Gender Conservatives Defeated in Resolution on Natural Hazards at World Health Assembly
A woman carries supplies through a flooded street in Haiti.

GENEVA – A resolution aimed at strengthening countries’ capacity to deal with “natural hazards” faced unexpected opposition over gender-related terminology at the World Health Assembly (WHA) on Thursday.

This is despite the urgency of countries adapting their health services to address extreme weather events, which are becoming more common globally thanks to climate change.

The resolution, proposed by 50 countries from all regions, sought to ensure that countries can provide essential health services, including primary healthcare, surgical and anaesthesia services, sexual and reproductive health, and gender-based violence services, during and after natural disasters.

It also urged the WHO Director-General to provide technical guidance and support to member states, upon request, to “strengthen sustainable local, subnational, national, and regional capacities for gender- and age-responsive, and disability-inclusive health emergency preparedness and response”.

However, a last-minute amendment proposed by the conservative alliance of Egypt, Nigeria, Russia, and Saudi Arabia attempted to replace the term “gender-responsive” with “taking into account gender equality considerations and different needs.” The amendment was defeated in a vote, with 27 in favor and 67 against, with nine abstentions and 75 absent.

When the original resolution was put to the WHA, it passed by 76 votes to eight, with 15 abstentions and 78 absent. The eight countries voted against the term “gender-responsive.”

Following the vote, several countries spoke strongly in support of addressing the unequal impacts of disasters on women and girls, emphasizing that “gender-responsive” is an established term in international language with a clear definition.

Earlier in the day, during discussions on universal health coverage (UHC), various countries stressed the importance of including sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services as an essential part of UHC.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra specifically noted that SRH services should include those for LGBTQI+ communities, highlighting one of the most contentious issues in the ongoing gender-based debates across nearly all UN agencies, including the WHO.

Image Credits: IFRC, Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH.

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