Gender aspects of health and social risk of female partners of Injecting Drug Users
Gender aspects of health andsocial risk of female partners of Injection Drug Users Belgrade, 2012
Main goals of the study• To provide an empirical basis for formulating gender sensitive recommendations that should be included in the Action Plan for the National Strategy on HIV in Serbia.• To develop recommendations for gender sensitive services for governmental and non-governmental actors for people infected by and at risk of HIV.• To get insight into gender aspects of HIV risk among female partners of IDUs within the broader context of their living conditions and exposure to social and health risks.
Specific goals of the study• To identify specific patterns of social and health risk that female partners of IDUs are exposed to.• To deepen the understanding of various aspects of partner relationships and the impact IDUs have on risky behavior - sexual work, initiation into drug injecting practices, use of sterile equipment etc.,• To identify and assess accessibility and the role of governmental and non-governmental services available for women who are at risk of HIV.
Implementing organization - SeConS in brief• Independent think-tank, founded in 2005 in Belgrade by a group of sociologists and social researchers.• SeConS’ mission is to contribute to integrated and sustainable development of Serbia and the Region.• Organization’s good practices have spread in neighboring countries, Montenegro and BiH.• Areas of SeConS’ support are: social inclusion of vulnerable groups, such as women, Roma, refugees and IDPs, people experiencing poverty; regional and local sustainable development; institutional and organizational reform and development of the public sector; HR development; evaluation of development programs and projects and assessment of public policies at the national, regional and local levels.
SeConS in brief (cont.)Expertise of SeConS:• Designing methodologies and conducting empirical research from different fields in Serbia and the region• Drafting comparative studies, analyzing policies, legislation and providing recommendations for further improvement in Serbia and the region• Designing and conducting training and education programs for individuals, institutions and organizations, to support their work in social inclusion• Empowering marginalized groups and individuals through trainings, to improve information sharing and help them to become more proactively involved in decision-making processes• Advocating for social development, through representation of interests of vulnerable groups and networking with relevant stakeholders.
Method of data collection:Qualitative research method - in-depth semi-structured interviews with focuson:• Personal characteristics and features of the respondents family context during childhood and in the present - history of gender relations and risk behaviors,• initiation into into the world of drug use,• characteristics of current and former relationships with partners who are IDUs,• personal history of vulnerabilities - patterns of health and social risks,• experience with health and social service providers,• coping strategies and/or exit strategies,• and, subjective perceptions of risk and the need for social protection.Quantitative research method: short survey focusing on the socio-demographic profile of respondents
Sensitive topics research - challenges The research could have negative effects on respondents: (1) questions can intrude into the most intimate sphere of their lives and problems, issues that can provoke pain, stress or shame and therefore can cause secondary victimization of respondents; (2) questions can be related to activities that are illegal; (3) respondents can be afraid that revealing information can put them in danger, lead to punishment or revenge of other persons in their surrounding that might be in power positions.
Sample• 99 in-depth interviews in Belgrade and Nis• Snowball sampling in two Drop-In centers where IDUs can obtain sterile equipment• Respondents selected according to following criteria’s: a) women that are in a relationship with an IDU (regardless of whether they are IDU themselves or not), b) or, women that are themselves IDUs who have previously been in a relationships with IDUs.
Analysis and fieldwork• Duration of fieldwork: 22nd of November - 9th of December.• 23 interviews completed in Nis and 76 interviews in Belgrade – all interviews were audio-taped and transcribed ‘word to word’• Qualitative content analysis conducted• Quantitative data processed in SPSS and subsequently analyzed
Socio-demographic characteristicsRespondents’ socio-economic position is extremelyunfavorable and they belong to the most vulnerable socialgroups.• Education levels are low – 37% without qualifications• Household conditions are unfavorable – 28.1% of households do not meet minimum standards in housing, 5% are homeless or live in e.g. containers, barrack etc.• Material deprivation is high – 60% struggle to make ends meet, 30% can barely cover basic costs.• A vast majority unemployed - only 15.5% are employed
Genesis of risk – social and family context Research shows a few key factors (push factors) that impact later drug use and life of risk among respondents: • lack of parental care and supervision; • experience with/exposure to different forms of violence (psychological, physical, and sexual); • substance abuse problems within the family; • life on the streets and exposure to sexual work, delinquency, and peer pressure; • curiosity or submissiveness in relation to the impact of people from family and peer networks; • and, lack of awareness about the risks and consequences of drug use.
Genesis of risk – social and family context • Identified risk factors during childhood and adolescent years are interlinked and contextually bound – they continually reinforce one another. • All risk factors are saturated with powerful gender specific roles: – Respondents are often subordinate in relation to a male figure from early childhood. – Internalization of gender roles (in which women are in a submissive position, with less or no power) influences the reproduction of gender inequality in the future life of the respondents - it leads to greater exposure of women to the risk of initiation into drug use, relationships with partners who are IDU, and social and health risks.
Partner relationships and life with drugsSeveral key gender patterns (gender inequalities) put women inrelationships with IDUs in a specifically risky position:1. Partners play an important role in initiating drug use of their partners: IDUs often conceal their addiction at the start of the relationship and they are often actively trying to force their partners to start using drugs (directly through mental and physical coercion, pressure, and persuasion), as well as by different forms of allurement.2. Household priorities are dependent and centered around the need for drugs - all other needs in the household are subordinated to the priority of procuring drugs and means for drugs. When the partner is not IDU herself, her and her childrens needs are subordinated to that of the partner and they often live in constant deprivation of basic needs.
Partner relationships and life with drugs3. Strategies for providing funds for drug use: – Women often internalize and accept the responsibility of providing for the livelihood of the household – they are most often the main household providers. – Sexual work is a very common strategy whereby respondents use their womens resources‘ as means to obtain drugs. This is not simply the choice of respondents, rather, in many cases this is a direct result of coercion and pressure from their partners. Furthermore, women often practice sexual work in order to protect their partners from risks related to other criminal acts, which can result in stronger sentences than sexual work. This type of responsibility whereby women are sacrificing their own resources and putting themselves in a vulnerable positions in order to protect their partners, has deep roots in patriarchal patterns of gender roles that are largely present in the social environment of women. – Women who are not users themselves are also often the main providers of financial means for their partners drug use: borrowing money from friends and relatives, using their welfare checks, and stealing. This is often due to fear of possible outbreaks and aggressiveness of their partners.
Partner relationships and life with drugs4. Gender inequalities of household life that expose women to numerous health and social risks: – respondents are almost exclusively responsible for care of the household and children – women are systematically exposed to domestic violence and violence against women - physical, sexual, economic and psychological violence are dominating partner relationship
Partner relationships and life with drugs – male domination in the drug market puts women who are IDUs themselves in a position where they are dependent on their partners for the procurement of drugs – practices of injection drug use produces a range of additional risks: • women who are not IDUs help with preparation of equipment and injection itself due to fear of ‘crisis’ • when both partners are users, these risks are closely related to practices of sharing equipment whereby partner authority should not be questioned
Partner relationships and life with drugs5. Exit strategies from a life with drugs and a life with IDUs are very difficult to follow through. There are two main strategies, both mostly unsuccessful: – Treatment of addiction: failure of treatment – Ending the relationship: physical and psychological violence and socio-economic dependency Inability to exit an abusive relationships or a relationship where the woman is continuously exposed to health and social risks, leads to the acceptance of and adaptation to adverse circumstances.
PATTERNS OF HEALTH RISK ANDACCESS TO HEATH SERVICES
Patterns of health risk1. Infectious and sexually transmittable disease (especially, HIV, HCV and HBV). Prevalence of HIV among respondents and their partners Respondents Partners of respondents total % total % HIV postive 5 5,1 4 4,1 HIV negative 79 79,8 71 71,7 Unknown 13 13,1 13 13,1 Missing 2 2,0 11 11,1 Total 99 100 99 100 Prevalence of HCV among respondents and their partners Respondents Partners of respondents total % total % HCV positive 40 40,4 40 40,4 HCV negative 36 36,3 36 36,3 Unknown 17 17,2 17 17,2 Missing 6 6,1 6 6,1 Total 99 100 99 100
Patterns of health riskMain cause of infection: – unprotected sexual relations, – sharing of drug injecting equipment (in cases where respondents are IDU), – and injury related to drug injection practices (in cases when women are not IDU).Mechanisms that increase exposure include: – limited knowledge of infectious and sexually transmitted diseases, – exposure to violence, – accidental injuries, – and lastly, conscious exposure to disease as a ‘pathological’ desire to share experiences and problems of partners.
Patterns of health risk2. Reproductive health is often at risk as a result of: – high-risk pregnancies, – unwanted pregnancies, – and frequent abortions and miscarriages. These problems are closely associated with: – addiction problems, – lack of information of risks and disregard of risk, – trust in partners, – no use of protection - because they find it less satisfactory, and because the partner rejects use of such forms of prevention.3. Physical injuries as a result of violence (in their relationships or by other male figures in the family or environment) and injuries related to long-term injection drug use.4. Psychological problems associated with addiction problems and/or adverse living conditions.
Health care servicesAccess to health services is limited due to: – lack of proper documentation (id cards, health insurance), – lack of trust in health services providers and medical personnel (unpleasant and antagonistic communication with health personnel), – discrimination and refusal of health care professionals during provision of services (inadequate provision of health services is rooted in the dismissal and stigma related to the lifestyles of the respondents and prejudices of possible attaining an infectious disease) manifested through a lack of attention, superficial and inaccurate diagnosis, and inadequate therapy, – lack of psycho-social support, – and finally, fear that the police and/or the Center for Social Work might be contacted.
Patterns of social risksMain social risks female partners of IDUs are exposed to:1. poverty and material deprivation,2. exclusion from the labor market and therefore high prevalence of engagement in informal sectors of the labor market,3. delinquency and problems with the law enforcement,4. family dysfunction and instability,5. exposure to domestic violence and violence in the environment,6. and social discrimination, social exclusion and isolation.
Social serviceAccess to social services limited due to:• Lack of information about different types of support and procedures necessary to be able to access these forms of social protection,• discrimination and stigmatization when trying to access such services,• avoidance of contact with governmental institutions due to the fear of loosing custody over children,• and, experiences of violence or threat of violence, especially in regard to law enforcement personnel.
Prevention of health and social risk1. Enable and adapt various forms of protection against domestic abuse and neglect: – Identify dysfunctional families and different types of problems in family relations – Support to parents who experience communication or other forms of problems with their children – Provide adequate protection from and systematic monitoring of children in families with substance abuse problems – Systematic support against domestic violence2. Encourage integration of girls from vulnerable groups/socially excluded groups (Roma, poor, homeless girls, and so on) to be educated and involved in extra- curricular activities.
Prevention of health and social risk3. Strengthen channels of information on health and social risks that are a result in risky behavior: – Inform boys and girls about risks and preventive measures related to infectious and sexually transmitted diseases and the reproductive health of women. – Inform young people about different forms of violence and support systems for victims of gender-based violence. – Empower girls through normative education on gender equality in school. – Educate teachers in this field and how they can recognize risky behavior and family problems. – Educate health care providers to recognize violence against children, as well as other forms of risky behavior. – Educate parents about the effects their risk-behavior has on children and how identify risky behavior in children.
Support measures1. Sensitize the social care system on the specific needs of women who are at risk. – Improve availability of information on the right to financial social support, child support, one-time municipal aid, Red Cross assistance, soup kitchens etc. – Ensure rights to material assistance for women and children victims of violence throughout Serbia – Provide material assistance to IDUs that have finished treatment against addiction – Educate social care professionals on the specific needs of women with IDU partners, women who are IDUs, sex workers etc.
Support measures2. Improve measures for women victims of violence (especially for female partners of IDUs and women that have more children). – Inform about support systems in the event of violence in an accessible way through close‘ institutions (especially non- governmental org.) – Provide shelters for women who are victims of violence and IDU – Improve support systems in cases of psychological, sexual and economic violence – Sensitize employees in the judiciary and police against discrimination of female IDUs and sex workers.3. Improve provision of legal aid to female partners of IDUs and female IDUs: – Provide free legal aid throughout Serbia – Provide free representation in court when it comes to lawsuits
Support measures4. Improve health provision to women who are exposed to many health problems because they are IDUs, female partners of IDUs and sex workers: – Educate health personnel at health centers (and other health care facilities) about working with IDUs and other vulnerable groups in order to reduce discrimination and improve health services for people with and at risk of HIV. – Systematize trainings of health workers on infectious diseases (HIV, HCV, HBV), substance abuse problems, and pregnant women in this vulnerable group. – Inform vulnerable groups on infectious and sexually transmittable diseases, – Increase availability of psychological help, – Develop gender sensitive programs for treatment of addiction, – Increase access to and information about free testing for HIV , HCV, and HBV, – Provide free sterile injection equipment , – Complement sterile equipment services with psychological support, work with the NSP, work with children from IDU partnerships, etc, – Link sexual and reproductive health with measures related to HIV / AIDS strategies and programs, – Provide free contraception and information about various types of protection, – Improve the accessibility of health insurance to women who do not have id documents or support for attainment of personal documents.
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