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Dillon, Lucy (2022) Gender and drug policy. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 83, Winter 2022, p. 6.

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The mission of the Pompidou Group (Council of Europe International Cooperation Group on Drugs and Addictions) is to contribute to the development of multidisciplinary, innovative, effective, and evidence-based drug policies in its member states.1 Since the late 1980s, it has worked to support the integration of a gender dimension into drug policies and has delivered on a number of activities in this area.2 Its latest output on this issue is Implementing a gender approach in drug policies: prevention, treatment and criminal justice. A handbook for practitioners and decision makers.3

Handbook development

Due to restrictions linked to the Covid-19 pandemic, the handbook is the result of extensive online consultation involving 13 countries, including Ireland. The Irish team is made up of representatives from academia, the Department of Health, and drug services. As part of their work, they published a paper on gender and Irish drug policy in April 2020, which was reported in issue 74 of Drugnet Ireland.4,5

Aim of the handbook

The handbook aims to support the integration of a gender dimension into drug policy and practice. It provides policymakers and practitioners in the field with ‘evidence-based and operational recommendations to develop and implement policies and interventions that better integrate specific gender needs (gender-sensitive approach6) and support more gender equity (gender-transformative approach7) for people concerned with the provision of drug-related prevention and care (risk and harm reduction, treatment, reintegration), including in the criminal justice system’ (p. 11).3

Gender diversity

The handbook also represents the first attempt by the Pompidou Group to be trans-inclusive in an output from their work on gender. However, given that the vast majority of the existing evidence relating to gender and drugs relates to women, this forms the basis of the handbook’s analysis and recommendations. The authors recognise the need to take account of greater gender diversity and, where possible, integrate evidence relating to transgender people of all genders.

Handbook content

The handbook presents evidence and draws on the experiences of member states to illustrate innovative and relevant practices for readers to draw upon. The introduction explores the gender-related concepts used in the handbook, as well as the rationale for supporting gender-sensitive approaches and the associated principles for sustaining them. The first of three core chapters provides an overview of the epidemiological evidence on gender-based differences in drug use and related consequences, as well as how gender issues are taken into account in existing European drug policies and interventions.

Chapter 2 is aimed at policymakers. It identifies what the authors consider ‘essential elements’ that decision-makers can incorporate into drug policies and the implementation of plans and programmes. Underpinning this chapter is the concept of gender mainstreaming, which is defined as ‘systematic consideration of the differences between the conditions, situations and needs of women and men in all policies and actions’ (p. 88). Essentially this means incorporating the gender perspective as part of the whole process – monitoring and describing the situation; developing strategies and action plans; evaluating action plans; and budget development and allocation.

Chapter 3 is targeted at practitioners working in drug prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and criminal justice. The authors acknowledge the challenges faced by practitioners in implementing more gender-sensitive and transformative approaches to existing interventions. They outline examples of where needs are being addressed with a view to highlighting innovations in theory and practice.


1  For more information on the activities of the Pompidou Group, visit: https://www.coe.int/en/web/pompidou/about

2  For more information on the gender-related activities of the Pompidou Group, visit:

3  Mutatayi C, Morton S, Robles Soto N, Pálsdóttir KI and Vale Pires C (2022) Implementing a gender approach in drug policies: prevention, treatment and criminal justice. A handbook for practitioners and decision makers. Strasbourg: Council of Europe. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/36974/

4  Morton S, Devaney E, O’Connor K, McKeown P and Harris A (2020) Gender and Irish drug policy: report submitted to the working group as part of the ‘Implementing a gender approach in different drug policy areas: from prevention, care and treatment service to law enforcement’ project. Dublin: University College Dublin and Department of Health. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/31888/

5  Dillon L (2020) Gender and drug policy. Drugnet Ireland, 74 (Summer): 9–11. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/32730/

6  Gender-sensitive policies and programmes (WHO definition, as cited on p. 88 of Mutatayi et al. above): ‘Consider and acknowledge gender norms, roles and inequalities but take no action to address them; and/or are similar to gender aware (awareness of the issue), which does not necessarily mean that something is then done about it’. See World Health Organization (WHO) (2021) Classification framework for gender responsiveness of policies and programmes. Geneva: WHO.

7  Gender transformative (WHO definition, as cited on p. 89 of Mutatayi et al. above): ‘Recognize differences in gender roles, norms and access to resources; and/or actively try to change these, to promote gender equality’. See WHO (2021) Global progress report on HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections, 2021: accountability for the global health sector strategies 2016–2021: actions for impact. Geneva: WHO.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Screening / Assessment
Issue Title
Issue 83, Winter 2022
November 2022
Page Range
p. 6
Health Research Board
Issue 83, Winter 2022

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