Afghan Women and the Opiate Trade

Authored by: Hamid Azizi, Natascha Eichinger, Monika Roszkowska et al.

Categories: Human Rights
Sub-Categories: Economic Participation, Human Development
Country: Afghanistan
Region: South and Central Asia
Year: 2022
Citation: Azizi, Hamid, Natascha Eichinger, Monika Roszkowska et al. "Afghan Women and the Opiate Trade." United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. November 2022.

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Executive Summary

A research study on Afghan Women and the Opiate Trade was launched by the Afghan Opiate Trade Project (AOTP) at CRIMJUST, Border Management Branch, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The report provides a unique insight into the role of Afghan women in the opiate trade in Afghanistan.

For nearly two decades, Afghanistan has been the major source of the world’s illicit opium production. Opiates produced in Afghanistan impact governance and economic development and continue to fuel insurgency, terrorism, corruption and poor health, within Afghanistan, the southwest Asia region and further afield. The trafficking of illicit opiates contributes to the destabilization of Afghanistan and countries along the main trafficking routes. While there has been considerable research on opiate production in Afghanistan, there are few detailed studies on how opiate manufacture or trafficking occurs in Afghanistan, and no dedicated study on women’s involvement in these areas. In 2020, UNODC produced a study based on interviews with active male Afghan drug traffickers – Quchaqbar in Dari/Farsi – who were directly involved in the trafficking of opiates in Afghanistan and abroad. All of those interviewed in the 2020 study were men. Accessing women traffickers – or Quchaqbar zan in Dari- in the cultural environment of Afghanistan was challenging, and the initial assumption was that women had little role to play in the opiate trade, beyond cultivating and harvesting opium and anecdotal evidence of female drug mules. However, in the 2020 study, many male traffickers commented that Afghan women’s involvement in the opiate trade had increased in the five years from 2015 to 2020, and that women performed many roles in the business.

This is the first study to understand opiate trafficking from the perspective of Afghan women. Their testimonies provide novel insight into an otherwise hidden population. Not only does this report contribute to wider research on the topic of women’s involvement in drug trafficking, it also provides an evidence base upon which targeted interventions to help women leave the opiate trade can be developed.