From Rio to Cairo: Ensuring Reproductive Rights

Jun 22nd, 2012 | By | Category: Rio+20 Earth Summit

By Suzanne York,

Photo: Marco Antônio Teixeira / UOL

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in rain-soaked Rio on the third day of the UN Rio+20 Earth Summit and announced to conference delegates  that “women must be empowered to make decisions on whether and when to have children” if the world is to attain agreed-upon sustainable development goals.

Supporters of reproductive rights, women’s empowerment, and youth rights have been very concerned about the lack of language in the official UN text to be adopted at the end of the conference.  Titled “The Future We Want,” there has been a widespread feeling that the text is backsliding on these issues, which are of paramount importance to sustainable development.  One statement heard over and over again in Rio has been “You can’t have sustainable development without women.”

It is worrying that reproductive rights has been omitted.  Yet today, Danish minister for development cooperation, Mr. Christian Friis Bach, said that the text was close to having  language on reproductive rights and there is now a foundation to build upon.  Because it was left out, Friss believed “it has created a campaign here in Rio that hasn’t been seen”, with more people  and leaders standing up for reproductive rights.

Minister Bach said that even though the text doesn’t have language on reproductive rights, it does make a link between sustainable development and reproductive health, and the next few years will require the needed advocacy and alliance building to bring it into official documents.  For now, Bach noted,  “women’s rights and gender equality are quite strong in the document”, namely in terms of land, credit, access to technology, and greater leadership roles for women.

The next global opportunity to ensure sexual and reproductive rights for all will be Cairo+20 in 2014, the 20th anniversary of the UN International Conference on Population and Development.

There is much to do between now and then.  Mr. Tewodros Melesse, director general of International Planned Parenthood Federation, underscored his concern for the 215 million women who want to use contraceptives but do not have access.  He said that 73% of that unmet need is in the 69 least developed countries.  Melesse asked “can we afford to have sustainability when 73% have an unmet need – what kind of peace, what kind of equitable distribution of resources [is that]?”

Kim Lovell of the Sierra Club’s Global Population and Environment Program summed up the situation perfectly: “If there is one message to take from Rio+20, it is that we cannot ensure a sustainable future without addressing the needs of women. Ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and rights is one of these critical needs –  it helps women better manage resources, improves health, bolsters economies, aids in climate mitigation and adaptation, fosters gender equity, and promotes sustainable communities.”

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


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