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This article highlights Canadian resources that service providers can use to understand and address harm reduction among women. The resources include reports that explore the context of women’s experiences of harm reduction in Canada, as well as guides and tools to support the delivery of harm reduction services to women.

Some of the resources in this article are inclusive of cisgender women and gender-diverse people including trans women. Other resources may primarily address cisgender women. The term women is used in the resource descriptions below, but many resources may be relevant to a broader range of gender identities.

Harm reduction

These resources can help service providers bring a gender lens to their harm reduction work and develop programs that address the needs of women who use drugs.

Gendering the scene: Women, gender-diverse people, and harm reduction in Canada
HIV Legal Network

This report reviews the social and legal context impacting women and gender-diverse people who use drugs and their use of harm reduction services.

Integrating sex and gender informed evidence into your practices: Ten key questions on sex, gender & substance use
Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health

This workbook leads services providers through an exercise to reflect on the impact of sex and gender on their work with people who use substances.

New terrain: Tools to integrate trauma and gender informed responses into substance use practice and policy
Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health

This toolkit helps service providers learn more about trauma- and gender-informed practices and how to integrate these approaches into their work with people who use substances.

Trauma matters: Guidelines for trauma-informed practices in women's substance use services
Jean Tweed Centre

These guidelines examine the relationship between trauma and substance use and how organizations can become more trauma-informed in their service delivery for women who use substances.

Harm reduction and treatment models for women and gender-diverse persons who use opioids
Public Health Ontario

This literature review examined the characteristics of harm reduction and treatment programs developed to meet the needs of women and gender-diverse people. The review found that the surveyed programs largely addressed psychosocial needs and access to healthcare services; it identified a need for programs to better address the social and structural factors that impact women and gender-diverse people who use drugs.

Harm reduction
Native Women's Association of Canada

This fact sheet reviews the basics of harm reduction, including a consideration of decolonizing harm reduction practices and the needs of Indigenous women.

Women and harm reduction in Ontario: A capacity building toolkit
Women & HIV/AIDS Initiative (WHAI)

This toolkit provides tips on how harm reduction programs can better address the needs of women. The toolkit also includes activities to help service providers identify and explore assumptions and beliefs they may have about women who use drugs that may impact the way they deliver services.

SisterSpace Overdose Prevention Site

This case study describes a women-only overdose prevention site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside run by Atira Women’s Resource Society (AWRS). A profile is also available on SisterSquare, an outdoor resource tent set up by AWRS during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide overdose prevention and other services.

Pregnancy, parenting and infant feeding

These resources address pregnancy, parenting and infant feeding in the context of drug use and harm reduction.

Mothering and opioids: Addressing stigma – acting collaboratively
Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health

This toolkit explores the impact that stigma toward mothers who use drugs can have on the delivery of substance use and child welfare services and presents ways to address barriers to service use.

Elders visioning perinatal substance use toolkit
Provincial Perinatal Substance Use Project

This toolkit provides service providers with guidance on including Indigenous Elders and their knowledge in their services supporting Indigenous women, children and families impacted by substance use.

Taking care: A short guide to breastfeeding and substance use
Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health

This guide is for women who use substances who may be considering breastfeeding; it explores breastfeeding within the context of substance use and harm reduction.

The H.E.R. Pregnancy Program

This case study describes a program run by Streetworks in Edmonton that assists street-involved pregnant women to access healthcare and social resources, including harm reduction services.

For more resources on women, see Resources on women and HIV and hepatitis C or visit the CATIE website.


About the author(s)

Erica Lee is CATIE’s manager of website content and evaluation. Since earning her master of information studies, Erica has worked in the health library field, supporting the information needs of frontline service providers and service users. Before joining CATIE, Erica worked as the Librarian at the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT).