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Women In Sri Lanka Are Allegedly Consuming More Beer – So What?

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Gazala Anver

Gazala Anver

Staff Writer

Cassendra Doole

Cassendra Doole

Staff Writer

Women, their depiction, the problems they face, and the space they are given in society: these are issues over which everyone waxes eloquent. The issues are talked about so often that you assume something must have been done by now. Yet, part of the problem is that those who have the power to initiate dialogue – like the media – are themselves guilty of framing women in the same narrative they are trying to break out of. An excellent – and equally unfortunate – example took place two weeks ago when the Sri Lankan media reported that there has been an increase in the number of women in Sri Lanka who consume beer.

The statement, which the media attributed to the President, was widely circulated in the media. The English media, at the forefront of which are Daily Mirror, Daily News, and Ceylon Today, bravely printed headlines that, in the internet world, would fall under the click-bait category: they alleged that according to the President, more women in Sri Lanka consume beer. They dwelled on it for a sentence and promptly moved on to what else the President had said during his speech, leaving the reader a) informationally handicapped and b) confused. The sentence which started with the promise of a revelation, a trend, any information for that matter, only left behind the bad taste of sensationalism, making one question why women’s increased consumption of beer was worthy of a headline to begin with.

The Daily Mirror also uploaded a YouTube video of President Sirisena’s speech at the ceremony, titled “More SL women go for beer President,” which has absolutely no mention of women drinking beer whatsoever. The fact that Daily Mirror thought it was an appropriate title is, however, important.

 It is equally important to note that Daily News alleged that this statement was based on statistical information. Daily News doesn’t explain where these “available statistics” can be found, possibly because such statistics, as we found out, don’t actually exist yet (we’ll get into that in a bit).

After this pronunciation, the media promptly moved onto the President’s statement about alcohol and drug abuse, making one wonder whether there is a correlation between women drinking more beer and the general trends on alcoholism and tobacco abuse. It made us question what the media were actually trying to get at. It also brought us to the grand question: so what?

The Question Of Statistics

Available statistical breakdown of alcohol consumption, provided by the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC), does not in any way break down consumption according to gender. This statement, which much of the media claimed the President “lamented” over (no video clippings of the actual statement were found to confirm this lament), was based on information the Presidential Task Force on Drug Prevention (PTFD) provided the President with. This information, however, as Director of the PTFD Dr. Samantha Kumara explained, was based on observation.

“According to a social experiment the Task Force did, we saw a certain trend, according to which we inferred that females are more aligned towards beer consumption,” he told Roar.  

Elaborating further, Dr. Samantha Kumara said that, “What we saw was that the young crowd, especially young women in the working sector, have increased beer consumption. This crowd mostly works for either private banks or the World Trade Centre (WTC). This trend has become more popular among them, especially in their private parties and get-togethers. We also saw that women from the Government sector and from the universities tend to have a higher [level of] beer consumption.”

Based on these observations, Dr. Kumara estimates that beer consumption by women in areas like Colombo has increased by a little over 3%. Dr. Kumara added that “we do not have any statistical information regarding this as of yet, because this was a social investigation we conducted in parallel to ADIC and the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA). The information we have at the moment is through observation only. We provided the information of the trends we have identified so far to the President.”

The observation that more women now drink beer was based on social experiments conducted by the PTFD, ADIC, and NATA. Image courtesy thebokey.com

The observation that more women now drink beer was based on social experiments conducted by the PTFD, ADIC, and NATA. Image courtesy thebokey.com

Additionally, according to Dr. Kumara, apart from beer, there has been an increase in consumption of a type of artificially fermented toddy among female plantation workers. “Our observations show that while beer consumption by women in areas like Colombo has increased by a little over 3%, this artificial toddy consumption among females has increased to almost 40 ‒ 50% in areas like Nuwara Eliya. We also observed that it is the man of the house who takes the bottle of this artificial toddy to the woman,” he said.

Dr. Kumara’s observation at this point is illuminating for several reasons. It should be made clear that there could be differing socio-economic factors that have contributed to an increase in consumption between the two disparate groups. Simply put, there are stark social differences and pressures as to why these two parties would choose to increase consumption, and so clubbing them together would be problematic.

Generally Speaking…

While there is no statistical breakdown yet on beer consumption according to gender, according to the 2014-15 Alcohol Profile compiled by ADIC, there has been an overall significant increase in beer production and consumption, despite fluctuations of the latter.

According to this report, beer production has increased from 120.2 bulk million litres in 2013 to 124.5 bulk million litres in 2014. The year 2014 also recorded the highest production of beer.

Data courtesy 2014-15 Alcohol Profile report by ADIC.

Data courtesy 2014-15 Alcohol Profile report by ADIC.

However, the annual consumption of beer fluctuated during the years between 2008 and 2014. The highest consumption was in the year 2012, which was 123.56 litres. The report stated that although beer consumption decreased in 2014 by 6.6%, consumption in general has increased.

Data courtesy 2014-15 Alcohol Profile report by ADIC

Data courtesy 2014-15 Alcohol Profile report by ADIC.

The report stated this was because of affordability, availability, attractive promotion, and distribution around the country.

Overall, the annual consumption of beer (114,936 thousand litres) in the year 2014 is more than the annual consumption of arrack (72,277 thousand litres) or any other type of alcohol.

Strangely enough, this coincides with the drastic increase in taxes on alcohol.

The ADIC report states that the revenue from government taxes on liquor in the year 2009 was Rs. 28.525 billion. However, by 2014, the tax revenue had more than doubled to Rs. 69.1 billion.

Data courtesy 2014-15 Alcohol Profile report by ADIC

Data courtesy 2014-15 Alcohol Profile report by ADIC.

Furthermore, the excise tax imposed on beer with an alcohol percentage above 5% in the year 2009 was Rs. 64 per litre. By 2014, this had increased to Rs. 153.33 per litre.

Where Do Women Come Into All Of This Again?

Precisely what has us all puzzled. Remember that needless juxtaposition between women beer drinkers and alcohol and tobacco abuse related information? Take a look at this set of statistics by the WHO, which shows that in 2010, women who partook in heavy episodic drinking comprised 0.1% of the total population ‒ and that’s 0.3%  of the total population of drinkers.  Likewise, in the entire population of drinkers, alcohol use disorders and dependence among women were both at 0.6% in 2010. Putting that into perspective, for the year 2010, from the total population of heavy drinkers, of which 0.3% were women, 0.6% of the 0.3% had alcohol-related disorders and dependence. In other words: negligible.  

What this also means is that women are not spiraling down the abyss of alcoholism at an alarming rate and require cautionary information. The bigger problem is alcoholism itself, not a small portion of the population consuming alcohol. It’s simply that the issue of alcoholism is unsexy and has been talked about so often that it just won’t result in as much attention. Being the lazy beast that our media has become, they were, of course, more than content to print this sensational piece of information without any sense of responsibility or accountability.

The real problem is alcoholism, not women drinking beer. Image credit: huffpost.com

The real problem is alcoholism, not women drinking beer. Image credit: huffpost.com

This brings us back to: so what? So what if women drink more beer than they did before? How is it a cause for concern when the increase in the number of women drinking more beer has no correlation whatsoever to the usual sociological problems excessive alcohol usage and alcoholism is associated with?

From this debacle, we can take back home a few ugly lessons. The first is that the media, to a great extent, seems to lack training, sensitivity, and ethics when it comes to reporting on women specific issues. The problem seems to be within the organisations, within the newsrooms, at the sub-editors’ desks, and with the journalists. The fact that the media thought it was important to highlight this as irresponsibly as they did is also because the media seems to believe and endorse the idea that women drinking alcohol is something worth reporting, because it is anomalous to what they feel is expected of a woman. They seem to believe that, by drinking beer, women have overstepped the boundaries of what is traditionally expected of them. They were content to report by amplifying something which has no real reason to be reported in the sensational manner in which it was.

From this, we also understand a great deal about the society we live in: the reason the media can do this and get away with impunity is because the society we live in, too, accepts and endorses this narrative that women are supposed to operate within a particular behavioural framework. If the media is a society’s mirror, it is essentially a microscopic reflection of the ugly reality around us.  

Featured image courtesy: The New Yorker

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