The Future that Women Want: No Time to Waste A Vision of Sustainable Development for All (2-3)
Rio+20 provides an opportunity for leaders to strengthen the foundation laid 20 years ago at the 1992 Earth Summit to build a path towards a sustainable future. Twenty years ago, UN Member States unanimously agreed that “women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development”. UN Women presented a report to the 2012 Summit highlighting the priorities needed for the empowerment and participation of women in sustainable development.
Building on a Strong Foundation
In addition to strong action to protect the environment, sustainable development requires delivering on the fundamentals: international commitments to eradicate poverty, promote human rights and advance gender equality.
The 1945 Charter of the United Nations reaffirmed faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of every human, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small. It demonstrated determination to promote social progress and better standards of life with expanded freedoms. Within this framework, gender equality advocates in civil society, governments and the UN system have advocated for the equal rights of women and girls in civil, economic, political, social and environmental issues.
The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), a significant outcome of these efforts, committed all State Parties to take measures in the political, social, economic and cultural fields to guarantee women the full exercise and enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. In its dialogues with government representatives, the CEDAW Committee has called on State Parties to include gender equality and women’s empowerment as an overarching guiding principle in all areas, including the environment and climate change
In 1987, the Brundtland Commission report, ‘Our Common Future’, ushered in a new thinking on sustainable development, which it defined as “development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
This definition laid the foundation for an approach to sustainable development that highlights inter-generational responsibility and defines the three interlinked and mutually reinforcing dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental.
During the 1990s, the international community came together at a series of international conferences and agreed on global commitments in relation to sustainable development, financing for development, human rights, population issues, social development and gender equality and women’s empowerment.
At the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro (the Earth Summit), the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 laid out a global framework for addressing the challenges facing the global community in the three central dimensions of sustainable development.
Principle 20 of the Rio Declaration stated that “women have a vital role in environmental management and development and their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development”. In addition, Chapter 24 of Agenda 21 recommended that national governments develop strategies to “eliminate constitutional, legal, administrative, cultural, behavioural, social and economic obstacles to women’s full participation in sustainable development and in public life”.
Much of the progress made on the normative framework for sustainable development at the international level should be credited to the women’s movement. Across the globe, women leaders have advocated for environmental issues, women’s rights and the well-being of their communities.
Since the Earth Summit, work towards attaining sustainable development has increasingly integrated its economic, social and environmental dimensions, with a strong focus on poverty eradication. The 2002 Johannesburg Plan of Implementation reviewed progress made since the Earth Summit and discussed ways to further advance Agenda 21 implementation. The Plan noted that poverty eradication is the greatest contemporary global challenge and is an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, particularly in developing countries. The Plan also outlined areas in which work was required in order to advance gender equality, including promoting women’s equal access to and full participation in decision-making at all levels, mainstreaming gender perspectives in all policies and strategies, eliminating all forms of violence and discrimination against women and ensuring full and equal access to economic opportunities, credit, education,
health care, land and agricultural resources.
1992: Agenda 21 calls for global action for women
Chapter 24 of Agenda 21, Global Action for Women towards Sustainable and Equitable Development, contains references and recommendations on subjects including eliminating violence against women; strengthening women’s bureaux, non-governmental organizations and groups; advancing women’s participation in and access to decision-making, education, employment and credit; reducing women’s unpaid care work6 and providing reproductive health care; and recognizing women’s contributions to reducing unsustainable consumption and production patterns. Agenda 21 also called for concrete actions in the areas of research, data collection and knowledge dissemination.
Agenda 21 was revolutionary in that it called for both institutional arrangements and financial resources for its effective implementation. It called upon the Secretary-General to review the “adequacy of all United Nations institutions, including those with a special focus on the role ofwomen, in meeting development and environment objectives, and make recommendations for strengthening their capacities”.
The Earth Summit also contributed to the creation of three significant environmental agreements that came to be known as the Rio Conventions: the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). While the first two advanced gender perspectives from the outset, UNFCCC did not originally incorporate a gender perspective.
However, awareness of the linkages between gender equality and climate change issues has since increased, including through a critical decision in 2001 aiming for gender parity in all UNFCCC created bodies and the 2010 Cancún Agreements and 2011 Durban Platform, which integrate multiple gender dimensions due to diligent efforts of key Parties and gender advocates. During the last two decades, UNFCCC has also undergone a significant evolution,
broadening its environmental focus from mitigating greenhouse gases to include the economic and social dimensions of adaptation, thus more closely reflecting the comprehensive approach of sustainable development.
By Alula Berhe Kidani, 25/07/2012