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Women, ethnic minorities, drug-help services: What makes a difference?

In most EU states drug-help services (like prevention and harm-reduction) for women using drugs are still inadequate. The needs of for example pregnant women, mothers, and sex workers are not met. The WEDworks project, implemented in five Central and Eastern European countries identifies gaps and resources in the service provision for drug using women. Through a series of semi-structured interviews and focus groups unmet needs of the service clients for health and social support were outlined. The project partners have just finalised the qualitative research phase and first results were recently presented with a poster at the German Public Health Congress in Berlin.

“I tried a lot of options, but nothing was successful, so I tried to stop just by myself. Again with no success.” (drug using woman, Slovak Republic)

The findings proved that drug using women and sex workers are particularly vulnerable groups regarding socio-economic status, health conditions and social stigmatisation. Almost each of the five countries lacks gender approaches in the drug-help systems, in particular there are insufficient services for drug using mothers and child care. However, the majority of the women shows a willingness to undergo a substitution/dependency treatment. The links between sex work and drug use are insufficiently studied, however it has become evident that the co-dependency pattern puts a lot of pressure on the drug using women engaged in sex work, leading to unsafe work conditions and increasing their vulnerability.

”For the moment, on the street... I started [sex work] in clubs, in apartment and now on the street. Oh, I feel sick. What can I say? It’s very difficult; every time I go with someone in his car I am afraid. That is why the stress I feel.”  (drug using sex workers, Romania)

Capacity building trainings for service professionals, case management, pilot service programmes, intervision sessions and study visits to German drug service settings in Berlin are implemented to strengthen the project´s partners and their local networks. Other organisations can benefit from the research findings relevant to their context and the practical recommendations for gender-sensitive drug-help services for women at the end of the project, and finally the possibilities of networking.

Project coordination and contact: SPI Forschung gGmbH, Berlin

Dr. Joyce Dreezens-Fuhrke and Tzvetina Arsova Netzelmann

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