Prohibition-Inspired Violence Against Women

By Andres Kogan Valderrama

HAVANA TIMES – Day by day we see news bulletins about women accused of drug-related crimes. Underneath these crimes is a problematic of large proportions, marked by stigma, gender inequality and the machismo that’s reproduced in the world of drugs. Moreover, current anti-drug policies do nothing more than perpetuate a reality where women are the most adversely affected.

According to the document: “Women, drug policies and imprisonment,” elaborated by the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission of Women, together with the Washington office on Latin America, and the International Consortium on Drug Policy, the number of incarcerated women has risen 51.6% between 2000 and 2015, while that of men has increased by 20%. [1] 

As regards the proportion of women jailed for drug-related crimes, the statistics are alarming, especially in countries such as Costa Rica (75.46%); Argentina (65%); Brazil (60.63%); Peru (60.6%); and Chile (57.2%). This reveals how patriarchal violence is also being reproduced within the prison system.

The patriarchal violence with respect to drugs began with the period of prohibition in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. During this period, strict punitive policies were imposed on different substances, including alcohol. These policies served to stigmatize and persecute different groups, among them women. Because they were historically considered inferior, women have had to suffer violence from both the police and the criminal organizations, both of which use threats and terror as a way of imposing their domination over the other.

Women are viewed as the spoils of war, or as the property of the large drug cartels, whose leaders have sought to display their manliness through the use of women’s bodies as a disposable resource.

Women have been assigned inferior roles by those same criminal organizations (such as transporting drugs), exposing them to dramatic risks and consequences, from abuse to rape and imprisonment right up to death itself.

The so-called war on drugs has caused millions of women to become victims of the fights for territorial control between the large traffickers and the anti-narcotics brigades. By centering their efforts only on drugs, the authorities have completely disregarded the lives of the women.

On the other hand, women consumers of drugs have had to endure large stigmas. The macho idea that women by nature shouldn’t take risks, and that it’s the men who should do so, has resulted in the women consumers of drugs being more severely punished, discriminated against and isolated in society.

When they decide to seek treatment for problems with drug use, women feel guiltier and more ashamed than men, given the reproductive and domestic role imposed on them for centuries, in which being mothers and subservient to a man is seen as their chief obligation.

It’s no coincidence, then, that women tend to consume more legal drugs than illegal ones, since under the patriarchal discourse it’s supposed that women in their essence are more obedient and less rebellious.

For all these reasons, the existing prohibitionist violence stemming from over 100 years of history has translated into a hidden violence against women.

Read more from Chile here on Havana Times