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The World Health Organisation ‘advice’ over women and alcohol belongs in Gilead

·4-min read
The fact is, women, regardless of their ‘reproductive status’ have been drinking for centuries (Getty/iStock)
The fact is, women, regardless of their ‘reproductive status’ have been drinking for centuries (Getty/iStock)

Anyone who read the headlines about the World Health Organisation (WHO) stating women of childbearing age should not drink alcohol might be forgiven for thinking they were living in Gilead.

It is 2021, isn’t it? The WHO's draft global alcohol action plan 2022-30 advises us to pay “appropriate attention to prevention” to the consumption of alcohol in certain groups, including children (obviously), teenagers and women of childbearing age.

Which covers every female with a uterus for between three and four decades of their lives?

Where do you even start to unpick this? With the presumption that every woman wants to get pregnant and should live her life accordingly, which is massively outdated and offensive? The idea that an organisation can still take ownership of a women’s will, body and reproductive system? Or the fact that men of "childbearing age" are let off the hook completely.

Can you imagine if men were subjected to the same diktat?

The fact is, women, regardless of their "reproductive status" have been drinking for centuries. I was, whisper it, born in the (very) late Seventies and I’m pretty sure my mum drank in moderation throughout her pregnancy – along with countless other women of her generation.

My eldest son was also what you would call a honeymoon baby. Maybe I was a little naive but having spent more than a decade doing everything I could not to get pregnant, I was quite surprised when it happened as quickly as it did. It was only after we’d got back from our blissful honeymoon in Italy where I had been knocking back Aperol Spritz and Chianti, that I realised I was expecting.

So began the lifetime of worry, judgement and guilt otherwise known as parenthood. Google dutifully supplied a deluge of scaremongering statistics I was slightly comforted by all the stories I heard from friends of women finding out they were pregnant after a hen do, New Year’s Eve etc and going onto have perfectly healthy babies.

I don’t want to sound in any way smug or sanctimonious but the honeymoon baby started grammar school last year and doesn’t seem to have been too hindered by that two-week oversight when he was not even the size of a walnut in my womb.

I went on to have two more children and I allowed myself one glass of wine or cider each week with each pregnancy. I didn’t really feel like it with the nausea and general exhaustion during the first trimester but that weekly treat of a steak and glass of red kept me going through the second and third trimester with each of them.

The WHO has quite rightly been called out for their outrageous guidelines. Matt Lambert, chief executive of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, said they had gone “well beyond their remit” and that it was “wrong to scaremonger in this irresponsible way”. Christopher Snowdon, the head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said it was “none of the WHO’s business”. Well quite.

The WHO has stated that there will be rounds of consultation before the report is finalised and that “the current draft ... does not recommend abstinence of all women who are of an age at which they could become pregnant”. But it is difficult for me to read it any other way.

The idea that organisations and nanny states can tell us how we should live our lives is terrifying. Obviously, medical guidelines are there for a reason but they are meant to be just that, “guidelines”.

It makes the WHO sound to me more akin to a pro-life, anti-abortion organisation rather than an international public health body. It puts the welfare of unborn children above women and presents them as nothing more than blood-filled vessels to keep the population going.

I hope the backlash to this might make them think again before issuing any further sexist, anachronistic and inappropriate “guidelines” which take us back to the 1950s.

In the meantime, I plan to drink my way (in moderation, of course) through my remaining childbearing years

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