Mutual help groups for women who use drugs, as a community-led gender sensitive harm reduction response
Recently, the analysis of national gender grouped data confirms that, compared with men, women who use drugs have more health problems, a higher rate of HIV infection, a higher proportion of mental pathology and they are more likely to die from drug-related causes. Mutual aid groups have shown very positive results not only in the field of health, through active support between patients who, together, share experiences, information and strategies to deal with their common problem, but also in promoting citizenship and associative initiatives. MUSA is a mutual support group of women who experience multiple vulnerabilities, promoted by CASO, in Porto. This is a community-based initiative, a peer-to-peer response and the group's operating rules are defined by all.
The concern with monitoring and evaluating of the activities promoted by CASO, within the scope of the construction of a community of women who use drugs, has produced a set of information and data, namely: a) reports of campaign actions with focus on women, since 2018; b) the minutes of the meetings of the MUSA group, that summarize the process of defining the identity, goals and functioning of the group; c) data collected with the Community Monitoring Tool for Gender Responsive Harm Reduction Services for Women Who Use Drugs.
MUSA facilitates new ways of facing individual and social barriers, reinforces the prevention of violence and contributes for the equity of access to harm reduction services. Led by its own members, the group supports the co-creation of a collective agenda around safer spaces for women, advocating for the inclusion of combating gender violence in innovative harm reduction services. Mutual aid groups of women who use drugs, like MUSA, are a comprehensive and accessible strategy to reduce gender-based inequalities, to reduce violence against women and to promote community participation in health promotion.