Women and Drug Policies in Latin America: A Critical Review of the United Nations Resolution ‘Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective in Drug‐Related Policies and Programmes’

DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/hojo.12216
Publication Date01 September 2017
AuthorCORINA GIACOMELLO
The Howard Journal Vol56 No 3. September 2017 DOI: 10.1111/hojo.12216
ISSN 2059-1098, pp. 288–308
Women and Drug Policies in Latin
America: A Critical Review of the
United Nations Resolution
‘Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective
in Drug-Related Policies
and Programmes’
CORINA GIACOMELLO
Researcher, Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Penales (National Institute of
Penal Sciences), Mexico City, Mexico
Abstract: Since the 2000s the impact of the international system of drug control has moved
centre stage and with it the visibility of women involved in drug traff‌icking and drug
use. International bodies and civil society organisations establish discursive consensus
on women’s realities in relation to drugs and the need for a gender perspective in drug
policies. In March 2016, United Nations member states gathered at the Commission
on Narcotic Drugs approved the resolution ‘Mainstreaming a gender perspective in
drug-related policies and programmes’. In this article, the contents of the resolution are
discussed against the experiences of incarcerated women in Mexico City. In contrast to the
image of women-as-victims sustained by the mainstream gender perspective, it is argued
that agency and victimisation coexist and that such a relationship must set the basis for
women-centred drug policy.
Keywords: drug policy; drug traff‌icking; gender perspective; women
In March 2016, the United Nations Commission on Narcotics Drugs
(CND) approved the resolution ‘Mainstreaming a gender perspective in
drug-related policies and programmes’ (hereafter cited as Resolution or
Resolution on gender) during its 59th session in Vienna (Commission on
Narcotic Drugs 2016). What underlies the approval of this Resolution is
the increasing incarceration of women for drug offences, their criminal
and social prof‌ile, and the incremental negative impact of the criminal
justice system on their lives and those of their children. The Resolution
analyses the situation of women users and offenders and invites member
states to develop gender-responsive policies and programmes within the
frame of the United Nations conventions on drugs.1
288
C
2017 The Howard League and John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK
The Howard Journal Vol56 No 3. September 2017
ISSN 2059-1098, pp. 288–308
In this article I analyse the contents and policy recommendations of the
Resolution and compare them with the f‌indings of empirical studies. This
comparison serves two main objectives. In the f‌irst place, it contributes
to problematising the relationship between vulnerability and agency in
women’s accounts of their involvement in drug offences. As we shall see,
gender stereotypes are, to some extent, perpetuated in the Resolution,
providing an image of women who use drugs or commit drug offences as
vulnerable, poor and manipulated. The empirical cases show that women’s
involvement in drug offences rarely f‌it the static gender categories present
in policy discourse; factors of vulnerability and agency both shape women’s
involvement in drug offences and drug use and should be taken into ac-
count when rethinking current gender-sensitive approaches to drug poli-
cies. Subsequently, the second objective of this article is to demonstrate the
value of incorporating women’s own accounts of their life experiences in
the design, implementation and evaluation of drug policies and how this
could be achieved.
The focus of this article is primarily on women incarcerated for selling or
transporting drugs, given space constraints; however, some consideration
will be given to the indirect criminalisation of drug use through the study
of the case of Mariana, a drug user who began to abuse drugs after being
raped by her father.
First, I describe the contents of the CND Resolution on women and
drug policy. In the second section, I present f‌ive case studies of women
incarcerated for drug offences. In the third section, the Resolution and the
f‌indings of empirical research are discussed. A paragraph of conclusions
follows: in contrast to the image of women-as-victims sustained by the
mainstream gender perspective, it is argued that agency and victimisation
coexist. I conclude the article with a four-steps proposal on how such
relationship could be incorporated in order to design women-centred drug
policy.
Incarceration of Women for Drug Offences: A Growing Phenomenon
In the last 15 years, the global female prison population rose from approx-
imately 466,000 inmates in 2000 to 700,000 in 2015, that is, 50% more
(Walmsley 2015).2Drug offences constitute one of the main causes of over-
crowding in prisons in Latin America (Inter-American Drug Abuse Control
Commission 2015) and the f‌irst or second cause of female incarceration in
the region (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 2013). Ta b l e 1
shows the percentage of female prisoners who are charged or convicted of
drug offences in several countries of Latin America.
In Mexico, the overall prison population has risen approximately 6.8%
between 2003 and 2016, but the number of women in prison increased
by 50% in the same period (Comisi´
on Nacional de Seguridad 2016;
Giacomello and Blas Guill´
en 2016). Drug offences represent the second
cause of incarceration of women overall and the f‌irst at the federal level
(Instituto Nacional de Estad´
ıstica y Geograf´
ıa 2015).
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2017 The Howard League and John Wiley & Sons Ltd

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