International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy

2.3 Women and illicit drug cultivation

Women have the right to participate in and benefit from, on an equal basis with men, efforts to provide alternative livelihoods, including in rural communities dependent on illicit drug crops.

In accordance with this right, States should:

i. Take necessary legislative and policy measures to ensure women’s equal right to participate in and benefit from efforts to provide alternative livelihoods in rural communities dependent on illicit drug crops. Such measures may include adopting, amending, repealing, or modifying laws, policies, and practices to ensure women’s rights, on an equal basis with men, to agrarian reforms, to ownership, possession, and control of land, and to water and other natural resources, as well as their access to financial services, credits, loans, markets, and marketing facilities, irrespective of their civil or marital status.

ii. Take measures to ensure that women in rural areas are meaningfully involved in decision making and benefit from programmes and credit facilities on an equal basis with men.


Under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, States have a positive obligation to take account of the problems faced by rural women and the significant roles that women play in their families’ economic survival. They are also obligated to take action to ensure women’s right to equal treatment in land and agrarian reforms and resettlement schemes; their equal right to access agricultural credit, loans, markets, and marketing facilities; and their equal right to enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly with regard to housing, sanitation, water supply, electricity, transport, and communications.751 Yet as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has noted, women living in rural areas often face discrimination in these matters, with limited rights over land and natural resources.752

The Committee has pointed out that the implementation of illicit crop eradication programmes, including the banning of opium cultivation, without putting in place sustainable alternatives, has caused large-scale food shortages and migration.753 Furthermore, in many places, drug crop substitution programmes mainly benefit men, who are traditional land titleholders and often the sole beneficiaries of agricultural extension services, training, credit, and tools.754 These programmes further inscribe gender inequality in crop cultivation areas where women can access legal land titles only through husbands or male relatives.755 The Committee has highlighted how laws giving preference to male heirs over female heirs, and practices that authorise only heads of household to sign official documentation such as land ownership certificates, or to receive parcels of land from the government, perpetuate discrimination against women and negatively affect their access to land. In other instances, women may not benefit from grants aimed at supporting self-employment because they hand these funds over to husbands or male relatives.756

The Committee recommends that States develop sustainable alternative livelihoods for women while continuing to eradicate illicit drug crops.757 These actions should arise from ‘a comprehensive development plan for rural areas with the full involvement of rural women in its elaboration and implementation and backed by sufficient budgetary resources with the aim of fighting against poverty and promoting new economic opportunities that will replace the cultivation of opium’.758 Such plans should also include ‘measures to ensure that rural women are the effective decision makers and beneficiaries of programmes and credit facilities’759 and ‘efforts to address the needs of rural women and provide them with better access to health, education, clean water and sanitation services, fertile land and income-generating projects’.760 The Committee further calls for the abolition of gender stereotypes in administrative law and practice, and for the legal recognition of women’s rights to own and inherit land.761 Similarly, the UN General Assembly Special Session 2016 Outcome Document encourages States to develop viable economic alternatives in urban and rural areas affected by the illicit drug trade, ensuring that ‘both men and women benefit equally from them, including through job opportunities, improved infrastructure and basic public services and, as appropriate, access and legal titles to land’.762

Technical guidance from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime points out that addressing the unequal division of labour, access to benefits, participation in decision making, and access to and control over resources (such as land, labour, and technology) between men and women – including the gender norms and cultural expectations that influence these factors – is key to mainstreaming gender in alternative development programmes.763 In practice, however, States’ implementation of this technical guidance has not always been adequate.764