Show us 50 FIDU and we will start a program: The Invisible Women Who Use Drugs in India.

Author: Carolyn Tauro

Theme: Social Science & Policy Research Year: 2023

Healthcare for women has historically been an extension of healthcare for men; the distinction being mostly biological. Gaps exist in data collection and use for women’s health. Social challenges surrounding gender norms further influence health care practices for women who use drugs (WWUD) seeking harm reduction care. The objectives of this study are to understand how gender norms influence harm reduction care for WWUD and to explore the role of information in the care WWUD seek.

A qualitative methodology was undertaken: 17 interviews and 4 focus group discussions were held with persons who use drugs, harm reduction staff, managers and consultants; field notes from observations and informal discussion were included in an interpretive thematic analysis. Essential ethical considerations were made.

Gender norms create access barriers to harm reduction care for WWUD who further face discrimination and harassment at health care settings. Lower turnouts have an implication on health information and in turn decisions regarding initiating women-centric programs. Existing programs are designed to be physically separate for WWUDs who are drug users, sex workers or transgender women. This creates access barriers for WWUD who may belong to more than one category.

The study identifies socio-technical aspects of harm reduction care where gender-related challenges influence program initiation, health information systems and program design for WWUD. The lack of intersectionality dissects WWUD into categories of who they are, affecting the care they receive. Practitioners may use findings beneficial to realise gaps for WWUD in harm reduction programs, for sensitising programs and to advocate for women-centric programs that are also intersectional. The study also builds on the concept of intersectionality in the field of harm reduction and information systems research. With inputs from persons with lived experiences this study contributes to a bottoms-up evidence-based knowledge towards practice, policy-making and academia.

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