International Women’s Day 2024 – Invest in women: Accelerate progress

Each year on March 8th we mark International Women’s Day and renew our collective commitment to achieving gender equality. This year we are encouraged to “invest in women to accelerate progress”.

Over the years, significant steps have been made toward achieving greater gender equality, even so, gender equality is yet to be reached as stated by UN Women, “In a world facing multiple crises that are putting immense pressure on communities, achieving gender equality is more vital than ever”. On top of that, there is still an extreme lack of financing initiatives and measures supporting gender equality, which is a gap expected to grow due to conflicts and rising fuel and food prices. As a result, 75 per cent of countries are expected to decrease public spending by 2025, leading to essential public services and social protection being immensely negatively impacted. Thus, impacting women and girls negatively.

Presently, despite the historic gender gap in substance use disorders narrowing among women and men – a glaring treatment gap persists, reflecting societal gender disparities and inequality. According to UNODC data, only 1 out of 5 people who need treatment worldwide receive it. However, the percentage of women who use drugs who access treatment is much lower, with some countries lacking treatment options for women altogether. Besides stigma and other societal and cultural barriers relating to normative ideas of gender that withhold women from entering treatment, many treatment programmes are catered to meet the needs of men. Research underscores the specific needs of women and the importance of gender sensitive and trauma-informed interventions. This calls for urgent investment in gender-sensitive, trauma-informed treatment approaches that address prevailing barriers and contribute to the dismantling of gender-based stereotypes. Additionally, robust investment in data collection is required to accurately map the realities of women who use drugs, available evidence-based and effective services and assess women’s access to gender-sensitive treatment.

Moreover, prioritising investments in gender-sensitive prevention strategies is imperative to curb substance use among adolescents while ensuring early detection mechanisms are in place. Women and girls are differently affected by substance use and often face unique obstacles to treatment and are often made invisible in prevention interventions and strategies. Research showcases that generic prevention tools and mechanisms lead to different outcomes based on gender and ethnicity – highlighting the importance of investing in gender and culturally-sensitive prevention and the monitoring and evaluating of existing services.

Additionally, further risk factors, such as gendered barriers to educational opportunities, lack of investment in hygiene and sanitary products that hinder school participation for girls on a global scale, and lack of investment in work with gender-based violence, need dedicated investments. Therefore, continuous investments in gender-sensitive prevention programmes, strengthening protective factors and reducing risk factors, are required to decrease the initiation of substance use and create healthy and safe environments. 

We urge countries to invest in women to accelerate progress by promoting gender equality, and gender-sensitive services, enhancing gender-sensitive prevention programmes, and working to eliminate barriers and reduce stigma, to ensure healthy, just, and equal societies.

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