Concept Note

Opening the (gender) blinds:
Towards an Inclusive Gender-Based View of Trauma and Addiction

Conference in Reykjavík

Date: 28 February-1 March 2019

Until recent years, the role and centrality of gender in relation to addiction has been largely under-theorised and overlooked, especially in dominant biomedical and criminal justice models. There is, however, growing recognition of the need to increase awareness and expand our knowledge base of gender issues in studies of addiction, trauma, and treatment. Institutions and agencies such as WHO, UN Women, UNODC, UNICRI, and INCB, as well as the council of Europe and its Co-operation Group to Combat Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Drugs(“Pompidou Group”), have been focusing on gender-based issues and addiction.

As part of UNICRI’s DAWN project, developed in close collaboration with the UNODC and the WHO, a handbook with instruments and tools to assist the international community in the establishment of gender responsive prevention treatment and recovery programmes was produced in 2015. In the 2016 UNODC World Drug Report, there is a special emphasis on women, recognizing that drug policies disproportionately affect women, and that structural violence against women further marginalizes, victimizes, and disempowers women. It further states that structural changes are necessary in order to adequately support and offer treatment for women. The Report emphasizes that efforts to address global drug problems need to be gender-sensitive and take into account, when designing prevention programmes, treatment interventions, as well as the criminal justice response, the special needs of women with addiction and their severe stigmatization.

This resent research points to women’s lack of access to gender-sensitive treatment for drug dependence and that only few countries provide adequate levels of drug-dependency treatment to women. It is necessary to expand gender-sensitive treatment to achieve the highest attainable standard of health for women. It is also clear that women undergoing drug treatment suffer physical and sexual violence at very high rates, and that such violence has adverse consequences on the mental, physical and reproductive health of women.

The Pompidou Group of Council of Europe, also has been a pioneer the integration of a gender equality dimension in drug policies in Europe. Focusing on the impact of trauma on women and addiction, the Group, in its 2015 report entitled “Improving the management of violence experi­enced by women who use psychoactive substances”, states: “The life paths of women drug users are punctuated by traumas and violence suffered during childhood or adulthood. These women form a minority of the patients seen by addiction and harm reduction professionals, whose active patient lists consist mainly of men. The chaotic lives and traumas and violence experienced by women sometimes make treating them more complex.”

Nancy D. Campbell and Elizabeth Ettorre (in Gendering Addiction. The Politics of Drug Treatment in a Neurochemical World, 2011) have depicted the development of addiction treatment for women as being characterised by “epistemologies of ignorance”. Thus, the traditional treatment offered to women has been characterized by not only a continual the lack of knowledge on the subject but also a continual lack of appreciating ignorance on the subject. Most strategies for drug prevention and recovery in the world are tailored to men, with the result that they have no, or even negative, impact on women. In recent years there has been a growing call for the development of measures and strategies with gender-specific services.

Keeping this recent focus on women and addiction in mind, it is time now, to widen the range of gender discussions to include the LBGTQI+ community, and to make any study of addiction, trauma, and treatment, genuinely inclusive and gender sensitive. The time for this has come and the blinds must be opened. As each of the aforementioned international organizations and agencies have emphasized, there is a great need for using tools of gender mainstreaming and gender-responsiveness, and the existing knowledge on gender differences in dealing with addictions on all levels, policy, treatment and research. If we are to reach Sustainable Development Goals, gender blinds must be thrown open, and gender-blindness must be dispelled in the light of future studies.

This is the second conference held by RIKK, The Root, and their collaborators, on addiction and treatment. The first was held in September, 2015. This conference’s objectives are:

  • To get together Nordic and international scholars and professionals working with addiction to share knowledge on the connection between gender, trauma and addiction
  • To energize and broaden potential networks on women and addiction
  • To organize a workshop for professionals working with women with addiction problems

The conference will engage with the following themes:

  1. Gendered barriers in addiction treatment (for women, non-binary and transgender individuals, survivors of sexual abuse, LGBT individuals, income poor women,women in prisons etc.)
  2. Gendered experiences in the treatment of addiction
  3. The role of gender in entering, continuing and succeeding in treatment programmes
  4. Addressing specific needs of women (and marginalized groups) in treatment
  5. Accountability for women’s well-being within treatment programmes, on part of service providers and practitioners
  6. Women specific treatment programmes
  7. Young women and addiction
  8. Elderly women and addiction
  9. Addiction as a development issue
  10. Networking for change

Over two days, speakers and panelists encompassing professionals from treatment services, health care institutions, welfare system, and others professionals and laymen, will discuss the many complex issues surrounding addiction, trauma,and treatment.