FORUT and our partner organizations took part in the Global Alcohol Policy Conference 2023 from October 24th to 26th in Cape Town.
500 representatives from 53 different countries across the world came together. The conference’s theme, «Investing in People before Profits: Building momentum towards the Framework Convention on Alcohol,» underscores its significance. GAPC is the leading forum for the world’s alcohol policy makers, advocates, researchers, civil society activists and practitioners.
Alcohol – no ordinary commodity
Alcohol, often regarded as an ordinary commodity, inflicts multidimensional harm. It is directly linked to over 200 diseases and claims the lives of 3 million individuals annually, constituting 5.3 % of global fatalities. Beyond health consequences, the harmful use of alcohol brings significant social and economic losses to individuals and society, in particular to women and children.
Despite alcohol being a toxic and psychoactive substance with dependence-producing properties, there is no internationally binding regulatory framework. In the absence of global governance to assist governments in formulating policies free from industry influence, the challenges are exacerbated, especially in countries in the Global South. These nations have experienced economic growth, leading to increased investments from the alcohol industry. However, a critical question arises: are these investments transparent and accountable for the societal burdens they impose?
The industry intentionally targets policymakers, molding political agendas that undermine the common good. It is disconcerting to witness the employment of highly tailored, excessive, and manipulative marketing strategies. For instance, the alcohol industry has co-opted the language of gender equality, misleading us into thinking that their products are a good representation for gender emancipation. In light of the multilayered harm it causes, it is imperative that alcohol does not dictate in our lives, in our homes, and even less in our governments.
Walking the talk in Sri Lanka – from a gender equality lens
A notable presentation at this GAPC comes from Samitha Sugathimala, representing the Foundation for Innovative Social Development, one of FORUT’s partners in Sri Lanka. Samitha effectively showcased exemplary practices at the community, district and national levels, contributing to the broader effort to establish a binding framework for alcohol control.
Samitha shed light on the local context and the specific repercussions in particular of alcohol on women and children in Sri Lanka. FISD has had a crucial role in promoting connections between the government and local communities at the district level, which has, in turn, had a significant impact on the national level. Central to this success has been the direct engagement of women’s and children’s collectives, supporting policy implementation.
In addition, Samitha emphasized the pivotal role of women in policy-making, particularly in the context of alcohol-related policies due to the high incidence of domestic and sexual violence normalized within alcohol consumption practices.
«Policy spaces are not safe spaces for women; they remain entrenched in patriarchal norms. When women are invited to engage in governmental platforms, their contributions are often overlooked. Society has historically cast women as victims in need of protection from alcohol-related harm. However, we must also regard women as catalysts for change, individuals capable of finding solutions and healing their husbands and communities.» Samitha Sugathimala, GAPC 2023
To address the inherent challenges of alcohol and its related harms, FISD adopts an integrated approach, focusing on three key thematic areas: alcohol as a hindrance to development, prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, and child rights, protection, and promotion. FISD’s «Happy Families» model emerges as a central tool in implementing these areas. Under the theme of alcohol, this model has gained recognition within communities as a major instrument for combating gender-based violence. It enables the organization to work with couples to prioritize children’s well-being and eliminate violence, both within and outside households.
Throughout the past three days of GAPC, we have encountered inspiring women from all corners of the globe. They are tirelessly dedicated to a shared objective: empowering girls, adolescents, and women to play an active role in shaping their own futures, and exerting control over their lives and development within their communities.
FORUT and our partner organizations gathered at GAPC 2023.