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UNGASS 2016 – Statement by the Italian Minister of Justice and Head of Delegation for the Special Session of the UN General Assembly on the Drug Problem (UNGASS 2016), Hon. Andrea Orlando, at the Side Event on “Drug use and women: best practices in the implementation of programs and public policies for prevention and treatment with gender approach”

I am honored to speak at this event dedicated to drug use and women.

I wish to thank the Chilean and Peruvian Governments for their co-sponsorship of this initiative.

This side-event was designed in response to the lack of attention and commitment we have observed in recent years to the link between the drug problem and the situation of women. In many countries there are more women in prison for drug-related offences than for other crimes – as highlighted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – with peaks of 70-80% in some countries. The latest World Drug Report notes the persistence of structural barriers to women’s access to treatment for drug use; not to mention the increased vulnerability to infectious diseases, in particular HIV/AIDS, of women who either use these substances or are victims of sexual exploitation.

Today it is important that we address openly the issue of gender in drug policies and strategies, and that we recognize that in many regions of the world women still have limited access to services and rehabilitation because of poverty, marginalization and discrimination.

Allow me to recall with gratitude and appreciation the statement made one month ago by Emma Bonino during the Commission on the Status of Women, promoting a structured approach based on human rights, public health, sustainable development, harm reduction and a gender perspective. The Italian Government reaffirms this approach, and is committed to working with all partners on making it reality.

The starting point of our future action is indicated in the operational recommendations of the UNGASS Outcome Document dedicated to the protection of the most vulnerable members of society, including women and children. But we must go further.

It is essential that women – including those in prison – be provided with adequate health services and specialized counseling, timely access to voluntary HIV/AIDS testing and support, and rehabilitation and social reintegration services. We need to identify the conditions that make women and young girls more vulnerable to exploitation and involvement in drug trafficking. In every stage of the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of drug programs and policies, women must be involved to prevent and counter discrimination against female drug users and their children.

To propose truly effective actions, we need to take into account the full variety of circumstances: differences in psychology, family and social background, as well as different reasons for using drugs, risk factors, and vulnerability.

In the area of prevention and treatment, early detection for the sake of early intervention should be ensured, including for pregnant women, for the protection of both mother and child.

Italy is dedicating special attention to a gender perspective on drugs. In 2012, in the Commission on Narcotic Drugs we promoted Resolution 55/5, “Promoting strategies and measures addressing specific needs of women in the context of comprehensive and integrated drug demand reduction programmes and strategies.” The purpose of the Resolution is to close the gender gap, especially in the area of drug-demand reduction, with a focus on prevention, treatment, risk and harm reduction, as well as rehabilitation into society and the labor market, and scientific research.

I wish to thank the group of Latin American countries for submitting a resolution at the last session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which builds on and compliments the resolution we submitted in 2012.

Under the coordination of the Drug Policy Department of the Prime Minister’s Office, and together with UNODC and UNICRI, we have developed targeted actions, guidelines, and training courses for health-care workers on the needs of particularly vulnerable women and girls, women and girls who have used drugs occasionally, or women and girls who abuse drugs.

We have replicated these strategies also at the international level, in particular with the Member States of the Council of Europe Pompidou Group and the Mednet network, which operates in countries in the Mediterranean region.

At the European level, we strongly advocated the inclusion – in both the current EU Strategy and the Action Plan on Drugs – of sections dedicated to the protection of women.

Finally, let me express our appreciation for the work the Council of Europe Pompidou Group has done over the years, achieving excellent results that go beyond a mere exchange of information between Member States. I wish also to recall the activities of the Gender Equality Rapporteur, whose task is to assure that on the issue of the drug problem special attention is dedicated to women.

Thank you.