The culture of drinking – for long regarded as a men’s forte – has over the past years evolved as more and more women take to the bottle.
As people adopt new habits and lifestyles, seeing a woman drinking in a bar no longer raises eyebrows.
Most women who drank in the past often did it in the closet as the practice often attracted public ridicule, with such women being branded people of questionable morals.
At worst, they were viewed as prostitutes seeking men in bars and nightclubs.
But as more women jump onto the drinking bandwagon against the background of society’s continuous evolvement, it is now accepted that decent, professional and moral women can take to the bottle.
A recent snap survey by NewsDay established that the reasons behind the upsurge in women who drink were as variegated as their cocktails of choice:
relaxation, de-stressing, confidence boosting, fun or social cohesion in a group.
A tour of some of Harare’s drinking hotspots such as Tipperary, Sports Dinner and Colour Purple as well as other nightclubs dotted around the city revealed that the numbers of women taking to the bottle were now competing neck to neck with that of men.
Some of the women interviewed said drinking did not make someone a woman of easy virtue, as there were loose women who did not drink.
“For me,” says Sally, an accountant with a Harare firm, “drinking is just a social activity where I gather with my girlfriends to have a good time. When we go out to drink, it doesn’t mean we are hunting for men, no.”
She added that they went out for a few hours, enjoyed a night out, and then retired home for the night. For a Harare lawyer who identified herself as Melody, drinking is an effective elixir.
She however says she only drinks during weekends.
“After all that haggling in court, dealing with excessive paperwork and doing a lot of hard thinking, I really need a catalyst. Drinking does just that for me. It’s just the right antidote.”
She however said she often avoids heavy drinking as that could have far-reaching consequences she may not be prepared to deal with.
“I am someone who always wants to be in control, something that may not really be possible if someone is under the influence of alcohol,” she adds.
The desire to escape from the pressures of hectic daily life has also led some women to drink as they believe alcohol may take the edge off, at least temporarily.
Other women however, go for binge drinking. These vary from single to the married and from the young to the old.
One such woman, a 21-year-old, confessed: “For me to get drunk, I have to first down like 13 bottles.”
These young women frequent nightclubs where they often drink themselves senseless and that makes them prone to abuse as men can easily take advantage of them while drunk.
These young women include teenagers who, under the influence of peer pressure, are often forced to drink so that they can fit within their peer groups and not be branded outsiders or backward.
Social commentator Robert Mhishi says the increasing number of women drinking in public was an indication of social dynamics.
He says although women who drink are often accused of being Westernised, that was not necessarily true because even in pre-colonial times, women used to drink.
“There used to be beer gatherings, and whenever there were important traditional ceremonies, there was always alcohol and both men and women drank. Even in the years after independence in rural areas, women always drank, but mainly opaque beer,” he says.
He adds that in modern day societies, drinking has evolved and women were now part of that culture.
“Drinking used to be associated with unacceptable behaviour when people are drunk.
Nowadays you realise that while there are cases of reckless behaviour by drunk women, these cases are far and in between as most women are moderate drinkers and often do it more as a social activity,” he says.
According to the 2004 Global Status Report on Alcohol, Zimbabwe was ranked number 12 in Africa with per capita consumption of alcohol pegged at 5,08 litres per year compared to an average four litres in other African countries.
Beer sales went up by 50% and Delta Beverages recorded beer sales of $23 million in 2009.
Delta says in the report Zimbabwe has a strong beer market “with consumers willing to fork out on non-essential beverages far greater than the majority in the region”.
Late last year, President Robert Mugabe’s health adviser, Timothy Stamps, drafted stringent regulations governing the sale of alcohol aiming to curb abusive consumption among teenagers, expectant mothers and the visibly intoxicated.