Worldwatch Institute (Washington, DC)

21 June 2012

Africa: Women and Sustainability - Rio+20 Leaders and Activists Convene to Discuss the Future Women Want

Photo: Charles Akena/IRIN
A mid wife attending to a expectant mother in a health centre in Gulu, northern Uganda

press release

Nourishing the Planet is collaborating with Women Deliver to highlight the important role of women, youth, and reproductive and sexual rights in sustainable development at the upcoming Rio+20 conference.

As the long-awaited 'Future We Want' draft was being released at the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, leaders, experts, and activists were already gathering to discuss the future that women want.

Yesterday, the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, UN Women, led the first of two Women Leader's Forums' focused on women's innovations and contributions to development; promoting gender equality and women's empowerment in the green economy; and integrating the three pillars of sustainable development-economy, society, and the environment-into a new, inclusive development framework.

Global sustainable development leaders including Mary Robinson, former President of the Republic of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Michele Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, moderated four panel discussions throughout the day. Each culminated in an interactive Q&A session that invited civil society activists from around the world to contribute their opinions and insight to the global sustainable development dialogue taking place at Rio+20, either in person or via the panel's twitter feed (#WomenRio).

A special showcase of women's innovations towards empowerment and sustainable development featured the first ever winner of the SEED Gender Equality Award, Bishnu Thakali, President of the Women Environment Preservation Committee based in Nepal. Presentations by Heather Grady from the Rockefeller Foundation and Evelyn Namara from Solar Sister, a Uganda-based social enterprise, spoke about new projects that provide microfinance and technology to women in rural areas in order to empower women, encourage renewable energy use, and improve local food security.

"The future women want is clear, but the path is a little hazy," noted Penny Williams, Global Ambassador for Women and Girls of the Commonwealth of Australia, in a later panel on gender equality and the green economy. The complex, interconnected challenges presented by climate change and the global economy are not new, but we do need new solutions to tackle them. "The green economy must wear a woman's face!"

Co-panelist Achim Steiner, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), added that the global economy should appreciate diversity as a source of debate and potential. Countering traditional rhetoric of surrendering to a global economy, Steiner called for markets to be restructured in order to benefit women and the environment. "Markets are not laws of physics--they can be changed."

In a final panel on "The Future Women Want: Shaping the New International Development Framework," speaker Saraswathi Menon, UN Women Director of Policy clearly stated that any future development framework must be "gender-responsive."

On the road beyond Rio+20, we need a new framework that is characterized by clear goals and vision, stronger coalition among the global movement for women's empowerment, and public action, encouraged by a strong foundation of responsibility and accountability. Christian Friis Bach, Minister for Development Cooperation of the Kingdom of Denmark, cited his experience in the initial discussions on Sustainable Development Goals when he reiterated the need for a rights-based approach to development, and for guidance and cooperation in putting these goals into action.

The significance of women in sustainable development is undeniable, commented newly appointed Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the World Food Program, Ertharin Cousin. "When women have access to food, children eat, families thrive. When they are decision makers, nations have a strong foundation for food and nutrition security."

The international community has produced a document on development that finally includes gender, but what is the way forward? Cousin concluded, "In 2030 a child born today will turn 18. Will we have done enough to give HER the sustainable future we all deserve? Will she have access to nutritious food? Will she have the resources and education she needs? Will she earn enough to send her children to school?"

Seyyada Burney is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

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