You Are Beautiful: challenging self-stigma that women who use drugs experience through little acts of kindness
You are beautiful: challenging self-stigma that women who use experience through little acts of kindness.
Women who use drugs are often marginalised and stigmatised. If those women are homeless and unemployed, the stigma and marginalisation increases. The harsh words and disregard for the woman as a human only increases her self-stigma and lowers one’s self-image.
On 08 March 2022, International Women’s Day, women with lived experiences of stigma and a history of past and current drug use as well as the South African Network of People who Use Drugs (SANPUD) are organising a #youarebeautiful event. This event aims to celebrate all women, emphasising that just because you use drugs, does not mean your worth is any less, or you are any less beautiful than others. Items like lipsticks, single roses and chocolates will accompany hand-written notes. SANPUD’s approach for the event is a concentrated effort to go beyond day-to-day service delivery and aim to provide a quality service rather than one centred on quantity and numbers.
Natalie Jacobs, who is able to manage her drug use and is a Community Linkage Officer for SANPUD, has experienced first-hand the exclusion that arises when the use of drugs is the single identity given by the community to those who use substances. “When I was just seen as a substance user, I never had an opportunity to do anything in the community. The community and family members have always stigmatised me on a daily basis. The harm reduction services offered for women at the TB HIV Care drop in centre in Cape Town, were the first time that I discovered psychosocial support. I could see that there was a lot of compassion amongst the staff, towards people who use drugs”.
Natalie has seen her role shift to giving back to the community and she has used the platform provided by SANPUD, to help others who may be going through the same difficulties that she experienced. She has been involved in organising events that highlight the need for self care and health education for women who use drugs. Some of the difficulties that these women have when accessing state health care services are because they are stigmatised and not listened to. She has helped organised the Women Who Use Drugs Health Day which was hosted by SANPUD on International Women’s Day last year, she also assisted with the organisation of an event World Aids Day, an event hosted by TB HIV Care in December and supported the FEMALIVE Commemorative Silent Walk on 26th November 2021 to raise awareness about body autonomy and freedom of choice.
“I can put back into my community. I can help to empower and educate my community. I can speak of experience. I want to see all my community members moving forwards not backwards. SANPUD has given me the platform to raise awareness for breast cancer, HIV and harm reduction. It gives me the power to educate them on how to spot human rights violations and teach them what are their rights”
For Angela McBride the Executive Director of SANPUD, services for people who use drugs should be diverse, inclusive and non-discriminatory. Whether it is medical professionals, law enforcement or the general public, we should remember that it is the individual’s choice to use drugs and that using drugs is not their only identity. “It’s not just about the amount of people you’ve given a service to, but also about acknowledging that person’s individuality and humanity. I am not just a woman who uses drugs, I have my own story- be that person to brighten my day, ever so slightly. Ultimately, this is not about you, it’s about her, and that’s what being of service means.
The #youarebeautiful event is being organised by women with lived experiences of the stigma and a history of drug use.
Join SANPUD on 8 March 2022 in celebrating all women, no matter who they are, what their job is, what they look like, what drugs they choose to enjoy or what they choose to do with their bodies. Let her enjoy her relief as much as you do when you have that first sip of coffee, or when you take that head ache tablet. Today, appreciate women for who they are, not what society labels us as. “If I look like I need a little cheering up today; remind me that I’m beautiful. And do so too with a woman who you drive past at the street light, or who you have seen sleeping under the tree across the road from where you live. Show a little kindness and remind all women today that we are all beautiful”.
SANPUD invites all those interested to do something similar; “it can be a small note or a chocolate bar you buy at the petrol station on your way home” Angela said. For people who want to be involved they are welcome to send SANPUD photos of the short notes you have written, or some of the items you’re planning on gifting to women who use drugs on the day.
To send info about your activity on the day, email email@example.com