Scientists Speak Out Against Update of WHO’s ‘Gender Mainstreaming Manual’
International experts say the World Health Organization’s recent claim that an individual’s sex is not limited to men or women is not based on science, and the manual can be harmful to the people it seeks to protect.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently announced the update of its “widely used gender mainstreaming manual” intended for medical staff worldwide to assist in addressing “forms of health-related discrimination” in light of “new scientific evidence and conceptual progress on gender, health, and development.”
On its official website, July 6, WHO expressed its intention to go “beyond binary approaches to gender and health,” claiming that “gender identity exists on a continuum and that sex is not limited to male or female.”
The statement also referred to an expansion of the concept of “intersectionality,” which the WHO claims determines “how gender power dynamics interact with other hierarchies of privilege or disadvantage, resulting in inequality and differential health outcomes for different people.”
Carried out in partnership with the United Nations University International Institute for Global Health, this update will also include input and feedbacks sent by various experts until this fall.
The first version of the manual dates from 2011. Questions and concerns have been raised from within the international scientific community over the WHO’s approach to transgenderism, with a number of experts and public figures warning against the consequences of an increasingly ideological approach to biology by public institutions and the media over the recent months.
No Scientific Foundation
Last February, in response to an article in The Lancet in which the term “woman” was replaced by “bodies with vaginas,” Professor Jenny Gamble, a midwifery specialist from Coventry University, co-wrote a paper on “the importance of sexed language” with nine other international experts. Warning about the unsuspected consequences that these “gendered” semantic shifts can have, the authors described the differences between sex as a reproductive category, gender as a societal role and gender identity as an inner sense of self.
Speaking with the Register following WHO’s recent announcement, Gamble described the U.N. health organization’s statements as “very worrying.”
“Sex is an established biological concept, it is binary and immutable,” she said. “Then some people have gender dysphoria, but gender identity is different from sex.”
This point of view is shared by Dr. René Ecochard, a medical doctor and professor at the Biostatistic Department of Claude Bernard University (of Lyon, France), and author of the recent book Homme, Femme, ce que nous disent les neurosciences (“Man, Woman, what neurosciences tell us”). For him, WHO’s new guidelines show a confusion between biological science and sociology, because biological science, especially neuroscience, say who the human being is, whereas sociology only says how he or she behaves.
“The WHO mentioned new scientific evidence but I cannot find any such statement in the scientific literature,” he told the Register, noting that the 2011 version of the manual made a clear distinction between two genders, male and female.
In 2018, the WHO defined gender as the “roles that, according to society’s representation of them, determine the behaviors, activities, expectations and opportunities considered appropriate for everyone in a given socio-cultural context.” Such a definition implies, as noted by Ecochard, that gender does not define the individual and does not constitute an identity.
“This [terminological and ideological] shift is a real cause for concern because the WHO is a reference in the field of health, and many people will be misled, and will spread, in good faith, erroneous notions about sex,” he said.
Disservice to Vulnerable People
The experts challenging these recent theories from the WHO and other institutions about gender agree that this all-encompassing, non-distinctive approach is ultimately detrimental to the most vulnerable people, especially those with gender dysphoria, because it blurs communication and makes it more difficult for medical staff to provide appropriate support.
Dr. Ecochard pointed out that, in addition to being deprived of the necessary support in case of difficulties in the development of their sexual identity before adulthood, young people will also be more likely to be directed towards a change of sex that he said leads most of the time to “failure, great suffering, and even non-reversible damage.”
“Furthermore, parents and teachers, misled by these policies, may also look at a young person who is struggling to find his or her place as a man or a woman in an unsuitable way,” he added.
It is the issue of women and motherhood that most concerns Gamble, who is convinced that a clear understanding of sex as a biological state is crucial to health care broadly, but also to understanding what women experience in the world.
“If the new WHO definition is applied to things like motherhood, what about protection of the mother baby dyad? Who advocates for the needs of the baby, the fact that he needs a mother, if you start to confuse the idea of man and woman by describing them as genders, rather than as a sex?” she asked.
Another danger of this change of language, which Gamble says is based on “queer theory,” is the polarizing effect it produces within populations.
“While trying to discuss the needs of different groups within our society, I think we actually set people against each other instead of helping them bond and create a community,” she observed. “A tolerant society uses a language that respects diversity instead of trying to make groups indistinguishable or homogenized. I think all this was unnecessary.”
Ecochard believes this ideologized update of WHO’s manual on gender also represents a missed opportunity to promote a much-needed human ecology, which is based on “complementarity and solidarity between men and women, and between generations.”
“Promoting these rules of life would be, on the part of WHO, fulfilling one of its essential missions which involves caring for people in their entirety,” he said, “without focusing only on the treatment of certain given diseases.”