Is the fact that more women drink than before a measure of increasing equality in society?
THE ISSUE of equality, or lack thereof, between men and women tops the agenda in communities and corporate environments. For some, a sign of change is that today more women drink alcohol than in the past.
But is the fact that more women drink than before a measure of increasing equality in our society?
Women who drink alcohol are risking their health and well-being. Many women have smaller bodies and higher amounts of body fat than men, meaning they will probably suffer more serious effects from drinking than men. Health issues, such as breast cancer and hypertension, are related to alcohol consumption.
And being drunk puts a woman at greater risk of assault and rape.
Last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that, of South Africans between the ages of 15 and 19 who drink alcohol, 74.4% of men and 38.4% of women binge-drink. Binge-drinking generally refers to a man drinking more than five standard drinks and a woman more than four on any one occasion.
One way the alcohol industry sustains and expands its market is to target those who do not use alcohol.
This is achieved by making available sweeter, more youthful-looking drinks, known as alcopops or (spirit) coolers. Another is to produce adverts that appeal to younger people and include a greater number of female drinkers. Popular media, digital media and adverts portray alcohol use to be associated with fun, success and popularity.
According to the results of a study on Alcohol Availability, Marketing, and Sexual Health Risk Amongst Urban and Rural Youth in South Africa, undertaken by the Soul City Institute in 2017, rural and urban youth are heavily exposed to persuasive and appealing alcohol advertising in their home environment.
The youth interviewed said they frequently witnessed and experienced alcohol-related sexual health risks in and around taverns.
With more than seven million people living with HIV in South Africa, there is a high probability that someone who engages in risky sexual behaviour will contract the disease.
So the answer to the question of whether more women drinking alcohol than before is a sign of increasing equality must be a cautionary “yes”.
Women have more freedom to make their own decisions – and this includes whether to drink alcohol. However, with the freedom has come many risks associated with drinking which impacts everyone – women, youth and society. It is not just an issue of individual choice and responsibility.
To create conditions in which people can make real choices about whether to drink and how much, the government must tackle the problems of aggressive marketing, weak legislation, inadequate licensing controls, poor monitoring of outlets and easily available alcohol.
The WHO recommends introducing legislation that reduces access to alcohol as the most effective way of minimising harm. This includes banning the marketing of alcohol, limiting operating hours and raising the legal drinking age.
Greater effort must be made to create opportunities for the public to engage in the liquor policy development process and liquor regulation.
A 2017 research report into the projected impact of the pending national Liquor Amendment Bill was undertaken by the economics consulting firm, Genesis Analytics. It shows that stricter legislation is good for public health and the economy.
The report concluded that, if the government amended the Liquor Act by introducing proposed restrictions on advertising and increasing the legal age to 21, the country could save R1.9 billion in public health costs, reduce the liquor consumption of 84 000 to 194 000 15-to-19-year-old drinkers (which means a 7.5% drop in harmful drinking), and lose 185 lives a year less through a 3% drop in alcohol-related road crashes. The processing of the bill must be fast-tracked.
The Control of Marketing of Alcoholic Beverages Bill of 2013, which calls for a ban on alcohol marketing, must be released for public comment immediately, as directed by the Cabinet in September 2013. It has yet to see the light of day.
The Road Traffic Amendment Bill of 2015 will reduce the Blood Alcohol Content limit from 0.05g to 0.02g, helping to lower the rate of road crashes and traffic fatalities.
The bills’ enactment will have a significant impact on the rate of harmful use of alcohol, public health and the well-being of the population.
Women and girls will benefit and enjoy greater freedom from the fear and risks associated with harmful use of alcohol, particularly from the abuse inflicted on them by drunken men.
• Smithers and Maker are from the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance