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  5. The WHO is being accused of sexism after saying 'women of a childbearing age' should be careful not to drink too much alcohol

The WHO is being accused of sexism after saying 'women of a childbearing age' should be careful not to drink too much alcohol

Anna Medaris Miller   

The WHO is being accused of sexism after saying 'women of a childbearing age' should be careful not to drink too much alcohol
  • In a plan against problem drinking, WHO said attention should be paid to women of childbearing age.
  • It also called out minors and pregnant women as being disproportionately harmed by alcohol.
  • Some called the WHO's mention of 15- to 50-year-old girls and women sexist and unscientific.

The World Health Organization is making a plan to fight global alcohol abuse, and calling out "women of childbearing age" as one group that should be paid special attention.

Activists and academics slammed the report as unscientific and sexist, interpreting the WHO's message as one that bans booze for all girls and women between the ages of 15 and 50.

"As well as being sexist and paternalistic, and potentially restricting the freedoms of most women, it goes well beyond their remit and is not rooted in science," Matt Lambert, who head's the UK's regulatory body for alcohol, told Cosmopolitan. "It is wrong to scaremonger in this irresponsible way and associate women's alcohol-related risks with those of children and pregnant people."

The WHO has said it's not, in fact, recommending that women abstain from alcohol for half of their lives.

In the first draft of its action plan, released June 15, the WHO proposed six ways countries can help their residents reduce harmful drinking like by better monitoring alcohol use and abuse and improving healthcare resources for people looking to cut back or stop boozing.

It also mentioned various populations that can suffer disproportionate harm from alcohol, like minors, pregnant women, and people who are pregnant but don't know it yet.

"Appropriate attention should be given to ... prevention of drinking among pregnant women and women of childbearing age," the report says the one time it references that population.

That was one time too many, some say, arguing that it places unnecessary restrictions on women but not men, and reduces women - plenty of whom may never become parents - to their uteruses.

Pragya Arwal, a behavioral and data scientist, wrote on Twitter that the guidance plays into gender stereotypes and ignores the fact that research has also linked alcohol to decreased sperm quality.

The WHO responded to the backlash in a statement, according to CTV News, saying: "The current draft of WHO's global action plan does not recommend abstinence of all women who are of an age at which they could become pregnant. However it does seek to raise awareness of the serious consequences that can result from drinking alcohol while pregnant, even when the pregnancy is not yet known."

Alcohol abuse is on the rise

According to WHO, 5.3% of all deaths worldwide in 2016 were due to alcohol use, a higher percentage than deaths from tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and diabetes. Young people were especially affected, with 13.5% of deaths among 20 to 39-year-olds attributed to alcohol that year.

The substance is also linked to mental health conditions and injuries, as well workplace, relationship, and economic problems.

Some reports show people are drinking more during the pandemic, with one September study finding that binge drinking, especially among women, has increased significantly in the US in large part due to stress, anxiety, and isolation. Overall, American adults are drinking about 14% more frequently than 2019, the study found.

"You can hide a hangover on Zoom the way that you really can't if you are stinking of booze in the office the next day," Dru Jaeger, co-founder of Club Soda, a UK-based mindful drinking organization, previously told Insider. "So it's hardly surprising that people that found themselves drinking more than they want to.