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The Feminist Neglect of Men's Health at the WHO
April 1, 2003
by Carey Roberts

The health of men is in dire straits around the globe.

In almost every country, men's lifespans lag behind women's. The disparity ranges up to 15 years in the Russian Federation. In all major categories of disease, men are at greater risk of death. Worldwide, men are 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide than women.

According to the Global Burden of Disease study, women's life expectancy is expected to increase to about 90 years by 2020 in industrialized countries. As for men, "far smaller gains in male life expectancy were projected than in females".

In 1998, Gro Harlem Brundtland was named as the first female Director-General of the World Health Organization. As a well-known feminist, Dr. Brundtland cares deeply about gender equity. So how did Dr. Brundtland respond to the challenge of overcoming male disadvantage in health matters?

It should be noted that when Dr. Brundtland took over at the helm, the WHO already had extensive maternal and child health programs in place. Besides those services, little existed in the way of gender-specific health programs -- even though it had long been known that men are less likely to seek needed health care services than women.

So what do we find now at the WHO?

The World Health Organization now has a Department of Women's Health. A search of their web site reveals well-funded initiatives in the areas of Female Genital Mutilation, HIV/AIDS, and Violence against Women. In addition, the WHO has a high-level Global Commission on Women's Health (GCWH).

But for unclear reasons, the WHO has no Department or Global Commission on Men's Health.

Another example of bias is how the WHO presents its AIDS statistics. The WHO AIDS program, known as UNAIDS, publishes Epidemiological Fact Sheets for every country in the world.

These Fact Sheets list the number of AIDS cases for three categories of people: Adults 15-49 years, Women 15-49 years, and Children 0-15 years. The WHO clearly knows the number of men with AIDS, since it reports the overall statistics for adults. But Men as such are not listed.

What is most disturbing, though, is how feminists have highjacked entire public health initiatives. Take violence, for example. Globally, men are twice as likely as women to die of violent causes.

But the recent WHO Report on Violence and Health conveys exactly the opposite impression. The Report repeatedly downplays the effects of violence on men. For example, in the discussion on Child Soldiers (page 235), there is no mention made of the fact that almost all children forced into military combat are male.

Conversely, the Report exaggerates the effects of violence on women. For example, the Report claims on page 224, "Single and isolated refugees, as well as women who are heads of households, may be at particular risk of suffering psychological stress." It is irrational to imply, as this sentence does, that single refugee men who are heads of households are not also at risk of suffering from stress.

As a result of these women's health initiatives, health services at the local level now often ignore men. For example, in many countries in Africa, the entire primary health care system is geared around maternal and child health clinics. Although important, such services are unlikely to address the pressing needs of men's health.

An Agenda Gone Awry

In 1948, the United Nations ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 2 of that Human Rights treaty specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. But preferential provision of health services, especially when given to populations at lesser risk, is a form of discrimination.

Now, the gender health programs of the WHO are violating the U.N.'s own founding principles. Something has gone wrong with the gender health agenda at the World Health Organization.

The WHO needs to answer a simple question: Do the lives of half the world's population count for less because they happen to be male?

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