Andrey Rylkov Foundation
for Health and Social Justice

ARF project “Strengthening the response to the growing needs of women who use drugs”.

By Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice (Moscow, Russia)


Project aim:

To protect health and human rights of women who use drugs (WUD) and are vulnerable to HIV by enabling their access to health services and legal aid.


Project goals:

• To provide daily outreach services to women who use drugs in Moscow including provision of sterile syringes, condoms health advise and referral, HIV and Hepatitis C testing, naloxone.
• To provide legal aid including outreach of legal experts, legal education and counseling, legal assistance in courts
• To organize mini-seminars for women who use drugs and are vulnerable to / living with HIV on health and legal issues
• To provide case management service for women who use drugs in difficult cases of access to other health, rehabilitation and legal services.
• To document human rights violations and violence towards women and feed into advocacy reports to the UN and national human rights authorities
• To build strategic litigation cases aimed at changing the legal practice in Russia in regards to issues related to drug using women (such as access to opioid substitution treatment, excessive incarceration, etc)

The project activities take place in 2 cities – Moscow and Ekaterinburg (Ural Region)

Project activities:


The project started in late 2012 when we started regular outreach and dedicated a case manager who focused specifically on women issues. Apart from our regular outreach prevention supplies (syringes, condoms, HIV tests etc, we started to purchase item in response to women needs: pregnancy tests, hygienic supplies, etc).

In the same year we conducted a research (in-depth interviews and focus-groups) on Violence against women who use drugs in Russia. The study has been conducted in Moscow and Ekaterinburg.

We started to work on a strategic litigation case of Oxana Shpagina from Togliatti, who has been denied access to evidence based opioid substitution therapy (OST) while pregnant. The OST is currently legally banned in Russia. A press-conference was held in Togliatti.


In 2013 ARF scaled up provision of services to women who use drugs, by the end of 2013, almost one third (27.7%) of 1584 our outreach participants were women. The case manager worked with 61 specific cases helping women to get access to medical and social services, providing legal aid etc.

We held a large training on protection of rights of women who use drugs and several mini trainings, for groups of 2-5 participants. The trainings were focused on legal issues and human rights, as well as HIV and hepatitis prevention and treatment. The following topics were covered:

• Self-protection of WUD rights in police arrests, right to medical help, parental rights of WUD.
• Life and health in HIV+, HIV prevention.
• Domestic violence prevention and response.
• Aid in overdose and other life-threating situations.
• STI prevention and treatment.

In total we conducted 24 mini trainings, for 67 women who use drugs, 15 of them became our volunteers.

In 2013 we also conducted several important advocacy activities:

• Based on the results of the evaluation we published a report “Drug policy and violence against women in Russia” and presented it at a Round table in Moscow. This round table was attended by the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women who visited Moscow on our invite. She made a presentation on the use of the UN mechanisms for advocating for the rights of women who use drugs at the Round table.

• In April 2013 the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women (UNSR-VAW) also visited Ekaterinburg to meet with women who use drugs. The women told the UN Special Rapporteur about their lives, violence, general situation around drugs and drug control services and other institutions of structural violence in Russia (police, prisons, etc). This and other meetings in Russia fed the SR report on Pathways to, conditions and consequences of incarceration for women where she emphasized repressive drug policy worldwide, but especially in Russia as a major cause for excessive incarceration and human rights abuse of women who use drugs.

An important advocacy achievement of ARF was the successful national and international campaign to release the 24-year-old Margarita Charykova from pre-trial detention center. Margarita was arrested on minor drug charges and kept in prison despite a severe health condition for which she did not receive adequate medical treatment. We linked Margarita with lawyers who immediately applied to the European Court on Hunan rights and organized protest and mass-media campaign in her support. The campaign brought public attention to the issues of improper detention of women who use drugs and excessive incarceration. Here’s a link to Human Rights Watch release on Margarita’s case.

• With ARF support, Maria Kiseleva, a famous art activist from Novosibirsk, has produced a book “Ecce Femina. Women and drug policy”. Maria met with several women who use drugs and depicted their stories in the genre of a medieval manuscript. This book was presented at several major art and activists events in Moscow such as a bi-annual activist art festival MediaImpact and other events. In 2014 this book will also be presented in Ekaterinburg during a regional MediaImpract festival.

• We marked December 17, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, with two events: a press conference and an exhibition of works “Bread and freedom”. Both events took place in the Sakharov Center in Moscow and were conducted together with the Russian association of sex workers and their allies “Silver Rose”.


In 2014 we continued to work with a Ekaterinburg NGO Chance Plus. They also provide outreach, case management and legal aid to WUD and run women self-help groups where they invite various specialists (infection disease doctor, lawyer, gynecologist, etc.) upon the groups request. They organize regular 3-hours mini-trainings. In the 6 months of 2014 they had 147 contacts with women who use drugs and also involved 40 new participants.

During first 6 months of our 2014 outreach work in Moscow our outreach workers had 292 contacts with women and involved 143 new participants. 3 trainings covered overdose prevention, HCV and HIV prevention and treatment, and general harm reduction issues. We provided 10 individual consultations on legal issues, 39 consultations on overdose prevention, 26 consultations and referrals related to post-injection complications and 14 consultations on the issues of drug addiction treatment.

The advocacy work also continued and included:

• Strategic litigation work on the case of Lena (Moscow), deprivation of parental rights for drug dependency – Lena is one of our clients from Moscow Street Lawyers project. ARF helped Lena through her health issues and later with her legal problems. During an investigation on a drug related case Lena was deprived of her parental rights over 3 children. ARF tried to mediate between law enforcement, custody service, and rehabilitation centers and represented Lena in court. But the court of appeal has supported the decision of deprivation of parental rights. Now this case is ready for ECHR and our lawyers are leading the application.

This year we started to work with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina from Pussy Riot group who have recently been released from prison and started to focus on women prisoners issues. In June together with their new NGO Zona Prava we organized a campaign in Moscow within the international campaign “Support. Don’t punish” for humane drug policy, marking the U.N. International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking and issued a joint statement calling to end the War on drugs and drug users and stop excessive incarceration of people who use drugs. The campaign became very popular in local and international press and raised a lot of attention to the issue of inhumane drug policy and conditions for women in prisons. We will continue this cooperation focusing on issues of drug using women in prisons and excessive incarceration.

While advocating for protection of human rights of PWUDs ARF engages national and international human rights monitoring mechanisms in response. During the past 3 years ARF submitted shadow reports to all the UN monitoring bodies that had Russia’s Conventions reports under review. These include Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Committee against Torture, Universal Periodic review by the Human Rights Council; UN Human Rights Committee. We have also submitted reviews of systematic human rights violations for the following UN bodies: UNESCO, Committee on Narcotic Drugs; UN working group on Arbitrary Detention; UN Special Rapporteurs on: Health, Torture, Cultural Rights, Violence against Women, Human Rights Defenders. In all this reports ARF specifically emphasized the problems of women who use drugs in Russia.

Funders: this project has been co-funded by the European Commission via the regional grant to Eurasian Harm Reduction Network and the Open Society Foundations (general support for ARF human rights work). The EC funding expires in December 2014 and we are looking for new donors interested to support our service and advocacy work with women who use drugs and are vulnerable to HIV and other health problems as well as human rights violations in Russia. The cost of the project (including work in 2 cities) is about 60.000 USD

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