Home > Gender-specific services for women experiencing homelessness and addiction.

Dillon, Lucy (2022) Gender-specific services for women experiencing homelessness and addiction. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 81, Spring 2022, pp. 20-21.

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In September 2021, Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) launched a briefing paper calling for governmental support to provide gender-specific services for women experiencing homelessness and addiction, entitled A space of her own: the need for gender specific services for women in homelessness and addiction.1 The briefing paper draws on the findings of a number of studies, in particular Responding to women with complex needs who use substances, which was published in 2020.2 

Policy context

The needs of women who use drugs are included in Ireland’s national drugs strategy under its second goal to ‘minimise the harms caused by the use and misuse of substances and promote rehabilitation and recovery’ (p. 33).3 These were addressed specifically as part of the objective ‘to attain better health and social outcomes for people who experience harm from substance misuse and meet their recovery and rehabilitation needs’ (p. 33).3 Furthermore, the Programme for Government launched in June 2020 reiterated the Government’s commitment to address the needs of women who face barriers to accessing and sustaining addiction treatment, arising from an absence of childcare or the presence of domestic violence.4

Within this national policy context, MQI argues that to achieve better outcomes for women, services need policies that allow them to adapt their services to support female clients. Overall, there is a need to understand and invest in services that work for women. 

Complex needs

Evidence cited in both publications illustrates the complex nature of the needs of women who experience homelessness and addiction. Among those issues identified in the reports are higher rates of mortality, sexual and intimate partner violence, HIV infection, trauma, and abuse than in the general female population. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the further marginalisation of these women. Stigma, shame, and fear are among the many issues women in addiction and homelessness face, which also act as barriers to women’s engagement and ongoing contact with practitioners and services. However, international evidence has found that gender-specific services can help women overcome these barriers. 

Gender-specific services

The MQI briefing paper argues that there is a lack of specific services for women experiencing addiction and homelessness in Ireland. Moreover, there is a lack of gender sensitivity in the services that are available. The presence of men at these services can create an intimidating atmosphere for women who have experienced trauma. MQI argues that it is imperative that gender-responsive and trauma-informed services are provided for these vulnerable women. They need to reflect the complexities of these women’s needs and provide flexible pathways into the services, with speedy access, integration of services, and inclusivity (p. 3).1 

MQI vision

The briefing paper identifies five elements to MQI’s vision for progress in this area.

  • That there would be services that recognise and respond to the unique and complex challenges faced by women in Ireland today. They would be delivered in a safe, supportive, and non-judgemental environment.
  • That services would be trauma-informed to allow women to address their complex needs. The services would be promoted in a female-friendly way to encourage more women to engage with the services earlier.
  • That there would be a low-threshold female-only wellbeing centre in Dublin. The centre would be holistic in its approach and would link in with other relevant services to support vulnerable women.
  • That staff would be trained and upskilled to work with and support vulnerable women who experience trauma, violence, and abuse.

That further research would be carried out to explore the intersectionality of women’s problematic substance use within an Irish context. 

1  Merchants Quay Ireland (2021) A space of her own: the need for gender specific services for women experiencing homelessness and addiction. Dublin: Merchants Quay Ireland. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/34831/

2  Morton S, Macdonald S and Christophers L (2020) Responding to women with complex needs who use substances. Dublin: University College Dublin. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/33443/

3  Department of Health (2017) Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery: a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017–2025. Dublin: Department of Health. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/27603/

4  Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party (2020) Programme for Government: our shared future. Dublin: Department of the Taoiseach. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/32212/

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Treatment method, Harm reduction, Rehabilitation/Recovery
Issue Title
Issue 81, Spring 2022
May 2022
Page Range
pp. 20-21
Health Research Board
Issue 81, Spring 2022

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