Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Rio +20: sustainable development without women is not possible!

While the Rio+20 UN Conference will be an important opportunity to define international frameworks to advance sustainability, it is critical that gender equality is high on the agenda. “Leaders need to recognize the value of women’s contributions to environmental management, and development”, said Michelle Bachelet at a press conference on 18 June. It is clear that achieving sustainable development in poor countries is not possible without sustainable energy, and women are the ones that spend the most time collecting firewood, crop wastes and other materials to burn as fuel. And, when it comes to climate change, women’s contributions to climate change mitigation and adaptation are crucial, yet they are often the most affected despite contributing the least to the problem.

“Today women in developing countries make up 43 percent of agricultural workers, but can’t get equal access to land, credit or new technologies. This is not sustainable. The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that giving women the same access as men to fertilizers, seeds, tools and other types of agriculture support would raise agricultural output and result in 100 to 150 million fewer hungry people”.

Michelle Bachelet, 18 June Press Conference at Rio+20

Ahead of Rio+20, Wikigender has organised an online discussion on “How can gender equality be better integrated into climate change policies and programmes in order to ensure sustainable development?” The main messages were presented at the 10th OECD DAC Network on Gender Equality meeting (Gendernet), during the 14 June workshop on “gender equality, climate change, and green growth”. At the workshop, we learned via a presentation of the OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050 that if no action is taken, the greenhouse gas emissions will increase by 50% by 2050 and temperatures will rise by 3 to 6 Celsius degrees by the end of the century. This means that we will have more extreme weather conditions and the crops and infrastructure will be at risk. Other consequences of inaction include more urban air pollution, an increase of the global water demand by 55% - which has huge implications for irrigation of crops, livestock, electricity, manufacturing and domestic use.

Many of the emerging themes from the online discussion resonated very strongly with the ideas brought forward by the Gendernet members during the workshop (see the summary report). 
For me, the most important point is that women and sustainable development should be looked at as two closely intertwined issues, and we should benefit from women’s expert knowledge and foster women’s leadership so that what they are doing at a local level can be scaled up or replicated elsewhere. I was pleased that participants left the workshop with a sense of “urgency”: this is a huge task and while it may be too late to influence the Rio +20 agenda now, we know where we need to focus post Rio+20. As Eleanor Blomstrom, WEDO’s Program Coordinator and Rio+20 focal point put it, “there is literally no more time to waste”. Giving women equal access to natural resources and basic services such as electricity, water and sanitation is therefore a priority. We need to invest in women to achieve “the future we want”: this will address the intergenerational challenge and contribute to sustainable development in the economic, social and environmental dimensions.

We need to remove the barriers preventing women from advancing and focus on building on women’s knowledge, skills and capacities. Numerous examples were given during the online discussion of the key role of women in sustainable development, and  some good practices were given at the workshop including training women to improve seed resistance to climatic hazards or supporting women’s groups or supporting women’s groups of savings banks to develop income-generating activities.

“Sustainable development requires women’s rights, equal opportunities and women’s full participation. The current model – of environmental decline, rising inequality and an up-and-down economy is not sustainable. A world in balance requires gender equality”.

Michelle Bachelet, 18 June Press Conference at Rio+20

The business case for women has already been made and appears clearly: sustainable development is not possible without including the potential of half of a nation’s workforce. So what can be done to influence the outcome and follow up of Rio+20?

Answer by commenting below and follow our Special Focus on “Women and sustainable development at the Rio+20 UN Conference” to keep up to date with media articles addressing gender equality and Rio+20!

Estelle Loiseau

1 comment:

  1. I wholeheartedly agree that without women being part and parcel of any development process we are headed for failure, be it climate,economic social or political.

    My point of departure checks in when the phrase "women getting involved" acquires the usual connotation of "women passively waiting for men to volunteer to empower women".

    It's not gonna happen, and if it does it'll be done out of a sense of duty, and as such the women so "helped" will not be taken seriously enough, their qualifications or (lack thereof) being pretty much immaterial. This is one of the reasons why there are so many very qualified women in environment and economic issues but we sent largely a male delegation to Rio20.

    As a general rule in life, we should all use what we have to get what we need or want.

    Women and indeed some men need women represented equally in every sphere of social development for better and sustainable results. If we wait for men to volunteer to do it for women we'll wait until the cows come home. So, what do women have that they can leverage for better terms in the society? Their votes.

    I'm so much interested in women and politics for various  reasons. First and foremost,  politics affords one (or a group) the power of prioritizing policies. Decisions affecting the daily life of people of a country are made at the political level. In other words,politics is real power and getting more women in politics is the ultimate women  empowerment. 

    Secondly, women in most countries have suffrage rights and the numerical strength  to effect real political change. That is, by electing women, they can change the power dynamics on which patriarchy hinges

    Thirdly, Political leadership  is the most visible form of leadership,and all the other forms pay homage to it. More women in politics would send a very strong message to all the other social spheres that women are leaders. The message will seep down to the family level and cause changes in the way we socialize our daughters. Our daughters will grow up knowing that women and men are leaders.

    It will also send a very strong message to the file and rank of management (private/public) that women can be as good managers (a form of leadership) as men. As things stand now, many very qualified women are mark-timing in mediocre positions, in both public and private bodies, as men are reluctant to promote them

    in the current setup (except Rwanda and some Nordic countries), the few women present are actually voted in by men, not women. Women mostly vote for men. The last time I checked, the one who pays the piper, calls the tune. These elected women bend over backwards to please their core constituency: men!

    Women electing men to take care of women issues is akin to sheep taking their lambs to a wolves daycare.

    I'm telling all women to take charge of their own empowerment for the betterment of the whole society!

    Empower a man you empower an individual, empower a woman and you empower a society!