The United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development is the world’s largest gathering of civil society organizations, corporations and governments focused on global sustainability. Twenty years ago, the original Rio conference implemented the Millennium Development Goals, which included one target of halving the world’s population that had no access to water and sanitation. Rio+20 is supposed to develop a global framework to replace the MDGs, which expire in 2015, and protect both the planet and people.
The vital role of women in managing and implementing sustainable development is reflected in several side events, concurrent conferences and panels in Rio, many of which were organized by the 200 NGOs that comprise the Rio+20 Women’s Major Group. These events included the “The Future Women Want” conference held by UN Women and the University of Pennsylania’s State Department side event in which wH2O was discussed. At these events, women from around the world stood up and voiced their concerns and opinions in person and via the web. The number of brave women and girls who have been active in planning, protesting, and collaborating in advance of Rio+20 is astounding.
However, the main Rio+20 agreement document has ignited a controversy. The final agreement dropped strong and clear language requiring reproductive rights. The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton objected to the lack of specificity and made a statement advocating the importance of family planning in sustainable development. The Global Fund for Women said in a blog post op-ed that allowing women access to contraception is crucial, adding that studies show that it could lead to global carbon emissions reductions of 8 to 15 percent.
The final Rio+20 agreement text has also dropped all language pertaining to ending fossil fuel subsidies, which could have a positive health effect on women if it helps the world to switch to cleaner fuel or forces companies to mitigate negative impacts. (Effects on women from fossil fuel mining and jobs are covered more in my paper in wH2O Vol 1. No. 1) The International Center for Research on Women noted that Rio+20 energy goals must include a emphasis on getting clean energy into the hands of women and girls.
Below is a round-up of news and quotes on women @ Rio+20:
Vicky Markham at the Center for Environment and Population (CEP) has been writing on gender-related themes at Rio+20 on RH Reality Check blog. Reporting from an event co-hosted by CEP, Climate Wise Women and Columbia University’s Coalition for Sustainable Development, she caught a great quote below from The Honorable Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland:
“It is essential that these women’s voices come out, be part of the UN debates. They put a human face to climate change, the face of climate change is a peasant farmer from Uganda, or a slum dweller in Brazil. Climate change is hurting our poorest communities, our most vulnerable, and they are not responsible for climate change. Those most affected are not responsible yet bearing the brunt of its impacts. She had two messages here at Rio+20: we need to come at this from a human rights issue, and these issues of importance to women don’t get raised, they need a critical mass of women who come together. That’s why this group of Climate Wise Women and those like them are critical.”
The Guardian global development deputy editor Liz Ford, has been filing dispatches from “The Future Women Want,” and other events. Here’s one:
There’s a crowd gathering outside one of the conference rooms, waiting the arrival of the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, and the head of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet who will be “making a strong call to action” to governments, civil society and the private sector to prioritise gender equality and women’s empowerment (we’re inching closer, but are still way off – there’s a reason why the MDGs that specifically relate to women and gender are way off track). Leaders attending the Future Women Want event are expected to sign a UN Women declaration of intent. But will the declaration be what all women want? How far will it go? Will it mention family planning, a major issue among some of the women – and men – I’ve spoken to here? I’ll keep you posted.
Nalini Saligram, founder of Arogya World, and Felicia M. Naul, director of the Harvard Global Equity Initiative, urged a focus on addressing non-communicable diseases in Rio+20 agreements in a piece for the Huffington Post Impact Blog. They wrote:
“Smart solutions to the growing NCD crisis must include a focus on women. Healthy, thriving women create healthy, thriving families and communities. There is growing evidence that NCDs are an integral part of maternal health, and we are learning that helping women have healthy pregnancies and normal birth weight babies may help reduce diabetes and cardiovascular disease in future generations. Women also are disproportionately impacted by NCDs, whether as caregivers, because they become ill themselves, or because of discrimination in accessing care. Many women in developing countries cook daily over open flames, and as a result are at higher risk of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and cancer.”
The importance of women’s access to resources and family planning was underscored in a blog posted on Daily Times Nigeria by Jill Sheffield and Danielle Nierenber. One study shows that nearly one-third of Nigerian women do not have access to contraception. The connection between contraception and water was made by Julia Ryan in wH2O Vol. 1 No.1. Women also make up 80 percent of the agricultural workforce in Nigeria: If they had equal access to land, rights and resources, food production could increase dramatically, meeting the needs of the hungry. The authors concluded:
Investing in women’s education furthers economic goals and improves the health and wellbeing of future generations. According to the World Bank, a one year increase in education for women corresponds to an increase of US$700 in GDP per capita. In addition, educated women tend to marry later and have fewer children. Their own children, in turn, tend to have lower infant mortality rates, higher school enrolment, and suffer less from malnutrition.
The Big Green Purse interviewed Dr. Carmen Barroso of the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Musimbi Kanyoro , CEO and President of the Global Fund for Women, about their frustrations and hopes from Rio+20. Read the interview here>>
You can read the opening and closing remarks of the Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, here.
Read Ghanaian nurse Miriam Oteng’s post about what sustainable development means in her community.
Severn Cullis-Suzuki, who astonished the original Rio Summit attendees in 1992 as a 12 year old pleading for action on behalf of the planet and its children, gave another address demanding that delegates work together.
I’ll update this page with more as it comes! Follow us on Twitter or Like Us on Facebook to get regular updates.