Conservative Member States Balk at References to ‘Gender’ in WHA Resolutions
The World Health Assembly in progress.

GENEVA – Conservative countries have objected to the use of the terms “gender responsive” and “advancing gender mainstreaming” in behind-the-scenes negotiations on several resolutions before the World Health Assembly (WHA), according to a wide variety of sources.

There have also been some objections to the use of “gender equality” and “sexual” in some instances – alongside a long-standing objection to the use of “rights” when referring to sexual and reproductive health.

“Gender” references have already been stripped from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) draft pandemic agreement. At least five other resolutions have become bogged down by objectives from conservative member states, particularly Russia, Egypt, Iran and Nigeria.

These include resolutions on mental health, emergency preparedness, the economics of health, climate and social participation.

In the case of the economics of health resolution, Nigeria initially objected to the use of both “gender equality” and “advancing gender mainstreaming”, one source said.

Another source told Health Policy Watch that Russia even wants “sexual” to be removed from the standard term, “sexual and reproductive health”.

In the resolution on climate and health, for example, there was an impasse over the use of “gender-responsive” policies – apparently because conservatives believe that this opens the door to engagement with LGBTQ groups although they have never unpacked their objection. Countries have eventually settled on a reference to “gender equality”.

Objecting to these particular phrases is new. All UN member states including Russia agreed by consensus to the language of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which refer to sexual health and gender.

Concerned parties close to the talks stressed the importance of “stopping the backsliding” against established terms and rights for women and other groups in the face of the relentless campaign.

Experts call for SRHR space to be protected

A few days ago, 43 of the foremost global experts in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the UN called on the WHA to protect advance in this hard-won space in an article published by Health Policy Watch.

The experts, who work in various UN expert committees, described progress on SRHR as “fundamental for human rights and dignity, national economies, sustainable development, and a healthier planet”. 

They added that while SRHR includes “services needed to prevent unwanted pregnancies, unsafe births and avoidable sexual or reproductive illness, injury or dysfunction, it is much broader. 

“Vitally, it includes the positive enjoyment of consensual sexual intimacy and pleasure, the development of mutually respectful and loving relationships, as well as the affirmation of individuals and families in all their diversity,” they added.

“Sexual and reproductive health and rights flourish only where its emotional, mental, and social dimensions are also enabled, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.”

A repeat of 2022?

The Saudi delegate in heated WHA debate over sexual rights and terminology at the WHA in 2022.

Two years ago, the entire WHA was delayed for days over conflict related to a global strategy on HIV, hepatitis B and sexually transmitted infections, primarily because of a glossary on sexual health and target populations for HIV treatment.

While the language was standard for HIV treatment and care, the Saudi Arabian delegate – speaking for WHO’s 22-member state Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMRO) – objected to the terms “sexuality”, “sexual orientation”, “sexual rights”. 

He also objected to “men who have sex with men” being designated as a target population for HIV treatment.

Although the WHO works by consensus, the strategy eventually went to a vote late on the last night of an extended WHA, and narrowly passed with many absentions.


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