The COVID-19 pandemic aggravates gender violence and addictions, creating a situation of vulnerability that primarily affects women

Implementing gender-sensitive addiction services plays an important role in the elimination of violence against women

Around the world, lockdown and quarantine measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus are accompanied by negative consequences such as the risk of losing one’s job, economic vulnerabilities and psychological health problems related to isolation, loneliness or uncertainty, to name but a few.

Surges in gender-based violence

Another negative consequence of these measures is the sharp rise in cases of gender violence, particularly in family settings. The preliminary data collected by various international agencies give a very clear picture of the situation: in most of the countries affected by Covid-19, telephone hotlines, police forces and other rescue services report a sharp increase in cases of violence, especially against children and women.

Women who use drugs are primarily affected

Drug users are considered a high-risk group, and women who use drugs accumulate vulnerabilities. It is estimated that around one third of people who use drugs are women. They are more likely to experience violence than women in the general population. This phenomenon is likely to be exacerbated by pandemic-related increased isolation and stress.

Lack of gender-sensitive programmes

Women with substance use disorders (and even more so when they are also victims of violence) face many obstacles in accessing, staying and engaging in treatment or harm reduction programmes. These barriers are due to the stigma they face and the lack of a gender perspective in the design and implementation of these programmes.

Gender-based violence at its peak

According to data, in most of the countries affected by Covid-19, telephone hotlines, police forces and other rescue services report a sharp increase in cases of violence, especially against children and women.

Various reports indicate a marked increase in cases of gender-based violence in a number of countries. For example, although a drop was observed in the overall crime rates in Australia, domestic abuse rates increased by 5%. China reported a three-fold increase in the cases of domestic violence after authorities imposed quarantine.

According to a progress report  by UN-Women, helplines dealing with violence against women have registered an increase in calls by about one-third in Singapore, Cyprus and Argentina. In the UK, there was a 65% increase in gender-based violence in April, while in France it increased by 30% following the stay-at-home orders imposed in March.

Xenophobia-related violence, harassment and other forms of violence in public spaces and online are more prevalent, with increased risks of sexual exploitation and abuse. Some groups of women are the targets of violence through information and communication technologies including human rights activists, women in politics, journalists, bloggers, women belonging to ethnic minorities, indigenous women, LGBTQI+ persons, and women with functional diversity.

Addiction and gender-based violence

According to a United Nations progress report, the Covid-19 crisis threatens to push back the limited gains made on gender equality and exacerbate the feminization of poverty and women’s vulnerability to violence. Women who use drugs are affected most, with a prevalence of intimate partner violence higher than in the general population.

Research has pointed out a link between substance use and violence against women. This link is based on three observations:

  • The prevalence of violence experienced by women who use drugs is higher than that of women in the general population,
  • The prevalence of violence experienced by women who use drugs is higher than that observed among male drug users,
  • Substance use disorders are more prevalent among people who have experienced violence than among those who have not.

Implementing gender-sensitive addiction programmes

There is an urgent need to rethink addiction treatment programmes and implement services that effectively and comprehensively address the needs of women with addiction problems that experience violence through a gender- and children rights-based perspective.

Gender-sensitive addiction programmes can address violence against women

One of the key elements in gender sensitive addiction services is that they specifically address the issue of gender-based violence as an initiating or aggravating factor of substance use disorders. Violence and drug use form a complex relationship which needs to be addressed in a holistic rather than fragmented manner.

Within male-dominated environments, where gender aspects are not taken into account, women who experience gender violence and substance use disorders find it difficult to address this problem effectively. The lack of gender perspective is an obstacle in their search for improved health and well-being, which is contrary to the principle of social justice.

Call to action

In this context, Dianova calls on the various national authorities to address the specific vulnerabilities and needs of women who use drugs and to take gender-based violence into account. We need to:

  • Recognise addiction services as essential social and health services in order to ensure appropriate support from authorities.
  • Mainstream gender in existing structures for social reintegration, harm reduction, addiction treatment and prevention
  • Establish at the institutional level the conditions for effective comprehensive care for women who use substances and experience violence

Target Audiences

  • Decision makers – institutions, governments, ministries in key positions with decision-making power to carry out changes.


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