A gendered approach to women’s lived experiences of gambling harm: preliminary findings
Women in Australia, and across the world, are participating in gambling more than ever before, with their participation rates comparable to that of men’s. Women also report experiencing adverse consequences as a result of their gambling, with over one in ten women living in Victoria, Australia classified as either a problem gambler, or at risk of developing gambling related problems. Despite these figures, women are highly underrepresented in gambling treatment and policy responses due to the lack of gender specific research. It is therefore critical to focus more attention on women, and develop research that is guided by a gendered approach to shift the focus onto the unique experiences of women and to ensure they are considered in research and policy.
Qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted with women living in Australia who had experienced harm from their own gambling.
The preliminary research findings focused on women recovering from an addition to electronic gambling machines, which has provided insights into women’s pathways to, and social practices associated with gambling. For these women, gambling quickly lost its social aspect and became more about filling a void in their lives. Common across women’s narratives was their poor health and wellbeing at the time they became dependent on gambling. Women were motivated to gamble to escape from negative life situations, citing the stress of being a single parent, stressful work environments, and loneliness as reasons. They discussed a deterioration of their mental health, with some women revealing their suicidal thoughts at this stage of their lives. Women described ‘blacking out’ and feeling ‘numb’ as the benefits of gambling at the time, and conceptualised that these benefits outweighed the negative consequences of losing money. Product design and the venue environments, including the actions of staff encouraged women’s excessive gambling patterns, with the accessibility of gambling products and the prolific advertising making it difficult to avoid gambling when attempting to recover.
Conclusion and implications
Guided by a gendered approach to gambling harm prevention and from the narratives of women in the study, this research makes recommendations for more effective prevention, treatment, and policy that are salient to women’s lives, experiences and circumstances. We suggest that it is fundamental that research guide the development of tailored interventions to address women’s vulnerabilities to gambling harm, considering women’s wellbeing and social support, as well as economic and health-related factors. There is also a critical need to develop awareness campaigns about the risks of gambling products, provide better training for gambling counsellors to improve help services for women, and to put greater onus on venue staff and the government to take measure to minimise the potential for problem development.