5th European Harm Reduction Conference
The 5th European Harm Reduction Conference took place on November 10-12, 2021 in Prague, Czech Republic. Back in 2020 our members decided to include Harm Reduction as a new Core thematic area in our new Strategic Plan for 2022-2026 “Working Together to End Inequalities”. For that reason, a part of AAE's team attended the conference in accordance with the operations deriving from the new Strategic Plan and its Core Thematic Areas.
The conferrence was organized by Correlation European Harm Reduction Network, Czech Harm Reduction organization - SANANIM and Eurasian Harm Reduction Association. During the 3 days of the conference, which was attended by more than 400 people in person, and even more online, a diverse range of important topics around Harm Reduction was discussed.
Czech Republic and Recriminalization
The location of the conference already stimulates a rich discussion topic. The Czech Republic has an interesting drug policy history, which was reflected on and discussed during the last day of the conference. Until 1989 the posession and consumption of drugs in the Czech Republic resulted in criminal offence, which was typical of the communist policies in the region. In 1990, the criminal code of the country abolished criminal liability for drug use and posession, or in other words harm reduction and healthcare sevices for the users were introduced.
Since 1999 various amendments have been introduced to the country's drugs legislation. First, criminalization for the possession of "greater than small amounts" was established, then administrative offence for the possession of "small amount" was added. The understanding of the concepts "small amounts" or "treshold amounts" was in turn subjected to many changes, with the latest governmental decree being issued in 2020. With all these policy developments throughout the end of 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, the Czech Republic has a unique profice of re-criminalization of drug use.
The parallel session on ChemSex discussed challenges faced in the ChemSex scene, and the presentations focused on slamming, community stigma and human rights abuses. The session offered examples and solutions on how to help help gay and bisexual men and other MSM assess their sexual problems better and respond better to their structural needs. Some initiatives shared their experience with digital tools and apps, using them for education and harm reduction in regard to ChemSex.
Among other presentations, Leon Knapps from Mainline the Netherlands gave an overview of their study on slamming (injecting drug use) in the Dutch ChemSex scene, and Igor Medvid from Ukraine reported about the violation of the rights of men who have sex with men, or are engaged in sex work and ChemSex.
Women Who Use Drugs
One of the sessions focused on womxn who use drugs, bringing up the examples both from Western Europe and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The exclusion of womxn from traditional harm reduction services as well as the need to organize womxn needs centred harm reduction services has been discussed. Womxn who use drugs are often subjected to gender based violence, they experience higher mortality rates, faster progression to drug dependence, increased likelihood of injecting related problems, and sexual violence, and increased rates of HIV. Therefore an intersectional approach to assess their needs is necessary. Narcofeminist movement based on this approach was built to organize womxn and gender non-conforming people against the discrimination, rights violation and injustice.
An artist from the Metzineres team created a graffiti with the new ideas coming from the panel.\
A big highlight of the conference was the participation of the Metzineres team from Barcelona. Metzineres is peer-led organisation that organises communities of womxn and provides a safe haven for womxn who use drugsб who experience and have survived violence in Barcelona.
They provide safe shelter as well as psychological support for womxn who use drugs, suffer from homelessness, gender-based violence, and mental health issues.
The approach of the initiative is very creative as they organize dance, yoga, cosmetics, sewing workshops, and dinner nights for and with the community.
Metzineres is a good inspiring practice breathing with power and there definitely should be more of them.