Submission on Russia for the 80th session of the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

The UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women named women who use illegal substances in Russia a particularly vulnerable group and called for the elimination of violence, discrimination and stigmatization against them.

From October 18 to November 12, 2021, the 80th session of the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was held at the UN headquarters in Geneva (Switzerland). The session reviewed the reports of several states that have ratified the relevant Convention, including the ninth periodic report of the Russian Federation.

Following the consideration of the reports and a series of discussions with the official delegation of the Russian Federation and with NGOs, the Committee issued Concluding Observations in which it expressed concern about “Stigmatization of and discrimination against women living with HIV/AIDS and women who use drugs”.

Recalling its general recommendation No. 24 (1999) on women and health and target 3.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Committee recommended Russia to “Adopt measures to combat and eliminate gender-based violence and discrimination against and stigmatization of women living with HIV/AIDS, women using drugs, women in detention and women with disabilities in health care and ensure that they have access to adequate health services, including sexual and reproductive health services, antiretroviral treatment, and drug treatment”. For the first time, the Committee ranked women who use drugs as vulnerable groups of women in the Russian Federation.

The Committee also expressed particular concern about the persecution of women human rights defenders and the implementation of the Foreign Agents Act in Russia, which has forced the closure of several women’s rights organizations that provide assistance to victims of gender-based violence.

The Committee’s conclusions and recommendations were based on a thorough study of the official and alternative reports from Russia, in particular, two reports prepared by the Russian Public Mechanism for Monitoring Drug Policy / PUD Forum in cooperation with the Andrey Rylkov with technical support from the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association, the Canadian HIV / AIDS Legal Network. The first report, presented during the Committee’s consideration of the list of issues at the end of 2020, was devoted to an overview of violations of the provisions of the Conventions in relation to women who use psychoactive substances. The second report, presented in the summer of 2021, drew attention to the extremely high level of violence against women who use psychoactive substances and their absolute vulnerability due to the high level of stigma and criminalization. According to a ARF study collected specifically for this report, nine out of ten women who use psychoactive substances are subjected to violence, making them one of the most vulnerable groups of women in Russia. The criminalization of psychoactive substances also led to a high level of women’s penalization and imprisonment – according to the estimates given in the report and the research of the ARF, more than half of the surveyed women using psychoactive substances were prosecuted, and most often this was due to their drug addiction.

In addition to submitting reports, on October 21, 2021, a group of non-governmental organizations[1] held an additional briefing to discuss the situation in Russia and Kyrgyzstan with members of the Committee. The briefing focused on the impact of punitive drug policies on women. In addition to non-governmental organizations, the briefing was attended by Elina Steinert, a member of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, who presented the working group’s study, completely dedicated to drug policy, “Arbitrary detention relating to drug policies,” released in May 2021, which used a lot of data from Russia and paid special attention to women. The briefing was also attended by scientists from the University of Miami, who presented global data on the vulnerability of women who use psychoactive substances to human rights violations.

We hope that the results of an intensive two-year work on preparations for the 80th session of CEDAW and the Committee’s Recommendations will be useful for organizations working to protect women in Russia and around the world. Criminalization, stigmatization and imprisonment of women who use prohibited substances undermines their equality, human dignity, civil, political, economic, labor and parental rights, deprives the prospects of development and “full disclosure of their opportunities for the benefit of their countries and humanity,” which he calls Convention. The criminalization of women for substance use stands in the way of eradicating gender inequality and must be stopped immediately.


[1] Andrey Rylkov Foundation  (recognized as a foreign agent by the Russian Ministry of Justice), Eurasian Harm Reduction Association, Canadian HIV / AIDS Legal Network, Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS, University of Miami, UNAIDS, UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.