The drinking culture of modern professional women in Kenya.
In 2015, the Oxford English Dictionary added the phrase “wine o’clock” to its online version, acknowledging that the phrase had gained widespread usage. Wine o’clock is a noun describing the appropriate time of the day to start drinking wine, which really translates to any time of the day when wine feels like the answer to the current problem. Beyond the dictionary, wine o’clock is a popular social media hashtag that gives a glimpse of how alcohol has creeped into the daily routines of women around the world.
For Julie Khamati, a marketer who works and lives in Nairobi, alcohol was the answer to the stress of end-of-semester exams, back when she was a first-time drinker and college student.
“It was our way of blowing off steam and shedding the pressure of exams. When I started working, drinking became the way to unwind after a hard day’s work, and this time my friends and I had more money to spend on more expensive drinks,” she explains.
Now, years later, Julie drinks because it is part of the office culture. Moreover, she discovered that she needed to join her male co-workers for after-work drinks because that was when those in attendance could mingle freely with senior management for mentorship and negotiations and deals that could translate into a more successful career at the office.
“It is so much easier to ask for career advice over drinks as opposed to when you are at the office where everyone is under pressure to meet deadlines. After a few shots of good whisky, everyone mellows and talks freely about various issues,” she says, adding that drinking with men comes with additional pressure to be accepted into their club. She elaborates: “You’ll score more points when you order a Guinness or a stiffer drink. They are more willing to let you into their professional circles if you can hold down your alcohol. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.”
It is no secret that women, especially educated women in high-pressure jobs, are drinking more and more, be it after work to keep up with the office drinking culture or to get relief from demanding jobs, or at home to unwind after a long day. The latter is where Corazon Awino, a manager at a manufacturing company in Nairobi, falls. As a good mother, when she is not at work she likes to be home with her two children aged four and nine. However, being home does not keep her away from the bottle. Having a few drinks at home in the evening after work has been her way of relaxing for years, but it calls for a delicate balance between her ritual and keeping the alcohol away from her children.
“When the kids are driving me crazy or my superiors at work are giving me grief, vodka calms me down and helps me deal with life without losing my mind. However, because my children are extremely curious, I had to find a way to drink safely when I am at home. At first I would put vodka into a water bottle, but I realised that the kids might actually mistake it for water and drink it. Now I put it in a special cup and I call it ‘mummy juice’ so they know it’s strictly mine and not theirs to drink,” she explains.
Corazon adds that she has noticed that she drinks more at home than she did when she used to drink at pubs, but she doesn’t think her drinking is problematic.
“At home, nobody is looking to see if you’ve had one too many, so you’ll find yourself drinking more than you normally would at a restaurant or in a bar. Plus there’s no Alco-blow in your living room. You’re free to drink as much as you want, but that doesn’t make you an alcoholic.”
WOMEN DRINKING MORE AND MORE
Alcohol consumption has been on the rise among professional women, with the most recent global study showing that women have been drinking more and more over the years. The study that tracked the drinking habits of four million adults, published in October in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Online, found that while in the past men were twice as likely as women to drink alcohol, in recent years starting from 1966, women had closed the drinking gap, and women born after 1981 might even be drinking more than their male counterparts.
One study of the drinking habits of professional women in the United Kingdom conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), found that drinking had found a place among women due to changing lifestyles that included “more years spent in education, improved labour market prospects, increased opportunities for socialisation and delayed pregnancies.”
Further, research firm Euromonitor found that aggressive alcohol marketing campaigns targeting women in Kenya with packages and flavours that are appealing to them, could have served to promote the rise of the drinking culture especially in urban areas.
In Nairobi, several wine-themed events are also targeted at women. One such event is Women, Words and Wine, an increasingly popular quarterly event that brings together women from diverse professions whose friendships and networks are an integral part of their success. More recently, yoga classes and even some pottery lessons held in Nairobi have wine as a central theme to attract the modern career woman. Hired nannies are often at hand to mind the little ones while their mummies take a sip.
“Juggling work and the kids, being a provider and a career woman can get overwhelming,” says Hilda Wambui, a married mother of three, who works as a project manager at a local NGO.
“Add this to your responsibilities as a wife and homemaker and the stress levels go up a notch. When I do get an opportunity to escape, I take it, and these events usually involve some wine or cream liqueurs or other forms of alcohol. “It’s no big deal because whether you drink at lunchbreak on a workday or at another time, many of us function pretty well while under the influence. You can’t even tell that we’ve been drinking. It’s not alcoholism, though. It’s coping.”
Research reveals that the use of intoxicating substances is still higher among men than women, with alcohol leading as a mode of escapism across genders.
Additionally, the average alcohol abuser is not the stereotypical down-in-the-gutter, cant-hold-a-job individual. There are plenty of high-functioning people who by all outward appearances seem to have it together, but have a problem with alcohol.
Though NACADA estimates that alcohol and drug abuse is highest among young Kenyan adults between the ages of 15 and 29, statistics on binge drinking among women are scant. According to its website, about 16.6 per cent of urban residents are current users of various types of alcohol compared to 11.4 per cent of those who live in rural areas. Of these statistics, men are still in the lead in alcohol use and abuse. The website, however, defines extreme levels of drinking as more than 30 units per day for several weeks. Moderate drinking among women is often defined as one or two drinks per day, with regular consumption turning into abuse when relationships, work or friendships suffer and when the drinker can no longer control her drinking.
10 signs that you have a drinking problem
- Lying about or hiding your drinking
Denial is common with people having problems with alcohol, so both problem drinkers and alcoholics might drink secretively or lie about how much they drink to make it seem like less of an issue.
- Drinking to relax or feel better
A majority of people struggling with alcohol, abuse their substance of choice for emotional reasons e.g. stress, depression or anxiety. If you drink more when you’ve had a stressful day or need a drink to feel relaxed, it’s a big sign that you’re using alcohol as an emotional crutch.
- Blacking out regularly
Drinking so much that you have no memory of what happened is another red flag.
- Being unable to stop once you start
If you always finish a bottle of wine once it’s opened or drink all the beer in the house once you’ve had one, it’s another sign you are not in full control of your drinking.
- Drinking in dangerous situations
Drinking when you really shouldn’t—like before work, before you have to drive somewhere or drinking against your doctor’s orders when you’re on medication – is a sign of problem drinking. Regularly taking those risks strongly implies that alcohol is the main priority in your life.
- Neglecting your responsibilities
If you’re having problems at work, school or you can’t keep up with your household responsibilities because of your drinking, you have a problem.
- Having trouble in your relationships
If your drinking is causing problems with your closest friends, your significant other or your family, it’s an indication that alcohol is a bigger priority than the most important people in your life.
- Being able to drink more than you used to
If you can drink more than you used to and need to drink more than you did before in order to get drunk, it’s a strong indicator that you’re becoming an alcoholic.
- Experiencing withdrawal
Withdrawal is different from a hangover. If you start to feel irritable, tired, depressed, nauseous or anxious when you haven’t had a drink, there’s a possibility you’re experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
- Trying to quit but being unable to
Deciding to quit drinking shows that you understand the impact drinking is having on your life, but the fact that you’re unable to stop means there’s a big chance you’re struggling with alcohol addiction.