Women and Sustainability: Global Advocates Concerned by Language About Women and Reproductive Rights

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 this week’s Rio+20 conference.

Many women’s health and rights groups believe there are critical gaps in the draft Rio+20 outcome agreement. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

After days of negotiations, world leaders and the over 50,000 participants at Rio+20 will be presented with a draft outcome agreement, known as “The Future We Want.” The draft, which will be finalized on Friday, will be presented to heads of state at the end of the conference and will likely serve as the framework for future goals on economic, social, and environmental sustainability, including the Sustainable Development Goals, which could replace the Millennium Development Goals when they expire in 2015

Before the draft is final, many women’s health and rights and environmental groups believe there are critical gaps that must be addressed before the document is submitted. According to a report in The Guardian, the draft released Wednesday morning makes no meaningful steps toward sustainable development.

The Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), Michelle Bachelet said that the outcome document must highlight women’s roles throughout the entire text, as their participation permeates all aspects of sustainable development, including agriculture, education, environmental management and decision-making, among others. “We cannot afford to leave women marginalized,” she stated. “This is not sustainable. This social exclusion of women is not only hurting women, it is hurting all of us.”

While there is strong language about women empowerment included in Paragraph 8 of the latest draft of “The Future We Want,” the draft document fails to recognize that reproductive rights are critical to the achievement of sustainable development. It ignores young women and men’s rights to choose when and if they want to have children, to have a safe sex life, and to access reproductive health care. It is impossible to address urgent environmental concerns and strategies for sustainable development if the path to achievement does not include gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Brazilian feminists, along with several civil society organizations, mobilized quickly to respond to the conference discussions, and RH Reality Check published a blog post that highlighted the lack of commitment towards women’s and human rights.

The negotiated text, however, does include some positive language including a re-affirmation of both the Cairo and Beijing agreements, a mention of the need to integrate reproductive health in national strategies and programmes, and language on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The world is watching closely over the next days to see if our leaders at Rio+20 remember the commitments they’ve made in the past, and live up to their promises.

What do you think are the top priorities for sustainable and equitable development in the coming years?

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