guardians coverage of the exhibition

Girls Behind Bars: Female Experiences of Justice Together Our Space Gallery, London EC1V 9BE

Starts 9 March Finish 10 June.

Further information and to see some of the brilliant works on show  click link

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Take Back The Night 2004

Although Reclaim the Night was on the 5th November when about 8-9000 women marched through the streets on London from Whitehall to Camden Centre (Lisa from GWV had a wicked time!)- the chants are still going round in women’s heads. Here are a few we thought are goodies to remember!

‘Two, four, six eight, can’t you get a proper date?!’

‘We have the right to not be scared at night!’

‘Whatever we wear wherever we go yes means yes and no means no!’

‘Non, nein nada, no! Whatever the language no means no’

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women in herstory month is in March every year

Well, the other day myself and a few of the gals from GWV went to an event on at Portcullis House, one of the parliament buildings, to hear a group of very inspiring women speaking on the issues of women in history – or rather, herstory. (A pre-launch event to kick off proceedings in March 2011)

Annoyingly, all my notes I wrote for this blog didn’t save so I can’t really pass on any of the fabulous quotes I heard from the women speaking. However, I can pass on a few thoughts of my own from the evening. I was finding myself more and more fired up as I heard over and over about the way women have been written out, forgotten, rewritten or purposely omitted from our history books. The incredible women of science, of the humanities, of business…

While I was sitting there, I started thinking about women drug users, the women who, over the years had taken copious amounts of drugs, trailblazed their way thru doors of perception to deliver amazing works of art and science, only to have either themselves, their drug use, or their contributions omitted from history. Think about it – how many men do we know of who took drugs and created something useful, who are remembered in history – along with the knowledge about their partaking of Substances; Burroughs, Byron, Coleridge, Freud, Wilberforce, the list is huge! We admire their courageous flouting of respectability, their conquests as leading men of their day, their inventions/creations etc. We remember them as the whole package ( tho admittedly occasionally their drug use is played down if they are held up or painted as a ‘leader amongst men’, like philanthropist William Wilberforce.

Yet for women who used substances readily, so strong is the need to keep women on some kind of glass pedestal

Invisible Women?

as good girl, good mother, fragile and delicate, we kick her off it if she ‘betrays’ these homely values, becoming the temptress or fallen woman who lures men (and even worse, other women) to their ghastly fates in druggies squalor.

Very few women are celebrated for the way, when using drugs, they broke societal taboos, pushed through boundaries, and pushed through those doors of perception adding to their creative process. It is rarely if ever recognised as anything more than a women being influenced to take drugs by another usually male person , or she is a failing mother, a sick or mentally ill woman, vulnerable or perverse, a prostitute or slag.

Women’s drug use has become racialised, sexualised, pathologised, and criminalised. When women take a prescribed drug they are being compliant, when it is illegal they are viewed as morally bankrupt. Even if we are talking about the very same drug – for example, an opiate. If she self medicates with an opiate while pregnant she is mentally ill, dangerous, immoral. If she takes the opiate on prescription from a Dr when pregnant, she is maternal and responsible and compliant.

We have some amazing women activists in the drug using community and I’m left wondering if we really appreciate or acknowledge them very well. For women’s history month in March I will write about a few of these amazing women, its like one woman said the other nite, its not enough to occasionally rise women up to be remembered, women need to be consistently written into history, regularly remembered for their contributions, and streamlined  into the historical documents for our historians and society to remember.

Lets address the gap!

It is interesting to note that temperance – puritanism around sobriety and the views that alcohol is the corrupter of man -did not emerge until the 1800s and was readily embraced and espoused by women themselves.  Yet before that it was only women of good standing that had access to morphine which was enjoyed (in a very ladylike manner) in regular morphine ‘tea parties’. The temperance movement had collided with our views about women – and race, sexuality, mental health and the law have all conspired over the years to keep the woman who uses drugs viewed as either – or : The weak and vulnerable  OR the fallen, the temptress.

Men do not carry these labels around in the same way, and their ‘labeling’ does not act as barriers or obstacles in their every day lives in the same ways as such labels do for women. A fascinating discussion and one that could go on for some time. I intend to write about some of these women for Womens History Month in March. Any views or ideas, please do comment!

I believe it is in fact a syndrome, that it doesn’t suit us to look at women as drug users, and that in itself has meant that some extraordinary women – or parts of their lives –  are being airbrushed or rewritten –  from our history books .

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In the UK there is currently a chronic shortage of drug rehabilitation places available for the woman and her child (let alone the family and their children). But do we want to take our kids to rehab with us or would it be better if there were places for your child to stay while you focused on yourself and getting your drug problem sorted out.

GWV would like to try and collate some views on this topic, so please take a minute to comment. You don’t have to have children to answer although it might give you a slightly different perspective if you do.

There is a space to add any comments as well, should you find answering a little difficult. Things are of course, never black and white so please add those’ shades of gray’.

Thank you for your time. We will run this till August 2011. NOTE: We have decided to continue this poll and collect response and see, over time, how women feel about taking their children to rehab with them, and whether their needs to be more spaces to accommodate women with drug problems – and their children.

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