Government and South African men both need to step up and address the link between alcohol abuse and gender-based violence in South Africa.
The rate at which women are killed by intimate partners in South Africa is five times higher than the global average. Gender-based violence (GBV) is an indictment of our nation. The relationship between alcohol abuse and violence is complex. The factual evidence of bruised and broken bodies at the hands of inebriated partners speaks to this direct connection. But various studies and research exploring this relationship have highlighted the need for a multi-faceted intervention.
Alcohol can lower inhibitions, impair judgment, increase aggression and thus potentially contribute to violent behaviour. Several studies have also found that a significant proportion of perpetrators of gender-based violence in South Africa were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incidents.
However, research has also illustrated that alcohol combines with other underlying risk factors such as socioeconomic stress, cultural norms and socialization around masculinity to further increase the risk of GBV occurring.
Moreover, the possibility that the relationship between abuser and victim is not just interpersonal in nature but also one of financial dependence further muddies the water in finding a sustainable solution.
Nonetheless, a solution must be urgently crafted to deal with this scourge as the impact on victims of GBV in the context of alcohol abuse in South Africa is profound and often long-lasting. Beyond physical injuries there is emotional distress and psychological trauma that impact not only women – the direct victims of GBV – but their families too as children often get caught up in such conflicts.
We are a country of heavy and binge drinkers – and this needs to change. Alcohol in this country is cheap by international standards and readily available for purchase in legal and illicit markets. You will struggle to find many other places in the world where a quart of beer is cheaper than a loaf of bread. Or where liquor distributors themselves can’t guarantee that their products are only sold in establishments with genuine licenses and to clients above the legal drinking age.
From a regulatory and legal framework, there are existing levers at government’s disposal to call upon but they have been left largely untouched in the past few years.
The Liquor Amendment Bill of 2016 could reduce alcohol consumption by up to 7% by placing strict controls on the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages. But there appears to have been no movement on the legislation for several years. The Control of Marketing of Alcoholic Beverages Bill of 2013 was also approved by Cabinet for public comment over a decade ago. The legislation would have completely banned alcohol advertising but was never actually released to the public.
These two draft laws align directly with interventions advocated for by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in addressing harmful alcohol consumption.
But merely trying to address South Africa’s alcohol abuse with legislation will be foolhardy.
Alongside making alcohol more expensive and less accessible, the WHO calls for an urgent rolling out of more effective education initiatives in communities so that they can better understand the harmful impact of alcohol abuse.
More critically though, men – the main culprits of GBV – need to urgently assume their critical responsibility in addressing this scourge. Women’s Day cannot simply be an annual event to commemorate the strength and resilience of South Africa’s mothers, grandmothers and daughters. There must be a concerted effort among men within all communities to call out toxic behaviour when they encounter it. To encourage those that need help to seek out counselling and assistance. And ultimately ostracising the men that commit GBV by reporting them to authorities.
Nickolaus Bauer is the Campaign Manager for DGMT’s Alcohol Harms Reduction campaign.
This op-ed was first published in the Mail & Guardian on 11 August 2023.