World Health Organization

Menstuff® has compiled the following information on the World Health Organization.

What is the WHO Doing for Men's Health?
Refuting the Myth of Biological Advantage

What is the WHO Doing for Men's Health?

The previous Special Report, The Global Disparities in Men's Health, documented the sex-specific differences in male death rates around the world. World Health Organization (WHO) statistics reveal that in virtually every country, men's lifespan lags behind that of women. In almost every case, men are also at greater risk of dying from all the major causes of death, and in all age groups. The disparities are especially pronounced for males in the 15-60 year age group, and in the countries of the former Soviet Union.

This Special Report analyzes the current World Health Organization programs, commissions, statistics, and publications that are devoted to correcting the disparities of men's health.

Departments of Gender Health

The World Health Organization has a Department of Women's Health. A search of their web site ( reveals well-defined initiatives in the areas of Female Genital Mutilation, HIV/AIDS, Violence against Women, Tobacco, and other topics.

The WHO has no Department of Men's Health.

Global Commissions

In 1992, the WHO established a high-level Global Commission on Women's Health (GCWH). At the 1997 GCWH, First Lady Hillary Clinton was the featured speaker.

The WHO has yet to establish a Global Commission on Men's Health.

AIDS Statistics

The World Health Organization sponsors UNAIDS, a joint UN program designed to combat AIDS around the world. One of the responsibilities of UNAIDS is to track the number of AIDS cases.

UNAIDS publishes Epidemiological Fact Sheets for every country in the world. These Fact Sheets can be found at

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 are not listed.

This statistical omission raises a troubling question: If the UNAIDS employees who track this disease ignore men with AIDS, will the persons who design and deliver healthcare services commit the same mistake? (You can ask the UNAIDS program this question; their direct e-mail is

Website Search

A review of the overall WHO website turned up the following numbers of sex-specific "hits": Women's Health: 841; Men's Health: 128

Many of the so-called "men's health" hits actually lead to publications on women's health. One such publication, "Gender, Health, and Poverty," makes the highly implausible and unsupported claim that "70% of the 1.2 billion people living in poverty are female."

There is one WHO publication on male health, however, that is worthy of attention: "What about Boys? A Literature Review on the Health and Development of Adolescent Boys." Despite its ideological slant, this report paints an insightful picture of the health problems faced by adolescent boys around the world. This publication is available at

Fact Sheets

A search of WHO sex-specific Fact Sheets ( revealed the following: Women's Health Fact Sheets: 96 hits; Men's Health Fact Sheets: 17 hits

A review of the 17 Fact Sheets on "men's health" shows that none of them are specifically directed toward men's health issues. Rather, the 17 so-called "men's health" Fact Sheets address such topics as "Advancing Safe Motherhood," "Violence against Women," "Gender, Health, and Poverty," and the like.


World Health Organization statistics document that male longevity and health status lag throughout the world. One might expect that the WHO would create special programs and publications devoted to men's health, especially since the WHO has established a large number of programs geared specifically to the needs of women.

This Special Report reveals that the World Health Organization has no organizational unit that specializes in issues of men's health. The WHO has no global commission on men's health. The WHO does not report AIDS statistics about men, even though these numbers are available. The WHO offers only a small number of reports that are specifically devoted to men's health.

The near-absence of male-specific services stands in stark contrast to the wide range of programs, publications, and initiatives that are specific to the needs and concerns of women.

Men Have a Right to Life

In 1948, the United Nations ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Declaration is the international covenant that defines and affirms essential human rights. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights addresses the right to life: "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person."

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also prohibits any form of discrimination, including sex discrimination. Article 2 states, "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."

As an agency under the United Nations, the WHO is bound to comply with all articles of the Declaration. Yet the WHO has not established any global initiative designed to assure that men, too, are guaranteed the "right to life." Indeed, the widespread imbalance in WHO gender-specific programs may well have the effect of worsening the mortality disparities between men and women.

The World Health Organization is engaged in a form of sex discrimination that reveals an underlying belief that male life is less important than female life. The World Health Organization stands in violation of Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Contact: Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General, World Health Organization, Avenue Appia 20, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland. Cost for airmail postage: 80 cents

Refuting the Myth of Biological Advantage

The World Health Organization is bound to observe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights bans all forms of discrimination, including sex discrimination. To this end, the WHO has started a number of gender health initiatives.

In 1998, the WHO Department of Women's Health published a report on "Gender and Health." This report is available on the Web at in the section on Sex, Gender, and Health.

"Gender and Health" claims that one reason why women tend to outlive men is because women are biologically superior to men. This is how the WHO publication puts it:

"Part of women's advantage in relation to life expectancy is biological in origin . . . . as many societies have undergone economic and industrial development, a variety of social and cultural factors have combined to allow women's inherent biological advantage to emerge."

This concept of biological superiority contains four fallacies:

Does Not Account for All Medical Conditions

Males have an X and a Y chromosome, while females have two X chromosomes. The X chromosome endows the male with parts of the genetic code that are missing in the female. On the other hand, having a double X chromosome provides females with a back-up in the event that a defect occurs in one of the chromosomes.

These genetic differences do not give the members of either sex any overall biological advantage; they simply provide males and females with different chromosomal resources.

For example, it is true that more male than female fetuses are spontaneously aborted or stillborn. And male infants have a slightly higher death rate in the first few months of life. These differences appear to be genetically-linked.

But women are also more vulnerable to a variety of conditions with a strong genetic component, for example, osteoporosis and immune disorders. The higher rates of osteoporosis and immune deficiencies in women do not prove that men are "biologically superior" to women; they only reveal innate biological differences between the sexes.

Does Not Account for Men's Primary Breadwinner Role

Historically, men have been expected to assume the role of primary breadwinner. This breadwinner role has required that men take on life-threatening roles, including hunting wild game, defending the tribe, and working in mines and factories. Even in modern society, many men work overtime or are employed at two jobs in order to support their families.

Apart from the physical risks, breadwinning imposes significant psychological and social demands. Men often push themselves to their physical limits to achieve career success. Conversely, men experience significant stress and depression if they lose their source of employment.

Men may commute long distances to get to their work. In addition, work often takes men away from their families for extended periods of time, resulting in loss of social support and greater psychological stress.

Discussions of "biological superiority" typically give short shrift to the life-shortening effects of men's breadwinner roles.

Serves to Justify the Status Quo

Discussions about sex-based biological superiority typically appear in publications that espouse a feminist perspective. The stated goal of feminism is to promote gender equity.

So any feminist discussion of the lifespan gender gap would logically focus on ways to increase male longevity. But an examination of WHO's "Gender and Health" report reveals exactly the opposite.

"Gender and Health" makes this statement: "When this female potential for greater longevity is not realized, it is an indication of serious health hazards in their immediate environment."

But a graph in that same report reveals that this is hardly the case. Indeed, women have a longer lifespan than men in every region of the world except Southern Asia, where lifespans are equal.

One can only wonder if the gender biological advantage argument is an attempt to rationalize and condone the widespread disparities in men's health.

Reveals an Underlying Bias

There is evidence that male life has historically been undervalued in comparison to female life. This is extensively documented in an article by Adam Jones (Gendercide and Genocide, Journal of Genocide Research 2000; Vol. 2, pp. 185-211).

Contemporary examples of this bias include:

• While the World Health Organization has established a Department of Women's Health, WHO has yet to set up corresponding Department of Men's Health.

• Governments typically provide substantially higher budgets for breast cancer research than for prostate cancer.

• Accounts in the popular press typically give more attention to female victims than male victims of natural disasters. Females are more often identified by their name and sex, while males are referred to using impersonal and gender-neutral terms such as "casualty," "amputee," etc.

Discussions of biological superiority, with their numerous scientific and logical flaws, reinforce broader societal norms that rationalize shorter male lifespans as "natural."


The very concept of biological advantage is faulty because biological fitness never exists in a vacuum. Biological fitness is meaningful only in reference to a person's particular environment. For example, men run faster than women. In a world populated by predatory animals, running ability clearly favors men. This fact does not mean that men are biologically superior; it only reveals that in this environment, men have a survival advantage over women.

Likewise, men are able to procreate many more offspring than women, and for many years after women of the same age reach menopause. But any person who cited these facts as proof of male "biological advantage" would be ridiculed and ostracized.

Arguments of biological superiority have been applied in the past to racial and ethnic minorities, such as African-Americans, American Indians, and Jews. In some cases, the practical application of these arguments has had disastrous consequences for the targets of such generalizations.

Surely, enlightened persons who believe in gender equality would not want to be associated with repugnant concepts that are tainted with historical connotations of intolerance and bigotry.

In a bygone era, arguments about the genetic superiority of racial groups appeared in the publications of extremist groups with a dubious political agenda. Now in 2002, claims of sex-based biological advantage appear on the website of the World Health Organization.

Contact: Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General, World Health Organization, Avenue Appia 20, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland. Cost for airmail postage: 80 cents

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