Hannah Ondiek, FEMNET Communications Intern
The Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 20th to 22nd June 2012, marks the 20th anniversary of the UN Conference on the Environment where Agenda 21, the blue print for sustainable development, was adopted. It also provides an opportunity to renew commitments made at the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002.
Rio +20 will focus on a green economy (education, food security, energy, sustainable cities) in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework (political structures) for sustainable development. It has 7 priority areas which are decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness.
Sustainable development basically means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is based on three pillars: economic development, social development and environmental protection. Governments at Rio are expected to adopt clear and focused practical measures for implementing sustainable development targets. The issue of sustainable development affects not only the people drafting and voting for the document, but all 7 billion people around the world; women, men, young, old, we are all involved.
Prior to the conference, there have been preparatory meetings, deliberations and side events, leading up to the conference where the document will be negotiated and adopted by delegates present including Heads of state and government. The document is not an end unto itself, but a continuation on the commitments that had been previously agreed upon. The document will also be used to show the role of sustainable development in the post 2015 framework which will also draw learning from implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.
The Rio outcome document should also demonstrate the political will by government leaders, to improve governance and take action towards sustainable development. It will be in vain if women’s issues are not looked into, noting that they make up half of humanity. Currently there is very little in terms of a concrete action plan on gender equality issues in the outcome document. For example, one of the 7 priority areas is creating decent employment. In Africa this is a major concern, affecting women and youth disproportionately.
UN Women, the women major group and other women’s organizations and advocates and representatives at Rio are urging governments, civil society and the private sector to prioritize women’s empowerment, gender equality and economic rights for women. In one of the side events, one of the women’s rights advocates stated that women are hoping for a stronger document and are disappointed that women’s issues from Cairo and Beijing are only being noted and not being reaffirmed. Gender balance not being represented enough especially in governance and leadership positions. Women need to be decision makers in issues affecting them like urban planning and governance. The clause on energy does state a difference between energy that causes environmental destruction and safe and sustainable energy, but has been written from a corporate perspective. There is also a lack of ambition to move to zero waste.
Free trade and integration into global markets is not a way to solve the problem of poverty. We have seen super powers taking advantage because they have better trade products than developing countries, which therefore cannot compete with them. Rich countries are likely to create favourable trade conditions for themselves and thus cause the poverty cycle and aid dependence in developing countries to continue. This will mostly affect women farmers who make up more than 70% of small scale farmers in developing countries, including Africa.
Women are stating that the Rio outcome document should not only recognize the rights of women but should commit to time bound and effective measures which will ensure the issues of women are looked into. A rights-based approach to sustainable development is essential. Women are also calling for the inclusion of language that promotes gender equality and responsiveness. This applies also to young women. Our voices need to be heard. We cannot simply let decisions affecting our future be made by ‘old’ wealthy people, who may only have their best interests at heart.
As the draft document is adopted we hope that the voice of the voiceless will be heard and the world’s rich will not take advantage of the poor. We especially hope that women’s rights and gender equality will be at the centre of sustainable development measures. The future we hope for is one that will not put priority on economic development at the expense of environmental and social progress and well being.
Is the outcome document the future you want? Is it the future women want? Does it represent your future?
You be the judge!