Women’s Health and Rights: Alcohol Harm Major Blind Spot
The International President of Movendi International, Kristina Sperkova, discusses the neglect of alcohol harm against women by women’s rights movement and in the global health discourse.
Alcohol harm against women is apparent in societies around the world through alcohol fuelled gender-based violence, objectification of women in alcohol advertising and alcohol industry marketing targeting women. Despite this, the issue is largely ignored in the global health community and women’s rights movement.
Ms. Sperkova draws from the Global Health 50/50 report entitled “Power, privilege and priorities” (pdf) to explain why alcohol harm against women is being overlooked.
….the continued expression of historical power imbalances, inadequate progress on gender equality and diversity within organisations, and the systemic lack of attention to major burdens of disease and the role of gender in driving ill-health,” states the report, as per, Maverick Citizen.
Ms Sperkova writes, that the perspectives of women and girls, especially those with the least power, have been ignored and systematically marginalized in a system that exploits women and girls.
Key facts on alcohol as a women’s rights issue highlighted in the article are:
- Alcohol adversely affects 14 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, affecting women and girls disproportionately – even though women have in general much lower rates of alcohol consumption.
- The alcohol industry is fomenting and perpetuating harmful stereotypes and gender roles, sexualizing and objectifying women to market alcohol.
- Marketing alcohol to women (in high-income countries) is done by exploiting female emancipation, liberation and empowerment, while fuelling increasing alcohol harm in women.
Alcohol harm is a women’s rights issue
Two findings of the Global Health 50/50 report are hailed by Ms. Sperkova as trailblazing.
The first is that “historical power asymmetries continue to plague the global health system, which are rooted in imperialism, post-World War II governance structures and patriarchal norms and practices.”
Alcohol harm remains a significant blind spot in women’s health. For example, high-income countries face growing alcohol addiction and liver cirrhosis crises among women. But the global health community remains slow to respond.
The partnership between the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Heineken, the world’s second largest beer giant, shows the lack of understanding of the fundamental conflict of interest of Big Alcohol in global health.
Power asymmetries play an important role in determining which women get a say and are acknowledged in the global policy-making processes – and it is evident that the most vulnerable and marginalized women around the world, remain excluded.
Secondly, “global attention has not kept pace with changing global health needs and is failing to take gender seriously. We find a startling mismatch between global burdens of disease and the stated priorities of global health organisations and funders.”
In February this year, members of the Executive Board of the World Health Organization agreed that alcohol harm should be a “public health priority” and that accelerated action is urgently needed. Over the last decade, alcohol policy-making had virtually disappeared from the radar of the global health community – with severe consequences, including:
- Increasing alcohol availability,
- Increasing proportion of alcohol-related global burden of disease, and
- Progress to reduce alcohol consumption and harm are off-track.
The need for action
Despite the harm, there has never been a global ministerial conference and alcohol remains the only psychoactive, dependence-producing substance not under international control.
Cost-effective strategies to prevent and reduce alcohol harm exist. Especially the alcohol policy ‘best buys’ – increasing alcohol taxes, banning alcohol ads, and limiting alcohol availability – have significant impact on improving equity.
Ms. Sperkova stresses alcohol policy should be prioritized considering the significant impacts on the health, well-being and equality of women and girls and that both the women’s rights movement and the global health community should start paying greater attention to alcohol prevention and control.
Finally, drawing upon the success of women who joined forces in industrialized countries to tackle pervasive alcohol harm in their homes, communities and societies, Ms. Sperkova ends with a call to action for the women’s rights movement.
Today, it is time we broaden the movement, follow the evidence and overcome structural obstacles to win the battles of our time,” writes Kristina Sperkova, President of Movendi International, as per Maverick Citizen.