Rio and Beyond: Women Lead the Way

Jun 21st, 2012 | By | Category: Rio+20 Earth Summit

By Suzanne York,

Vandana Shiva, photo courtesy

Rio de Janeiro — Word was out that reproductive rights was left out of the Rio+20 Earth Summit finalized text, much to the dismay of many conference attendees.  The exclusion of these rights is supposedly on the grounds that reproductive rights have nothing to do with sustainable development.

However, the text does reaffirm the Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development from Cairo 1994. And according to the United Nations Population Fund, the text emphasizes “the need for the provision of universal access to reproductive health, including family planning and sexual health and the integration of reproductive health in national strategies and programmes,” the agreement states, reiterating Member States’ commitment to reduce maternal and child deaths, and to improve the health of women, men, youth and children.”

Under negotiation for the last two years by policy-makers from over 190 countries, the 49-page draft, called “The Future We Want” will be revised, finalized and adopted by heads of state by June 22nd, when the conference officially ends.

Many people speaking here at Rio+20 have underscored how there can be no sustainable development without women.  And reproductive health issues are integral to this.  Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, Timothy Wirth, head of the United Nations Foundation, and many others have stated that we cannot afford to backslide on issues central to women’s empowerment.

Fortunately, many people and civil society organizations are keeping close tabs on the text and advocating for an inclusive document. On June 19th, after the news came out that governments seemed to be turning their backs on women, there was a side event on “Women Leading the Way: Mobilizing for an Equitable, Resilient and Thriving Future.”  The timing could not have been better for energizing hopes.

Osprey Orielle Lake, president of the Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus, an event sponsor, said that governments are questionning the links between women and sustainability.  Because of this near-sightedness, the world cannot afford to wait for governments to act and implement initiatives years down the road.  We are in this environmental and social crisis, she said “because we aren’t implementing the solutions we already have.”  And it is time to listen to the voices of women, and of nature. Lake’s organization is spear-heading the International Women’s Earth and Climate Initiative to bring together top women leaders to create a comprehensive network to strategize and implement solutions.

Headlining an impressive panel of speakers was Vandana Shiva, a physicist and long-time environmental activist and eco-feminist.   She summed up her position and what Rio+20 activists and attendees should keep in mind, no matter the outcome text.  She said she didn’t come here (to Rio) for a document, but that she came for solidarity.  “Life is not a document, it is the life of our rivers and our seeds.” It was a reminder to recall what it is that brought so many people together at Rio+20.

Those kept out of the official negotiating process continue to create positive initiatives and call for change.  Shiva stressed that women will show the way and create a new freedom movement for Earth and humanity.

Marina Silva, former environment minister of Brazil, spoke of the excess of consumerism and arrogance in our society, and lack of commitment.  “We need to think about the power of women as a new form of leadership.”  And, according to Silva, “we disrespect and disregard the feminine for a masculine view” of the world. When we change our vision, “it allows us to change our attitudes.”

Also speaking at the event was Ted Turner, founder of the United Nations Foundation.  He simply stated that we need to give women equal rights with men.

The next couple of days will tell whether or not some of these voices of wisdom are heeded and if the “Future We Want” final Rio text will include the needs and desires of half of the world’s population. We are partly there, but let’s go the distance.

IPS Senior Writer Suzanne York is reporting this week from Rio+20

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