By Shaista Gohir (Co-Chair of Muslim Women's Network UK)
Although substance misuse amongst Muslim women is low because it is regarded as forbidden and therefore sinful in Islam, anecdotal evidence suggests that the numbers of Muslim women and teenage girls using drugs and also drinking alcohol, is rising. It may be an under recognised issue due to the low numbers seeking help when they develop a dependency. They may be finding it harder to asking for help because of the ‘shame’ and stigma often attached to being an alcoholic, particularly in Muslim and South Asian communities.
Alcohol addiction may be a response to increasing levels of domestic abuse and it is probably being used as a coping mechanism. It may well be that alcohol is being used in preference to drugs because it is cheaper and more accessible. Some women and girls are being introduced to substances by their abusive partners as a way of increasing control over them, which makes it even harder for them to leave or ask for help. Some women contacting the Muslim Women’s Network Helpline who had children, feared the involvement of social services and having their children taken away, which made them reluctant to talk about their experiences. These women were also turning to the helpline because they did not feel able tell family or friends because of the fear of being judged or blamed. Not surprisingly, they often also disclosed feeling depressed and were therefore provided with telephone counselling sessions.
Muslim women and girls already experience poor mental health. For example, South Asian women between the ages of 15–35 are two to three times more vulnerable to suicide and self-harm than their non-Asian counterparts. It is already known that alcohol can have a negative impact on mental health and make it worse for those already living with mental illness such as depression etc. This therefore makes Muslim women and girls even more vulnerable. When teenage Muslim girls are targeted for sexual exploitation by grooming gangs they are often given alcohol and drugs until they become addicted to them, as highlighted in the research, ‘Unheard Voices: Sexual Exploitation of South Asian Girls and Young Women.’
Given these facts, it is therefore important that during awareness raising campaigns such as the Alcohol Awareness Week taking place this week (16-22 November 2020), that Muslim women and South Asian women more generally (who will also be from other faiths), are also targeted. However, to do this alcohol abuse education charities will need to improve their knowledge of the hidden nature of women’s drinking across different cultures and communities, so they can better adapt their messages, so they reach and resonate with these women.
If you have had similar experiences and would like to talk to somebody, contact the Muslim Women’s Network helpline on 0800 999 5786 / firstname.lastname@example.org
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