Agency From Below?

Taken from

Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies that reduce negative consequences of drug use, incorporating a spectrum of strategies from safer use, to managed use to abstinence. Harm reduction strategies meet drug users “where they’re at,” addressing conditions of use along with the use itself.

Because harm reduction demands that interventions and policies designed to serve drug users reflect specific individual and community needs, there is no universal definition of or formula for implementing harm reduction. However, HRC considers the following principles central to harm reduction practice.

  • Accepts, for better and for worse, that licit and illicit drug use is part of our world and chooses to work to minimize its harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them.
  • Understands drug use as a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon that encompasses a continuum of behaviors from severe abuse to total abstinence, and acknowledges that some ways of using drugs are clearly safer than others.
  • Establishes quality of individual and community life and well-being–not necessarily cessation of all drug use–as the criteria for successful interventions and policies.
  • Calls for the non-judgmental, non-coercive provision of services and resources to people who use drugs and the communities in which they live in order to assist them in reducing attendant harm.
  • Ensures that drug users and those with a history of drug use routinely have a real voice in the creation of programs and policies designed to serve them.
  • Affirms drugs users themselves as the primary agents of reducing the harms of their drug use, and seeks to empower users to share information and support each other in strategies which meet their actual conditions of use.
  • Recognizes that the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination and other social inequalities affect both people’s vulnerability to and capacity for effectively dealing with drug-related harm.
  • Does not attempt to minimize or ignore the real and tragic harm and danger associated with licit and illicit drug use.

I started this post with a framework of harm-reduction so that as I get into this analysis of where many CBOs are at, you know where I’m coming from and the lens that I’m looking through. I first heard about harm reduction 5 years ago when many of peers were going into drug rehabilitation and other care programs. Almost instantly I realized that something was starkly different from the stories I’d been hearing from my friends years before “The people are really nice” or “They really want to know how I’m doing”. I started asking around to find out what exactly harm reduction is and after years of using the framework, the simplest answer I can give is “Meeting people where they’re at”. With that said my attention was recently called to “Feminists for Life” which is exactly what it sounds like – a pro-life Feminist organization. Because I’m a feminist I really wanted to find out where these folks were coming from and I pull this quote from their website:

We insist on a world in which women have access to all nonviolent options. Think about the consequences of such a world for the workplace, schools, and society. We encourage woman-centered and parenting-friendly policies including distance learning, which allows a new mom to be with her child while continuing her education and saving on child-care costs; affordable family housing near campus; campus and workplace child care; health care plans for students and employees that include maternity coverage; telecommuting and job sharing; a living wage; and child support when one parent is absent. We have to approach this holistically.

Pro-life feminists demand that society support the unique life-giving capacity of women, so that no woman feels driven to abortion. Women deserve better.

I believe a lot of this. I believe that our political, social, economic systems have all failed PEOPLE horribly. Women are at times most negatively impacted by structural violence and there are many organizations working to help women unfairly victimized by these systems to get back on their feet (NOW, Feminist Majority Foundation, etc.) What I don’t believe is that providing the social services FfL are asking for will change very much. Many CBOs are currently doing great woman-centered programming around parenting, new mothers, pregnant teenagers, etc. but in many cases these programs are at least 10 years old (YWCA to name just one). The fact of the matter is that we have to approach a mother’s right to choose within a harm reduction framework. They (and solely themselves) can be their own agents of change and offering any amount of educational programming does not guarantee women will show up to these programs so we need to provide feasible alternatives to failed or under-accessed programming.

Abortion is a searingly hot-button issue and I want to end this post with this point – why is the American public so locked-in on controlling how people live their lives? the decisions they make? the people they love? their drugs of choice? Because really we are all complicit in these machines that control our very own existence.

One Comment Add yours

  1. I like your post, especially since I recently discovered FfL, too. The question of control is as old as humanity itself: people just want power over others. Same with the same-sex marriage issue, why are people trying to control who other people marry when it does no harm to them? While I do like the pro-woman approach to many feminist organizations (FfL and NOW alike), one major flaw of FfL is that their lack of information on abortion really doesn’t give women the full spectrum of choices. Pro-choice means just that, giving women FULL agency. Well articulated post, Romel! Keep up the good work!

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