Batswana women and alcohol - sobering facts

15 Jul 2019

BY MPHO KUHLMANN

“Wine, women, and song”, the popular line that endorses hedonistic lifestyles has become a fitting hendiatris for Botswana bars.

Local bars which used to be rendezvous for “the boys” on a much needed break from nagging women have now become happy hunting grounds for lascivious young men with jukeboxes blaring from the corner and a party of inebriated women sashaying with glasses of wine or cider in their hands.

Batswana women are invading bars, traditionally the preserve of men, and sometimes matching their male counterparts drink for drink. Although Batswana guys still consume more alcohol overall, research has shown that Batswana women are catching up. A research paper by Anja Mirkovic “Alcohol policies and their perceived effectiveness in Botswana” revealed that “out of current drinkers 53, 6% were males and 46.4% were females.”

The report further revealed that 69.57 of females reported that they consume alcohol as opposed to 30.43% who are abstaining while 76.9% male consume alcohol and 23.1% are teetotalers.

Explaining why more and more Batswana women are now turning to the bottle, Lemogang Marudi who works at Diagnofirm Laboratories in Gaborone told Sunday Standard Lifestyle that, “people have long used alcohol to self-medicate. But today, more of us need the relief of a buzz than ever. You race home from a busy day at the office and have emails from work waiting for you, food to prepare and laundry piling up. The easiest thing to do when you’re standing at the cutting board making dinner is pour yourself a glass of wine. It’s the ultimate decompression tool.”

While Lemogang and a host of other women may be using alcohol to unwind after a hard day at work, a study by the National Aids Coordinating Agency (NACA) suggests thatdrinking levels among both men and women in Botswana has reached public health crisis. Health organisations like NACA are campaigning against excessive drinking, but there is a strong push back from alcohol marketers who are creating a culture around women’s alcohol use that takes a blasé attitude towards the topic. In fact, many social media memes and novelty items marketed towards women praise alcohol as the only way to handle adult responsibilities. Some wine glasses are being sold with phrases “This is how I adult” on them. Alcohol is being used as “mommy’s little helper.” Society seems to have adopted a wink-wink nudge-nudge attitude to women who believe that when the stresses and pressures of motherhood are piled on, they should turn to daily “wine o’clock” rituals to blow off steam. Such daily drinking habits may seem like harmless fun at first, but soon become a much larger problem.

Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University of Botswana told Sunday Standard Lifestyle that, “I think the rise in female alcoholism coincided with women having the freedom to do what they want with their bodies, having their own careers and the financial freedom to spend on whatever they want, including alcohol. Alcoholism isn't always obvious, especially in people who generally have their lives "together." A person can be sober all week, and then drink to extremes on weekends. On the other end of the spectrum, a woman might get buzzed every night, but never binge. The key distinction is how her drinking impacts her functioning, relationships, and health. If any of these areas suffer and efforts to cut back on drinking aren't working, there may be an issue that needs to be addressed. Research suggests that while men tend to use alcohol for its positive reinforcement they drink to party – get wasted and have fun, women are more likely to turn to alcohol for its negative reinforcing effects to decrease feeling bad and temporarily melt away some anxiety and stress.”

Women who can’t handle their booze are however falling through the cracks becausesociety still labels alcoholism as a man’s disease, turning women off from recognizing that they need help.

This is despite the fact that cultural norms about women drinking are changing from being a taboo to it is expected.

Kgotso Seetso who works at Cell City in Gaborone says “It’s undeniable that alcohol plays a central role in our social lives. Although many of us know the health benefits of drinking less, most people are reluctant to stop drinking for more than a month. We live in a society where alcohol is heavily advertised as a social elixir to help ease you into new situations, relax, and have a good time. With so many images of alcohol and its "benefits," it's easy to understand how young people develop positive associations with the stuff.”