Former Deputy Higher Education Minister Mduduzi Manana’s assault of a female patron at a nightclub reinforces the fact that alcohol abuse is often at the centre of violence against women, writes BERNARD JOSEPH
A study conducted by the World Health Organisation in 2012 found that 65% of women in South Africa had experienced spousal abuse. The study also showed that their partners always or sometimes used alcohol before the assault. One in every four women is physically abused by her intimate partner. While intimate partner violence is triggered by many factors, alcohol use and abuse had often been found to be a risk factor for a man to abuse his partner and for women to be victims of violence, says Professor Naeemah Abrahams, deputy director at the gender and health unit at the Medical Research Council.
It is estimated that one out of every six women in South Africa is regularly assaulted by her partner. Alcohol plays a role in almost half of these domestic violence cases, and in some of the cases, the men involved also abuse the children living with the woman.
According to ChildSafe South Africa, alcohol is closely related to violent crimes in the South African context. In their research, they found that about 70% of people assaulting intimate partners or spouses were intoxicated. The link between alcohol and domestic abuse and violence is confirmed by multiple research and by people’s lived experiences in our country and around the world.
Alcohol consumption, especially at harmful and hazardous levels, is not just a major contributor to the occurrence of intimate partner violence, but a key source of conflict, said Abrahams. “One of the key issues for women is that men use much-needed resources [household money] for alcohol and this causes conflict. A drunk man may have fewer inhibitions and become violent towards the female partner, who is considered to be ‘nagging’,” she says. “Women who use alcohol are abused because they use alcohol [women are also particularly vulnerable when inebriated] and women who are abused also use alcohol to cope. This is a bidirectional relationship,” she explained.
We also often hear from women in qualitative studies that their partners would stop abusing them if alcohol were removed from the relationship. However, as many have said, ‘there are many men who don’t drink, but also abuse their partners, as well as many women who do not use alcohol who are at risk for violence,” but by far, alcohol sits at the centre of domestic violence. There are strong links that have been found between alcohol use and the occurrence of intimate partner violence. There is evidence to suggest that alcohol use increases the occurrence and severity of domestic violence. The use of alcohol in South Africa is among the highest in Africa, and we have one of the highest incidences of domestic violence in the world.
Almost every incident that involves the assault on women, including the alleged assault by former Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training Mduduzi Manana against a woman, happened at a place of alcohol, in the wee hours of the morning, with most probably high levels of alcohol consumption. Again, this does not mean it could not have happened under different circumstances but on this particular incident, and many others, alcohol is at the centre.
An analysis of April 1, 2012, to March 31, 2013, crime statistics by the Institute of Security Studies showed an increase in violent crimes. ‘Most murders, assaults and rapes take place between people who know each other and live in the same neighbourhood’. These kinds of crimes are rarely premeditated and are often exacerbated by alcohol and other substance abuse.
SAPS says alcohol abuse is often at the heart of so-called contact crimes which include murder, attempted murder, sexual offences, assault resulting in grievous bodily harm, common assault, and robbery. Research indicates that alcohol advertising influences behaviour negatively. It fosters positive beliefs about drinking and encourages young people to drink alcohol sooner and in great quantities. A study of 20 countries over 26 years found that alcohol advertising bans do decrease the consumption of alcohol.
As South Africa, we need a comprehensive and hard offensive on fighting the excessive use of alcohol in order to reign in on these violence consequences of alcohol abuse.
A 2009 Lancet review lists a comprehensive advertising ban on alcohol as one of the three most effective methods to reduce alcohol-related harm. The ‘tangible’ cost to the country of alcohol-related harm across government departments have been estimated at around R38 billion while research indicates that the intangible costs could be as high as R240 billion. The tangible cost is twice what government receives from excise tax and VAT on alcohol combined.
Many have argued that a ban on advertising will result in a reduction in sales and will consequently reduce government revenue in terms of both excise tax and Value Added Tax (VAT). Again, this argument can be entertained; however, the potential loss of revenue will be counterbalanced by government saving from a reduction in alcohol related harm.
As has been stated, the best practices for dealing with alcohol-fuelled violence against women call for increasing alcohol pricing and for decreasing alcohol marketing. Scientific evidence shows that reducing the availability and affordability of alcohol is associated with lower levels of violence. Increasing the price of an ounce of alcohol by 1% would reduce the probability of intimate partner violence against women by 5.3%.
Greater efforts needed to be made to tackle alcohol abuse, especially among men, if South Africa is to succeed in combating violence against women. Many experts have said this and we must reiterate it and ask for greater political will. Let’s not allow women and children to be affected by circumstances we can prevent’.
Bernard Joseph is the Western Cape Chairperson of the EFF