Women and the Shadow of Addiction

10 March 2014

Women and the Shadow of Addiction

A young couple, both 19 years old, lived in a homelessness hostel. They both suffered from heavy drinking and misuse of prescribed drugs. For two years I supported them in working on their addiction and in building sufficient life skills in order to help them move to their own home. The girl fell pregnant and they had to be rehoused quickly to provide a safer environment for the baby. Being a young woman without education, with very poor literacy and numeracy skills, and without family back up, this girl was very vulnerable and in danger of loosing her child. The couple tried to live independently with resettlement support. But shortly after, it was decided that the mother and child unit would be a safer place to ensure the wellbeing of the baby. The father continued drinking and due to this the couple split up. The mother was committed to offer her baby a better future than what she had experienced and she continued living in the supported unit. What happened afterwards – I do not know, but I hope she kept up her determination and succeeded.

Addiction affects the lives of both men and women. In many cases poverty and addiction are linked. Poverty throughout the world affects women more often than men: 70% of the world’s poor are women or girls, which in many societies is due, amongst others, to population growth, lack of education and low social status. These problems are intertwined and feed off each other: poverty reduction and gender equality go hand-in-hand.

Addiction develops slowly and therefore it can go long time undetected. This is especially the case with women. Women face role pressure and they guard these roles very strongly. As wives, partners, mothers, carer’s, emotional support providers they give their all to satisfy the expectations. They tend to hide any weaknesses and addictions, which makes early intervention very difficult. Addicted women often only receive support when the situation has already become unmanageable.

This is why gender equality is a very important aspect of the International Blue Cross work. Once people recognise that both women and men are likely to have similar problems, but that the manifestation of these problems is different, it is easier to provide support. Women need to be included in policy making and in structures that develop social norms in order to make it easier for them to seek help. Once problems do not need to be hidden, abuse and oppression can be stopped. We need women’s rights capable of promoting this healthy approach and, as women ourselves, we need to be brave and act. At times it is good to peel of all kinds of role thinking relating to who we are and how we are doing things. Let’s give ourselves the right to come out from ‘hiding’ behind our roles and find people who can support our needs. Gender equality and the rights of women are international human rights and they apply to every person – in every culture. I hope that you as a woman can also knowingly choose a life free from addiction.

With belated International Women’s Day wishes,

Anne Babb, General Secretary International Blue Cross




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