News from the drug war front: Writing competition for women who use drugs in Australia

For the 2020 Global Day of Action, the Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy (CAHMA) lent their microphone and platform for women who use drugs to share their stories.

This post is the fourth in a series featuring case studies of mobilisation from the 2020 Support. Don’t Punish Global Day of Action. We’re grateful to CAHMA for their commitment to grassroots mobilisation and platforming the voices of women targeted by the ‘war on drugs’, and to the Women and Harm Reduction International Network (WHRIN), for their continued support to community-led initiatives by women who use drugs worldwide. On 26 June 2021, join us in this international show of force for sustainable alternatives to punitive drug policies. Support. Don’t Punish!

The Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy (CAHMA) is a peer-based group with a lineage that finds its roots in the very first community responses to the HIV epidemic in Australia.
The weekly radio show, News from the Drug War Front, is a CAHMA initiative, with support from colleagues in the entertainment industry.

For the 2020 Global Day of Action, the show, invited the women in their audience to share their life experiences in relation to drug policies and services, and the war on women who use drugs.

Each week, and in total confidentiality, the hosts selected two stories to be read on air. Each one of those stories was also rewarded with a cash prize.

This activity was supported by a grant from the Women and Harm Reduction International Network (WHRIN), whose engagement and leadership in the Support. Don’t Punish campaign has resulted in increased engagement and awareness of the specific challenges faced by women who use drugs.

This is not the first time CAHMA takes part in the Global Day of Action. Last year, they organised an art project featuring pieces produced by peers themselves and exhibiting them in their community centre.

This year, says Natasa Nikolic, who led on the organisation of activities, ‘we wanted to do something more empowering and wide-ranging’.

Natasa says the idea for the activity came from the realisation of a glaring omission in terms of realistic representations of women who use drugs in mainstream media:

‘There is rarely a first-person point of view of women who use drugs; especially in the radio. We never hear real stories that authentically reflect the experiences of the source, the real problems, using the original words. It is time we take ownership of the narrative!’

As CAHMA also does advocacy for the rights of women who use drugs, they also quickly realised that these stories are precious input to inform research and strengthen their advocacy work.

Poster of ‘News from the Drug War Front’, by CAHMA

The radio show’s audience also noted this, with local researchers offering to do a qualitative analysis of the submissions.

Yet another positive impact came from the reaction by men in the community, who report the stories ‘opened their eyes in terms of having better understandings of the specific additional challenges faced by women who use drugs’.

The multiplier effect of the campaign’s small grants as a means to empower communities to mobilise effectively, and in their own terms, is reflected by the responses to the project.

Most of the weekly award winners, for instance, decided to donate their cash prize in order to ensure the programme continued to run and more stories were collected and shared.

Moreover, the project was able to run for 8 weeks longer than originally planned thanks to an anonymous donation from a community member!

Solidarity generates solidarity.