The World Health Organisation has been accused of sexism after releasing a draft report that pushed for women of "child-bearing age" to be prevented from drinking alcohol.
The controversial advice was laid out in WHO's draft of its Global Alcohol Action Plan 2022-2030, which urges countries to raise awareness among the public about the risks and harms associated with alcohol consumption, with particular focus on how children are impacted when exposed to alcohol while still in the womb.
In order to lessen these impacts, the organisation suggests preventing not only pregnant women from drinking alcohol, but any woman of "child-bearing age".
"Appropriate attention should be given to prevention of the initiation of drinking among children and adolescents, prevention of drinking among pregnant women and women of child-bearing age," the report states.
Under this advice, steps would be taken to prevent millions of women from drinking alcohol, just because they are considered to be in their peak child-bearing years.
The report sparked instant backlash, with Matt Lambert, CEO of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, branding the advice "sexist and paternalistic".
"We are extremely concerned by the WHO calling on countries to prevent drinking among women of child-bearing age in their latest action plan. As well as being sexist and paternalistic, and potentially restricting the freedoms of most women, it goes well beyond their remit and is not rooted in science," Lambert said.
"It is wrong to scaremonger in this irresponsible way and associate women's alcohol-related risks with those of children and pregnant people."
Social media users were quick to lash out at the organisation, with many branding the suggestion "disturbing".
"Tied to that is a rather disturbing thought that the point of 'women of child-bearing age' is to have children. What if some of those women choose not to … or cannot? Will they need to carry a permission slip to get a drink, or will they be banned anyway?" one Twitter user wrote.
Another user wrote: "Just to be safe, better lock all women of child-bearing age on 'health ranches' where they are not allowed to ride in cars, ascend to altitudes above 8500 feet above sea level, take hot showers, eat raw oysters, or use the acne drug Accutane."
A 2018 study, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, found 23 per cent of women who took part in the Growing Up in New Zealand study continued to drink in their first trimester - when the risk of damage to nerve tissue was the highest - despite knowing they were pregnant. Thirteen per cent continued drinking after the first three months.
Up to 3000 New Zealand children are born every year with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder as a result of their mother drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
The Ministry of Health says there is no safe level of alcohol consumption while pregnant.
Chief executive of Alcohol Change UK, Dr Richard Piper, told The Telegraph: "Drinking alcohol in the early stages of pregnancy, even before many people realise they're pregnant, can be very damaging for a foetus."
"It's important that people understand these risks, but also vital that we balance this against each adult's right to make informed decisions about what we do with our bodies, no matter our age or sex."