By SYLVESTER MWALE -
While health experts believe that the consumption of alcohol has a degree of health benefits, excessive consumption of beer can lead to increased risk of health problems and damage one’s heart.
In this regard, taking alcohol should be moderate, and experts usually advise that one has to choose the type of alcohol in order to reduce the risk of health complications.
But in Zambia where shebeens and other illegal drinking place appear to outnumber the legally established drinking places, alcohol consumption is becoming more of a duty for many people.
Interestingly, while men have been perceived to be heavy consumers of booze recent trends in Zambia show that women have significantly increased in beer halls.
According to the findings by the World Health Organisation published in the Washington Post, no nation has harder-drinking women in the world than Zambia.
The US-based newspaper did not explain how and when the WHO compiled the data but stated that more than 41 per cent of women drinkers binge drink at least once a week.
Binge drinking refers to the consumption of alcohol more than the recommended level for adults - usually drinking more than four standard drinks at any one time.
It is associated with a number of adverse effects including memory loss, injury to oneself, dizziness, loss of coordination, lack of judgment and even alcohol poisoning – which can be fatal.
According to data compiled by the WHO, no nation has harder-drinking women than Zambia, where 41.2 per cent binge drink at least once a week, while their male counterparts are ranked 6th at 48.1 per cent.
This is ostensibly far much higher than the widely held perception that western countries have more problems in alcohol consumption than poor nations like Zambia.
For instance, in the United States, only three per cent of women on average binge drink.
If these figures from the WHO are to be believed, one would wonder what has really gone wrong with the Zambian women. Questions would also be raised as to what could be the solution to binge drinking.
The Sunday Times took time during the week to talk to different individuals and civil society organisations dealing with women to have their take on the increased number of women in hard-drinking.
Alida Chewe, a 35-year-old who has been drinking for the past four years said alcohol consumption encouraged social interaction.
“When my husband died, I started feeling lonely and I thought the only way to go is to meet some friends,” she said. “But unfortunately, I ended up meeting friends who drink and that’s how I started.”
“But I don’t drink beyond the limit although I have friends who can drink the whole night and in many cases we have to take them home after drinking,” she added.
Esther Sandwe (not her real name) a 20-year-old of Lusaka admits that her relationship with her boyfriend is on the rocks because of binge drink.
“I can admit that sometimes I have taken more than enough and he is not happy about that,” she said shyly. “I have tried to control myself but it has not been easy.”
She is, however, not sure whether the ratings by the WHO were a true reflection of the drinking habits in Zambia.
Marvin Banda of Lusaka’s Kanyama Township said he is not surprised by the figures because he has witnessed serious problems with women in bars.
“I am not surprised and I think this is true. Firstly, they are drinking excessively because their men buy for them,” he said.
“They are very few women that would get very drunk using their own money.
“Secondly, most of them go to bars to look for men and once they find one, it is time to see how capable that man can be in terms of spending.”
Non-Governmental Organisation Coordinating Council (NGOCC) an umbrella body of women organisations in Zambia admitted that trends in binge drinking were getting out of control.
“We have noted an increase in the number of drinkers. You just have to take a drive for you to realise that the situation is bad,” said NGOCC chairperson Beatrice Grillo.
“Drinking has become so cheap because we have got bars everywhere which are open at any time, and young people have no difficulties in finding alcohol.”
Ms Grillo challenged law enforcement agencies to ensure that drinking places operated within the stipulated time to reverse binge drinking.
She also noted that high poverty levels were contributing to high number of people drinking heavily.
Zambia National Women’s Lobby (ZNWL) Board chairperson, Beauty Katebe, says there is need to ensure that bars located in residential areas are closed because that had contributed to alcohol abuse.
“In addition, most women resort to drinking alcohol because they have nothing to do,” she said. “But if they are empowered, they can not involve themselves in such vices.”
Gender Minister Inonge Wina said the Government is aware about binge drinking among women, although the WHO has not communicated its findings on women drinkers.
“Although I am not aware about the report, I can generally say that it is dangerous for women to drink excessively,” Ms Wina said.
“I know that this issue is more serious among the young women.
“I have not seen the report from WHO. But if that is true, then it is bad not only for women’s health, but also the morals of society.”
She noted that urban areas had worst cases of excessive consumption of beer, and calls for measures to stop the trend before it spread to rural areas.
“The new districts that are being created will attract new investment and people there are likely to learn these heavy drinking habits unless we stop it,” she said.
“In addition, I am aware that women have really consumed alcohol during kitchen parties but I am meant to believe that it is not excessive.
However, we have the problem with the young women and we have to make them aware about the dangers of alcohol.”
There is little doubt if any, that people – both men and women – who drink alcohol may have reduced judgment, more family and relationship problems, more likely to commit crimes, and have a higher incident of traffic accidents.
Admittedly, on the other hand, avoiding alcohol consumption could help one to improve upon family relationships, save money, perform better at work places, and perhaps more significantly remain health.
Therefore, the revelations by the WHO as reported by the Washington Post should provoke rethinking among women on whether such drinking habits have any benefits on their personal lives.
Morden theories have shown that women are a key in development but this role would surely be compromised if they also lead in binge drink.