How global drug policy impacts women podcast

Flawed approaches in global drug policy are having negative and disproportionate impacts on women.

In this episode, Julia Buxton explores how and why drug policy is formed and unravels the ways this plays out in the context of women’s lives – from the stigma and shame experienced by women involved in drugs to the challenges they face in accessing appropriate treatment and services and the punitive sentences imposed on them for drug-related offences. This highlights what is really important for effective drug policy reform – better engagement with women who have lived experiences as stakeholders.

To understand more about global drug policy and its impacts on women, and to read some of the lived experiences of women that are mentioned in the episode, read The Impact of Global Drug Policy on Women: Shifting the Needle, which is available to everyone online as open access. Open access was funded by the Open foundation Society, INPUD and the US-Mexican centre at the University of California San Diego.

Speaker profiles

Professor Julia Buxton is a British Academy Global Professor at the University of Manchester, and her research focuses on changing patterns of drug supply, and the impact of decriminalisation on making drug policy, stakeholder inclusion and reducing drug-related harm.  You can find Julia on Twitter @buxtonjulia.

In this episode:

  • How and why global drug policy is formed
  • Why we need to consider drug policy from a gender perspective and how it impacts women differently
  • The consequences of stigmatising women involved with drugs
  • How women get involved in the drug cultures, drug trade and drug use
  • The importance of hearing the voices of women with lived experience for creating informed drug policy

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How global drug policy impacts women

Unknown Speaker  0:04 

Emerald podcast series: research that makes a difference.

Helen Beddow  0:17

This week we're talking about the ways that global drug policy impacts the lives and realities of women, and why we need to rethink the way we approach drug policy. We’re talking to Professor Julia Buxton from the University of Manchester about the ways that global drug policy impacts the lives and realities of women, and why we need to rethink the way we approach it. Julia, alongside Giovanna Margo and Lona Burger, edited the recent open access collection The Impact of Global Drug Policy on Women: Shifting the Needle. The funding to make the collection open access comes from the Open Society Foundation, the international network of people who use drugs, and the Centre for US Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Welcome to the podcast, Julia, and thank you for joining us.

Julia Buxton  0:59 

Many thanks for having me Helen.

Helen Beddow  1:01 

I think to start with it would be great to get an overview of what drug policy is, you know, how and why is drug policy put in place, and who does that.

Julia Buxton  1:10

So this is probably one of the biggest misunderstandings of drug policy that we tend to have is that drug policy is a means of trying to control which substances might be dangerous and potentially harmful to individuals. So in many respects to policies very similar to just kind of general health and consumer protection, but it's very specifically focused on mind and mood altering, intoxicating substances. Now, the aim of drug policy, as I said, is to prevent people accessing these kinds of dangerous, narcotic as they're called, substances. But the real challenge that we have is that this model of controlling drugs, this strategy of your policy, it's now nearly 100 years old - trying to take a kind of more optimistic view of contemporary drug policy, it’s at least 60 years old, dating back to the 1961 UN Single Convention. So trying to understand drug policy is understanding that the drug policies we have in the UK are pretty much replicated globally, because we are all part of the same international drug control system, which is overseen by the United Nations and the League of Nations before then, which is an international commitment to try and prevent, as I said, this public access to mind and mood altering substances, and it came out of a Victorian ideal of trying to create healthy civil societies and the notion of a global welfare agenda. But it's one that unfortunately, has failed catastrophically and needs to be radically overhauled.

Helen Beddow  2:38 

So it's really important to look at drug policy from this international context.

Julia Buxton  2:43 

Absolutely. You can't understand drug policy in the UK unless you understand the international context. And you know, whether you're living in Ghana, Georgia, Trinidad or Tanzania, we basically are grouped within the same international framework, the governance of international good control the reporting structures, the kind of policymaking instruments. All of this is internationalised. So we have to understand the drug policy limitations and opportunities that we have in the UK as part of a kind of global framework that we are part of, if not one of the kind of founding originating members.

Helen Beddow  3:19 

And why do we need to consider drug policy from a gender perspective? You know, how does it impact men and women differently?

Julia Buxton  3:25 

Well, the challenge that we have is that drug policy has always had these kind of incredibly unachievable goals such as a world free of drugs or, you know, drug-free societies. And so the strategy that has been chosen to try and advance this goal is one of criminalization. And what we've seen over the last 20-30 years, most particularly since the kind of collapse of communism, and the beginning of this post-Cold War order, is that very, very punitive, draconian drug policies are being rolled out, stepped up across the world. Now in some countries, there's been really quite dramatic change places like Canada, Uruguay are legalising cannabis and over 50 countries now have introduced decriminalisation which means that they are essentially imposing kind of administrative fines on people who are, quote, “in possession of drugs” rather than, you know, going through the criminal justice system as has traditionally been the case. Now, while that's been a very positive step in many countries, unfortunately, in the majority of countries around the world, we've seen this more punitive steps in drug policy and this very much comes out of a United Nations convention in 1988 on illicit traffic, which really seeks to criminalise possession-related offences. But also we're seeing kind of far more draconian criminal justice sentencing processes, so things like mandatory minimum sentences. So what we've ended up with is incredibly draconian laws, which are absolutely failing to in any way address the nature of contemporary dynamic drug markets. Now, the reason why this is important from a gender perspective is that all policies impact men and women differently. The key thing of drug policy is that what we're increasingly seeing now are a larger number of women who are involved in research of markets, more women are using drugs, more women are involved in the sale of drugs. But women are also being impacted by these very heavy punitive sentences, non-violent drug related offences are seeing more and more women incarcerated, which is one of the issues that we cover in great detail in the book. And the problem when you incarcerate these women, is that the majority of these women are carers, the majority of these women have responsibility for children, and the majority of these women were in very vulnerable and fragile livelihoods and that was why they were working in the illicit economy. So even though women are minor actors overall, in the illicit drug trade, what we're seeing is a very disproportionate and gendered impact of women when it comes to criminal justice processes.

Helen Beddow  5:45 

I mean, we've seen this week how this general undercurrent of patriarchal systems, misogyny, and general gender inequality plays out in the way it impacts the lives of women and children, and that gendered impact that's written into drug policy from the beginning. Is there some specific examples of how that is written into drug policy?

Julia Buxton  6:05 

Fiona Macaulay has a really excellent chapter at the beginning of the edited collection, which tries to frame this discussion of what are the specific gendered aspects here, I mean, apart from more women being, you know, involved in the trade, and you know, kind of impacted by these very egregious and punitive sentencing processes, what else is it that makes women vulnerable. And the key things that we see and what Fiona really highlights in her chapter, which is drawn out by contributions from colleagues in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, is that what we see is that women don't have access to appropriate treatments, that women very, very rarely go to doctors in order to get the kind of services or support that they need. Overwhelmingly, because they are so concerned about losing custody or access to their children. There is enormous stigma around women using drugs in so many of our cultures and societies and there is this notion within kind of many of our societies, once again, that women who are involved in drugs or who are using drugs are inappropriate, that they are inadequate, that they are fallen women, that they are lost women. So what we're seeing is these kind of different forms of stigma around gender, you know, this kind of discrimination and marginalisation that women already operate within in terms of access to health care and access to public services and institutions. This is magnified in the case of drug policy, because drug policy itself creates this notion of an undeserving fallen woman. And from those kinds of stereotypes and tropes when you then start building into that, as I said, harsh sentencing, harsher punishment because this is a woman. And so what we saw in a lot of the kind of judicial cases is that when women appear before judges in sentencing, their particular circumstances aren't taken into account but also they're punished more egregiously, because they are seen to fail as women and as mothers. So this kind of gendered impacts pay out in many, many different ways. But as discussed by many of our authors in the books, it's kind of very subtly influenced by local traditions, local cultures, you know, local political systems and political frameworks. But overall, it's just this kind of constant reinforcement of existing patterns of discrimination, which are then reinforced by the application of inappropriate drug wars and inappropriate responses to women's drug use.

Helen Beddow  8:21 

There's a huge amount of moral judgement in that.

Julia Buxton  8:23 

Absolutely. And this is the whole crisis of drug policy, I would argue, that the origins of drug policy is very much focused around the kind of moral agenda. Drug Policy is inherently rooted in deeply racist constructions, and perceptions of outside threats coming in and damaging, you know, white Christian culture and civilization and we saw this right back with opium in the kind of at the turn of the 20th century being associated with Chinese communities, marijuana that was associated with Mexican communities. Cocaine was associated, in America this is, very much with the Afro-American community. And what this kind of does is just constantly reinforce the notion of drugs as outside, as immoral, as something that only the feckless and the incapable will really engage in and its this moralism which then in turn creates stigma. And in a way, this is so important to drug policy because stigma, and the notion of immorality becomes central to the norms that are embedding in our societies - embedded in our society, sorry - about drug use, and that reinforces this very, very punitive and draconian response that we have to drug offences because we've created societies in which kind of you know, the use of these illicit and criminalised substances has been constructed as deeply immoral and sinful.

Helen Beddow  9:38 

I guess it's built into this that, you know, these women, fallen women, women involved in the drug trade are less deserving of protection, of services, of things that we should all be entitled to.

Julia Buxton  9:48 

Oh, absolutely. And, you know, another fantastic chapter in the book by our colleague, Bethany Medley, which is, you know, kind of talking about what about pregnant women here and, you know, how do kind of pregnant women deal with these issues, pregnant women who might be involved in illicit drug use. And again, it's the same issue. A pregnant woman will not seek treatments or support for medical services, again, because of this fear of a loss of control and autonomy over sexual and reproductive health rights. You know, I mean, this is the central challenge that we have in terms of understand the gendered impacts of these drug policies is in context such as you know, a number of states in the United States, using illicit drugs when you are pregnant is construed as a form of intrauterine drug trafficking, you are trafficking drugs to your unborn child. And once you kind of develop this kind of notion of the damage and the problems that are created by pregnant women and women in general using drugs, this kind of immorality, this fallen woman as we said, then you punish women harder for their failings.

Helen Beddow  10:49 

What I was thinking of just then, which I can't really formulate into a question, but you know, just everything that I watch on Netflix, that somehow touches drugs, like I was watching Queen of the South, or you watch Narcos, all of these ways that they portray women and how they think women are involved in the drug trade and what type of women they think are involved in drug trade and drug use, as opposed to the reality.

Julia Buxton  11:10 

No, absolutely. And what we're trying to do in the book is we're trying to say that, you know, on the one hand, what's happening in terms of the punishments and the incarceration and ultimately inappropriate policing of women, not following best practice, procedures, for example, in imprisonment of women, we see very few countries rolling out things like you know, the Bangkok rules and what are seen as being international best practice and minimum standards. But what we're also seeing in the book is, not only is this situation absolutely shocking, and people need to be aware of this massive steep increase in the number of women globally who have been incarcerated on the basis of low level, nonviolent drug related offences, not only is this a problem that you should be aware of, there's also these other aspects about women and drugs that you should also start thinking about on one of these, and we kind of, we didn't talk about this a huge amounts in the book, because you know, the overall emphasis was trying to draw attention to the horrible and terrible human rights implications of our drug policies. But also, let's not ignore the agency of women. And this is something that Ingrid Walker talks about in her book, you know, there's a lot of interest really, in the notion that, you know, women shouldn't have pleasure, that women shouldn't have autonomy. And what Walker tries to do, and this is also building on the work of people like Alexandria, is explore the notion of women and sex and drugs. Now, we hear lots of things about, you know, kind of chem sex in the drug world, and you know, the notion of drug use and pleasure, but again, something that's very much limited to men. And what nobody's really kind of focusing a lot of research attention on women and pleasure and drugs, then that's what we try to do with Ingrid Walker's chapter. We also have a chapter by Cecilia Farfan Mendez, which is talking about the role of women as wives and partners of high level senior gang members and drug trafficking organisations. So we're trying to kind of show some of the diversity of women's experiences, we also have women talking about their own drug use, you know, we have auto ethnography of women trying to explore, you know, how their role as people who use drugs is understood within, you know, community and policy settings in which they try and work, you know, should women be open about their views? Or should this be something that's kept hidden and secret? So we're trying to explore all these different angles, trying to put some kind of future research questions out there. And the one thing that we kept coming back to across all of these different aspects, the incarceration, the pleasure aspects, all of these different points in the book, is that there is so little actual research on, so little quality research which is done on women in the drug trade. And when research is funded, it always focuses on you know, kind of problematic uses, small samples and is overwhelmingly in Europe or North America that this research takes place. And we just really have a paucity of good quality research on the role of women in supply chains, the nature of female consumption, and the kinds of activities that women are increasingly using drugs for in terms of things like leisure.

Helen Beddow  14:07 

I guess… that's a really good point. I mean, how much as researchers do you bring your own assumptions into the research that you do on the drug trade and the women involved?

Julia Buxton  14:15 

Absolutely. And this is something that you know, colleagues in, in the US have really began kind of trying to integrate this more into discussions about their work. We have, you know, quite a long tradition amongst some feminist scholars in the UK about kind of considering notions of auto ethnography. There's the work of people like Jennifer Fleetwood, not just talking, you know about things like personal drug use in the case of some of the people who have contributed to our books, but also about how being a woman and doing this research on female prisoners women prisoners, is also just a deeply emotional and draining and exhausting, and terribly, terribly depressing kind of work we're doing a lot of the time. And should we be talking about our emotions should some women be talking about their drug use, you know, these are all things that as a collective of people who worked on this book, we try to explore and, you know, one of our colleagues, Corina Giacomello, who writes, writes with Coletta A. Young about the incarceration of America, Corina has talked many times in panels related to, to her work on incarceration about that terrible sentence, you know, that we haven't as researchers, when we go into prisons, we talk to women, they open up to us, they tell us their stories, and we just walk away, as researchers, you know, we finish the interview, and get on the train, and we go home. And we have a huge moral responsibility and an emotional responsibility to kind of tell the stories of those women. And that brings a very, very significant burden,

Helen Beddow  15:39 

I think also something that clearly comes through in the book is how drug policy doesn't really account for the various ways, routes, pathways, that women end up involved in drug cultures, drug trade and drug use.

Julia Buxton  15:50 

No, absolutely. I mean, you know, again, we try to go for, for these many pathways in which drugs and illicit drug trade and the really negative impact of drug policy enforcement are impacting on women. Rose Humphreys chapter talks about what's it like as a as a mother, you know, to kind of be trying to find support and services for your children where there's absolutely nowhere to turn and the stigma, there's moral condemnation, whether she could talk to colleagues about what she was experiencing, and it’s these kinds of stories, there's so many of them out there different kind of bring people together to be able to talk about the struggle they have getting treatment, struggle they've had, you know, hiding these kind of problems because of the moral judgments and stigma. And it's this constant reoccurring theme.

Helen Beddow  16:35 

It’s that shame, isn't there, there's an automatic shame. And I was just thinking that no matter what there is always some kind of way to blame the parents, blame the mother.

Julia Buxton  16:44 

No, it always comes back, you know, to the notion of the mother and the failures of the mother. Yeah, you know, we were talking about women's pathways into the drug trade, and, overwhelmingly, you know, kind of so much of the information that we're seeing is that women are coming into drug supply activities or have traditionally been in drug supply activities because there are limitations on entry into the formal economy, because we've gone through the last 20 - 30 years of processes of gentrification and the feminization of poverty, we're seeing women increasingly drawn into illicit markets and the illicit drug economy. And you know, this is we have chapters from people writing in Colombia, you know, about from the supply end of this and women who are working in kind of cocoa conservation cocoa farming, not because you know, participation in the cocaine economy is is an easy option. It's not easy cash. But because there are so few alternatives for women who are living in, you know, kind of marginalised, conflict prone interior areas of Columbia. So there's all there's all these different pathways for women, one that I think is really interesting, and which my colleague Judith Aldridge at Manchester University is working on also is looking at women now in darknet, drug markets, online drug sales. And this is an interesting shift, because as we're seeing more people buying controlled drugs on the internet and the Darknet, then increasingly, what we're seeing is that, you know, the kinds of skills to be a drug dealer on the streets, you know, that kind of violence and networks and all those kinds of aspects of illicit market engagement. That's not the same on the Darknet. You know, being on the Darknet is about having technological skills. It's about you know, marketing skills it’s those kinds of aspects which are increasingly important. And what we're seeing is the online darknet drug market sales is increasingly a supply avenue for women, which has been exploited.

Helen Beddow  18:33 

And I guess that links back to the point you made earlier about drug policy being something that was initiated in 1960s, and even before that, on these Victorian ideals, it just isn't fit for purpose in an era where the Darknet exists.

Julia Buxton  18:46  

Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, in the UK, the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. This is a piece of law, which was developed and designed in 1971. This isn't just before Darknet, this is before HIV AIDS. This is before the internet. So when you think 1971, Helen was when, you know, Benny Hill was number one in the pop charts and a microwave oven would cost you nearly £600, I mean, but the thing is, you know, not everything that is old is unfit for purpose, but drug policy is and in particular, UK drug policy is shockingly arcane and out of date, you know, where other countries were looking, you know, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, many of these European countries now embracing drug policy reform and decriminalisation strategies because as the Dutch learnt before us a long time ago, decriminalisation does not increase drug use. Decriminalisation enables better prevention services, it enables better education and it enables more collaborative relationships with the police and communities. In 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act in this country here has led us to a situation where we have the highest drug related deaths in Europe. This is a scandal, Scotland, staggering death rates there and drug related mortality, Northern Ireland last week which released its drug death related figures and again, historic highs, European highs. This is an absolute scandal. The real scandal to my mind about UK drugs policy which really reflects the wider problem of this international system and why the international drug control system is unfit for purpose is that what was attempted to be crafted over 100 years ago, was a system that addressed what we call the Dual Use Dilemma. And the Dual Use Dilemma is the problem that something which is really, really good can also be really, really dangerous so how do we regulate or control it. What drug policy sought to do, was to delineate global markets into drugs which are dangerous and illicit and have to be banned and criminalised. But the problem is, these drugs also have enormous medical importance. So what the international system tried to do was to create a small market for legally available scientific medical requirements for opium, for cannabis, for cocaine. But then anything that's not legally authorised for medical and scientific use is illicit and criminalised and banned.

And the problem with the system is that after 1961 with the UN single convention, I would argue all of the energy of the international system has been on trying to eliminate the illicit markets, through coercion, through violence, through pressure and incarceration, criminalization, but the real purpose of international drug policy was about enabling access to opiates, to opioid analgesics, which are absolutely essential. They're recognised as essential medicines by the World Health Organisation for the treatment of pain. And the system that we have now has meant that opioid analgesics, medical morphine for palliative care, treatments of chronic pain, is monopolised - global supplies are completely monopolised by North American and European countries. Something like 90% of the world's population does not have access to essential pain-relieving drugs. Now bring this back to the UK and the scandal of the British drug policy situation is that the UK is the world's leading opiates exporter. We are one of the world's leading re-exporters of pharmaceutical cocaine. We are one of the world's leading innovators in cannabis based medical technologies. A couple of months ago, a Cambridge based pharmaceutical firm GW Pharmaceuticals, which has pioneered cannabis based treatments for epilepsy in children, cannabis based treatments of control of cancer oncology pains, you know, we are world leaders in this and GW Pharmaceuticals was sold a couple of weeks ago for an astonishing amounts of money to Jazz Pharmaceuticals. Because this has enabled now the kind of cannabis medicines because of changes in US to be sold in America. We are exporting from the UK, globally essential medicines, which are incredibly difficult to access in the UK because we have such repressive anti-drugs legislation. This is extraordinary to my mind. World leaders in these medicines that we actually deny to our own people.

Helen Beddow 25:51

You can't look at drug policy in that case, and you can't look at the illegal drug trade without considering actually the pharmaceutical industry and the legal drug trade and profits from that. Looking at drug policy needs to be a holistic thing like what problem are we trying to solve with drug policy? I don't know if that's the question that we ask now that it's become so entangled with moral judgement.

Julia Buxton  25:13 

That's a fantastic question to ask and, you know, in public policy, the key thing that we always start with, you know, when we're when we're working with students, we start with current batches question, which is, well, what is the problem represented to be? Who is it a problem for? And the challenge is that, you know, the problem of drug use has always been construed as a problem, as, as we said earlier, of sin, immorality, and failure, and personal failure. But I think the problem now is drug policy itself. And, you know, I'm not the first person to be saying this I mean, there's been a slew of very, very excellent and critical literatures on the policy over the last, you know, 10-20 years, I think what's different about what we're trying to do here is we're trying to tell the story of this failure, and the problem that is drug policy enforcement, from the gender perspective, from an international perspective, and from people whose voices are never heard. One of the things we did in this book, you know, many thanks to Emerald for enabling us to do this, is to just allow people to speak for themselves. You know, as an academic, I'm kind of overwhelmed by how far we've had the shift into quantitative research methods where everybody kind of becomes, in some instances, crudely reduced to just a number, you know, just a piece of data. And that's, that's inadequate for the purposes of what we're trying to explore here. We need to hear from people and hear people's stories. And that's what we did. You know, we have Rose’s story, we have Suzanne’s story. You know, we have Fiona's story, Happy’s story, this is people just speaking in their own words, telling us about the kinds of challenges and the types of problems that they've had. And it's important that those voices are heard, because as I said, too often people are just reduced to numbers in datasets, which are then published in academic journals that nobody reads. And this is what we start - need to start changing, there has to be this better relationship between academic colleagues, between people working in advocacy, people working in the NGO sector, this is what we were trying to do when we brought all of these people together. Now, there was another thing you mentioned right at the beginning there, that which is the role of the pharmaceutical sector. One point that I would just really, really like to make, because this is really important in trying to understand the mess - and it really is a mess that we're in with drug policy in the UK and internationally - is that when drug control, you know, the first meeting on international drug control, the kind of first attempt to bring states together, was actually held in 1908, which is astonishing, isn't it? 1908 was when the basic ideas of what we have is international drug control today was set out, you know, this was the idea that there had to be supply side controls, you know, states had to work collaboratively. And after 1908, this first meeting, we have the series of conventions, which were introduced, okay, in the interwar period, in the post war period. Now, what's absolutely essential is that during the beginning of the development of this international drug control framework, the conventions that we have the pharmaceutical sector lobbied aggressively to ensure that synthetic drugs and these new pharmaceutical substances that were being developed, you know, in the 1910s and 1920s, in places like Germany, places like Japan, Switzerland, the UK, America, the pharmaceutical industry in these countries lobbied to prevent the pharmaceutical sector being subject to the same robust and rigorous controls as natural plant-based drugs. And this is very, very important because what it does is it says, well, you know, anything that's kind of powdered and produced by a pharmaceutical company, you know, these kind of pills, these are clean and new, but the plants, the cannabis, the opium poppy, the coca, these plants from global south countries are dirty and dangerous. It's the notion really of kind of angels and demons in drug policy. So what we've ended up with is pharmaceutical sets insulating themselves from the whole of this regulatory regime, enjoying this remarkably privileged and protected position, inventing and developing new synthetic drugs while the original plant-based drugs, the cannabis, the opium poppy is repressed, coercively repressed, but in global south countries. So in effect, the global north pharmaceutical sector takes the learning, the medical learning from all of these, you know, natural plans, reinvents them synthetically outside of a system of international control. It's, it's just astonishing.

Helen Beddow  29:32 

That is astonishing. And I've never heard it laid out so clearly like that before to see all of those kinds of links operating between the pharmaceutical companies in the global north and what we see in the global south. And I mean, I guess there were no women in the room in 1908 when they set out that policy and, and very few women in the room in the time since.

Julia Buxton  29:49 

Well, I don’t think women actually existed in 1908 from everything I’ve read from the period I mean, I can't see any evidence of them whatsoever. We had a few women who were reasonably influential in developments of the interwar system of drug control. But this is the thing with drug control. It's a state, it’s an interstate system. So negotiations between states, you know they're not about, you know, kind of changing the nature of the drug conventions, negotiations by states around your control are overwhelmingly about kind of reinforcing the emphasis on better cooperation, enhanced cooperative coercion between states, this is intergovernmental, and intergovernmentalism is such a male dominated arena anyway. And drug policies become intensively securitized and, you know, securitization, militarization, coercion, these are constant themes in drug policy. They have insulated, the kind of security sector, in drug policy, the key actor, you know, the key, key voice, all of the lobby groups are very much excluding international drug policy. So all of these factors are constantly reinforcing a very male, and ultimately a very misogynistic drug policy framing in which this is basically, you know, male diplomats and male police officers talking to male diplomats or male police officers from other countries.

Helen Beddow  31:09 

Well there’s no way for that to go wrong, is there?

Julia Buxton  31:11 

No, no, it's been a tremendous success today. It's working very well. But, you know, at the same time, you know, let's not forget, though, we did actually think about doing a chapter on this, because another dynamic here that we also have to understand is just having women in positions of power and you know, kind of leading these negotiations, is not necessarily going to lead to the type of structural change and of course, reform that we need to see. A lot of women's support deeply repressive, coercive legislation, against drugs, you know, we can see this in places like, a good example, would probably be somewhere like the Philippines where under Duterte, we have seen this kind of horrific impunity, this assault on people under Duterte’s war on drugs. But this has great popular support, you know, in parts of the Philippines, and it's, you know, has popular support from women. And this is the problem and again exactly the same thing in the United Kingdom. It's been female Home Secretaries who have introduced some of the most repressive drug policies which have been so injurious, injurious to women in this country. So it's not just women per se, in power, which is going to change things, it’s women who understand the damage and the dangers of drug policy who are going to change things.

Helen Beddow  32:20 

Is there an example of a country that's doing drug policy well, from a gender perspective, but is that actually possible within the framework of the international intergovernmental way that drug policy is formed?

Julia Buxton  32:31 

Arguably, there are countries who are trying to address these kinds of negative impacts of their drug policies. Certainly countries like Switzerland, for example, and certainly the Portuguese, you know, that kind of really gathering, getting the data together, trying to understand, trying to develop these kind of more targeted types of drug policy responses. Colombia had the potential under its peace agreements, it's very, very recent peace agreement, which is now collapsing before our eyes, Colombia had the potential had it followed through with commitments to rural developments, had it follow through with commitments to funding development support to coca growing communities. Had Colombia carried through its peace agreements, I think there would have been very, very strong potential given some of the excellent NGOs that work in Colombia, there was the potential to really make a difference and to have a kind of alternative model of how you can address the kind of inequalities and marginalisation, and pull women out of that kind of exclusion that leads them into coca cultivation. Well, that's been lost. It's been thrown away. It's been completely jettisoned. It's a travesty. But there are countries that are trying hard, doing well, listening to women, listening to stakeholders, and that's why decriminalisation is absolutely essential. Because when you have criminalization, this goes back to the point before about who are the stakeholders in drug policy, and the stakeholders in drug policy are the diplomats that we talked about, the security sector, the military as we talked about, and the police. The real stakeholders in drug policy are the people like Rose and the people like Fiona, people like Suzanne, whose stories we have in this book, and these people are not around the table. And the key thing for us is that decriminalisation enables people to be recognised as stakeholders. They're not hidden populations anymore. They have a voice. And the best policy comes from the experience of people who feel the effects of policy. So if you want to have improved drug policy as some of these countries as I said, like Switzerland, Portugal are trying to push forward now, that's by decriminalisation and giving people a voice at the table who have lived experience. And that's what we've tried to do in this book.

Helen Beddow  34:39

The edited collection, The Impact of Global Drug Policy on Women: Shifting the Needle is available open access to everyone, and I've included the link below in the show notes. Here you'll find all the research mentioned by Julia in the show, and do take a look at the stories around lived experiences in particular which are voices we so rarely hear from. Thank you for listening to Emerald podcast and we'll be back again in two weeks time.


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