“Impact of Drug Use on Women” Workshop Held
By Sofia Mapuranga
Held under the theme, “Impact of Drug Use from a Woman’s Perspective”, the Consultative Dialogue meeting was held on February 25, 2017 at Courtney Hotel in Harare.
Attended by 26 delegates some of whom included representatives from the ministries of Health and Child Care and Education, women drawn from various communities in Harare and Marondera, drug users, journalists and the Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network (ZCLDN) team and trustees, the meeting aimed at identifying the challenges affecting women due to drug use.
The Consultative Dialogue, sought to share an overview of the drug use situation in the country while sharing the multi- dimensional effects of drug use including its potential health implications to drug users in Zimbabwe.
The Dialogue also aimed at establishing the detailed challenges faced by female drug users while also highlighting the daily lived experiences and realities of women across the board. It aimed at collectively mapping the way forward on what needs to be done in terms of advocacy and at grassroots level to promote harm reduction due to drug misuse and combating drug use and trafficking in Zimbabwe.
- Welcome Remarks and Workshop Objectives: ZCLDN Acting Board Chairperson, Pauline Nyagotsi
The Acting Board Chairperson of ZCLDN, Pauline Nyagotsi welcomed guests assuring everyone in attendance that their presence and contribution was valued. She presented the workshop programme before detailing the Objectives of the workshop which included:
- To discuss the challenges affecting women due to drug misuse.
- Identify the problems faced by drug users.
- Highlight the lived experiences of being a mother, wife, sister or daughter of a drug user.
- Share an overview of the drug abuse situation in Zimbabwe.
- Detail the multi- dimensional effects of drug misuse including its potential health implications such as the spread of HIV/Aids, Hepatitis C and TB.
- Collectively map the way forward on policy gaps and interventions towards combating drug misuse and trafficking in Zimbabwe.
Mrs Nyagotsi highlighted the concept of harm reduction and its importance emphasizing on the need for drug policy reform. She showed direction on how policy reforms has the potential to effectively contribute towards positive interventions which promote human rights and uphold public health.
- Background on Illicit Drugs In Zimbabwe: ZCLDN Director, Wilson Box
Mr. Box identified the high unemployment rate as the major driver of drug misuse among especially Zimbabwean youths. He gave a brief overview of the current situation giving statistical evidence quoted from the ZimStats to augument this. It was noted that drug users needed medical attention, counselling and rehabilitation. This was contrary to the prevailing scenario where drug users were treated as criminals and incarcerated. Mr Box elaborated how such a scenario worsened the problem indicating that drug users did not seek help even in circumstances where they were addicted and were in urgent need of medical attention and help. He spoke of the different kinds of drugs that were being used within communities. He however emphasized the importance and need for policy reforms.
- Drug users’ voices: Mufakose and Epworth High Density Suburbs Support Groups on Drugs
Drug User 1: Epworth
A drug user from Epworth narrated his journey telling how he started using drugs while he was 19. He said this was after he had been employed as an undertaker by a named prominent business person who later turned out to be a conman. He told of how he toiled day in and day out only to be told that he had donated his services. Frustration then led him to take drugs and he said he was initiated by colleagues on drugs as a way of ensuring that the group could demand their money from their former employer.
The drug user narrated how he became addicted to marijuana and bronclear and how this had presented challenges to especially his mother who thought that he had been bewitched. The trauma of his addiction on his mother was clear as he narrated how his mother would spend sleepless nights and how she would take him to traditional and religious leaders thinking that he was under a spell. The youth highlighted how he would steal from his mother, how he would disrespect her and how would engage in activities that saw him being arrested which in turn traumatized his mother. He indicated that while he was on the recovery path, thanks to ZCLDN, more needed to be done to assist especially youths who are addicted and help them get rehabilitation services.
Drug User 2: Mufakose
Another drug user from Mufakose gave a very powerful testimony narrating how she started using drugs. Being a single mother, who was no longer able to cope with the daily financial demands of her family, Drug User 2 said she sought solace from drugs. She spoke of how she would find temporary comfort in her situation at the time when she was high. She however said she regretted using drugs after she found out that her 14 year old son was also in the same predicament where he was taking bronclear. She spoke of how drug misuse had affected her health as she had developed diabetes, a development which had been recently confirmed by doctors. While she had stopped using drugs, her medical condition was now permanent and irreversible and she regretted using drugs. She however said she was grateful for the support being offered by ZCLDN although more needed to be done to reach out to all the affected drug users, the majority of whom preferred anonymity and did not seek help. She echoed how drug users need urgent attention in the country as the drug dependency was resulting in chronic illnesses such as sugar diabetes.
- Women’s Experiences- Group work
Women were divided into two groups and they were tasked with identifying their challenges for a feedback presentation
Findings from the women established the following challenges:
- Drug users especially youths are using drugs without the relevant information on the composition of drugs and its potential health implications.
- Drugs were contributing to increasing incidences of divorce since drug users, the majority of whom are men/ youths resorted to domestic violence after taking drugs. The majority also renegade on their parental roles and responsibilities as they prioritized drugs.
- Drug users are discriminated against and threatened by the current laws , hence they end up not disclosing of their drug problem.
- The employment system does not accept anyone with a criminal record accrued from drug use or with a history of drug use and this affected the rehabilitation process.
- Female drug users end up engaging in sex work at a tender age
- Families or mothers of drug users become victims of name labelling within society
- Drug users engage in criminal activities such as stealing valuables especially from their homes and communities to raise money to buy drugs.
- Religious institutions demonise drug users thereby worsening their challenges.
- Parents are failing to reach out to their children and advise them on the dangers of drug misuse
- Drug users tend to be less productive and are more of consumers, a development which increases their poverty levels.
- Drug users are deprived of their social and health services especially in prisons.
- Female offenders in drug related crimes tend to receive heavier penalties compared to their male counterparts.
- Women bear the brunt of societal discrimination especially for their children’s failures due to drug misuse.
- Early marriages, unwanted pregnancies, exposure to opportunistic infections which in turn becomes the woman’s burden are some of the ripple effects of drug misuse.
- Female drug suppliers find it difficult to be their children’s role models since they are the source of drugs and it is challenging to reprimand their children.
- Drug users suffering from chronic illnesses end up abandoning their medication and developing drug resistance.
- Drug misuse fuels corruption since the law enforcement agents end up targeting drug suppliers. Women become targets of corruption dealings.
- Drug misuse increases women’s workload and burdens them since they are their families’ caregivers.
- Drug use is a cost on women as they end up losing money in the form of fines when their husbands or sons are arrested and charged before the courts.
- Recommendations and Way Forward
The plenary session concluded the discussions and recommended action points on harm reduction and policy reform on drugs in Zimbabwe.
The key recommendations from the plenary session were:
- Participants emphasized the need to treat drug users as patients
- Need for the establishment of more programs and support groups to help alleviate and reduce the challenges affecting women and communities due to drug misuse.
- The importance of the establishment of advocacy programs in schools and communities.
- Government should reintroduce recreational facilities as a source of entertainment.
- Society needs to view the drug problem as a health hazard not a social problem.
- Need to integrate health education pertaining to drugs in the education system.
- Law enforcement agents should be involved in harm reduction.
- Need for more awareness within societies on the importance of how corruption worsens drug misuse in Zimbabwe and the role of society in fighting this scourge.
- Drug Policy in Zimbabwe should not criminalize users but support then through public health initiatives.
- Avoid punishing drug users whilst the traffickers are free.
- Need for more awareness campaign programs among youths.
- Need to set up rehabilitation centers to help bridge the gap between policy and practice.
- To be taken as a health care service by providing awareness and treatment.
The conference was a major success with all stakeholders reiterating the importance of policy reform and harm reduction interventions. It emerged that Zimbabwean women are suffering more due to the problem of drug use and thus the need to push for a workable drug policy to curb the negative consequences of drug abuse.