Zambian female alcoholics blamed for rise in violence

By Francis Maingaila, Thursday, July 03, 2014

LUSAKA – Alcoholism among Zambian women has not only reached disturbing levels, but is now alarming the country's politicians and social activists who blame the trend for increasingly frequent cases of gender-based violence (GBV).

"Sadly, the increased GBV incidence has resulted in domestic arguments turning ugly, as some unfortunate women and men are killed by their spouses.  Indeed, we are extremely worried about women abusing alcohol," Lucy Lungu, national director of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), told Anadolu Agency.

According to a recent Victim Support Unit (VSU) report, cases of GBV in 2013 hit 10,217 countrywide. VSU Director Raymond Kasale, for his part, said the number could be much higher as many went unreported.

The link between alcoholism among women and the rise of domestic violence in Zambia was first cited by MP Michael Kaingu, who asserted that high alcohol consumption among Zambian women was the leading cause of GBV.

Recently, a report released the World Health Organization showed that Zambian women were among the heaviest drinkers in the world.

Lungu agreed with Kaingu's argument.

"The high level of alcohol consumption among women today is very worrying. Our women are too careless when it comes to beer drinking," she said.

"We feel it is this type of careless drinking that has exposed women to all sorts of dangers, including spousal-battery," she added.

Lungu feels that the issue – which Kaingu has raised on the floor of Zambia's parliament – should be taken seriously by both policymakers and ordinary citizens.

"Unless we address the issues of high alcohol consumption among women, GBV will continue to rage in Zambia. Many more people are likely to be killed by their spouses if such drinking sprees and partying are allowed to continue," she warned.

"That is the reason I want to caution women to drink more responsibly – to avoid being battered by their spouses," Lungu asserted.

Explaining why she thought alcoholic women were to blame for rising numbers of GBV cases, she went on to say: "Women are more visible than men; once they fall prey to excessive alcoholism, if they do anything, they are watched left, right and center."

"The issue of women taking too much alcohol, especially with an emphasis on some of these functions, such as bridal showers, which offer more beer than marital counsel," she added. "It has come to us many times and as the YWCA; we do not condone such behavior."

"Drinking irresponsibly has caused men to take the law into their hands… some of our friends have actually been killed in domestic violence caused by irresponsible drinking by women," she lamented.

Kaingu, a former minister of community development and social welfare, recently told parliament that careless drinking – by both men and women – was the main cause of many marital problems.

"Today we have a very big GBV problem. Everybody is talking about it, but nobody is interested in finding out the cause. I want to tell you the cause: women are the cause of this GBV problem," he said.

The debate in parliament – where Kaingu made his claims – had been aimed at finding a viable solution to Zambia's GBV problem.

When in a drunken state, Kaingu argued, most women abandon their "traditional duties" as wives.

"When it comes to their traditional duties, they are obliged by law to fulfill them," he said. "Once they abandon their roles, however, they attract trouble to themselves."

"In this regard," he added, "both women and men share equal responsibility when it comes to GBV – but women who are assaulted for abandoning their traditional role are more to blame."

Francis Manda, a urologist at Zambia's University Teaching Hospital, voiced similar sentiments.

"Some women embarrass themselves in the presence of their children by shamelessly drinking themselves to death," he said.

"When they get drunk, some women make arrangements with their boyfriends to pick them up," he added. "When their husbands discover this, it is problem."

"Functions such as kitchen parties and bridal showers are places where women have learnt to misbehave," Manda asserted.

Other social activists rejected this argument, instead blaming gender inequality for the rising numbers of GBV cases, including spousal battery and sexual assault.

According to Matrine Chuulu, executive director of Women and Law in Southern Africa, gender inequality has continued to manifest itself in different forms across Zambian society.

"The worst side effect of gender inequality is GBV… boy children are made to understand whilst young that women are not only weak beings but are always wrong and should always be put in check," Chuulu told AA.

"It is these young men, who are made to grow up with this concept, that are fond of battering their spouses," she said.

She went on to argue that the first step toward fighting GBV should not be stiffer laws against it, but rather ending the practice of gender-stereotyping.

According to Chuulu, since time immemorial, women in Zambia have been drinking – but violence against women has never been as rife as it is now.

"If women have been drinking since time immemorial and violence has not been as widespread as it is at the moment, it can only mean one thing: misinformation about the role of women and what they are supposed to do in society," she said.

"The blame game will not help the country in the fight against GBV. Beer cannot be the reason why women are being battered by their husbands," she added. "What about men who drink senselessly? Why are they not being killed?"

"What we need at this point are new laws against GBV where stiffer punishments will be proposed against perpetrators," Chuulu asserted.

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