The World Health Organization is set to update its guidance on gender to declare that “sex is not limited to male or female.”
Officials at the international health organization said they’re modernizing its “gender mainstreaming manual” originally published in 2011. The guidance used by health professionals worldwide is being updated based on “new scientific evidence and conceptual progress” on gender, health and development.
“The review and update process will build on the extensive work already featured in the manual,” the WHO website reads.
The new guidance will update “key concepts around gender,” as well as expanding on the concept of intersectionality, which examines how “gender power dynamics” interact with other hierarchies of privilege or disadvantage, leading to differing health outcomes among those individuals.
The updated manual will also be “going beyond non-binary approaches” to recognize that gender identity exists on a continuum and that “sex is not limited to male or female,” the WHO says.
The guidance is also expected to introduce “new gender, equity and human rights frameworks” as well as unspecified tools to further support those concepts.
The review and update of the 146-page manual is being done in partnership with the United Nations University International Institute for Global Health.
“During the summer and fall of 2022, people will have the opportunity to provide inputs and feedback from reviews of the updates and participate in a validation workshop and/or the pilots,” the WHO continues.
The current “Gender Mainstreaming for Health Managers: A Practical Approach” manual is billed as a “user-friendly guide” to raise awareness and develop skills on gender analysis and gender responsive planning in health care.
But some experts are slamming the new guidance as problematic, the Daily Mail reported.
“It is a dismissal of basic biology – and [a] mistake,” Jenny Gamble, a professor in the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health at Coventry University told the outlet. “Biology is a key determinant of health and illness.”
The new guidance could lead to unforeseen issues, Gamble insisted.
“Not being clear about basic biology opens the door to a range of problems, including very poor health communication but also distorted data,” Gamble said.
Another expert in nursing and midwifery at Western Sydney University concurred, saying WHO’s new forthcoming guidance is worrisome.
“The wording regarding there being more than male and female sexes is concerning,” Dr. Karleen Gribble told the Daily Mail. “The website says that the handbook is being updated in light of new scientific evidence and conceptual progress on gender, health and development.”
But there’s no “scientific evidence” suggesting more than two sexes, Gribble said.
“Rather, the idea that there are more than two sexes, is a postmodern, unscientific understanding that should not be supported by the WHO,” she told the Daily Mail.
WHO officials may be updating its guidance to be more inclusive of intersex individuals, but Gribble believes the new manual may be “inaccurate and stigmatizing.” She’s also worried that women of all ages will suffer considering the increased focus on gender identity, according to the Daily Mail.
“If this occurs, this will almost certainly dilute focus on the severe health disadvantage that women and girls face in many countries because they are female, which can only be a bad thing,” Gribble said. “’Many of us who work internationally in maternal and child health are very concerned about the push to desex language spilling over into UN organizations like WHO and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.”