The World Health Organization (WHO) has been under fire due to a controversial statement made in the first draft of its 2022-2030 Global Alcohol Action Plan. In the plan, which has been called “medieval”, WHO suggests that there should be a “prevention of drinking among pregnant women and women of childbearing-age.” It is the latter half of this statement that has caused the stir. Since the ‘childbearing age’ for women and people with female reproductive organs spans from the ages of 18 to 50, it’s obvious why the organisation was slammed for its ignorant and patriarchal rhetoric. The story of our lives, isn’t it?
Before I continue with how obviously problematic this is, there must be a clarification made on behalf of WHO. In spite of some of the incendiary headlines you may have seen, the Global Alcohol Action Plan does not call for a ban on drinking for women in this age bracket. In a statement, WHO explains, “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.”
Despite this, it’s still pretty bad. Okay, it’s really bad. Most people are aware of the dangers of alcohol and introducing measures to improve people’s health isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We could all try to be healthier, right? However, where a woman’s health is concerned, it’s never really about her, but about the hypothetical non-existent child she may have in the future. Chief Executive of abortion rights charity British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), Clare Murphy, released an official commentary on the action plan, “By treating all women—for 40 years of their lives—as little more than vessels, the WHO reduces women to little more than their reproductive capabilities.” Murphy continued on Twitter, writing, “We absolutely have to stand up to an agenda which increasingly treats every woman as ‘pre-pregnant’.”
This controversial statement from WHO, for many, continues to fuel the anti-abortion fire that has been spreading these past few years. With the US Supreme Court passing an anti-abortion decision and Poland passing a near-total ban on abortion in the first months of 2021 alone. But what if WHO is just actually concerned with the health of the future generation? Is it really about controlling women’s bodies? Yes, it is. Let me show you another reason why.
Ironically, WHO’s suggestion sits alongside its own statistics that showcase how alcohol misuse is much more prevalent in men than it is in women. Its statistical findings illustrate that around 700,000 women died globally of alcohol misuse in 2016. When comparing this to men, the number is over three times higher—2.3 million. It also removes men from accountability in childbearing. There have been numerous scientific studies that show the adverse effect alcohol consumption can have on sperm count. In one 2014 study, Professor Tina Kold Jensen of the University of Southern Denmark concluded “that even modest habitual alcohol consumption […] has adverse effects on semen quality.” They found that “alcohol consumption was also linked to changes in testosterone” in general.
If WHO really cared about the health of make-believe babies, then surely there would be fertility advice for men? No. Nothing. It’s almost laughable when you think of the real dangers women face in the environment of alcohol. The Institute of Alcohol Studies highlights “the strong relationship between alcohol and domestic abuse, violence and sexual assault. While alcohol should not be used as an excuse for those who perpetrate violence and abuse, neither should its influence be ignored.”
So maybe, just maybe, we can focus on the lives of actual real, alive women instead of human beings that don’t even exist yet. And hello? What if we don’t even want them to begin with. I don’t. I’m popping open a bottle right now.