Women on the Road to Rio+20

As a member of the Major Group for Women, the Human Impacts Institute and our representative Mariana Orozco reports on global environmental policy gearing up for Rio+20.


On November 1st, over 500 submissions for the Rio+20 outcome document were received by the UN. These will be reviewed by the Rio+20 Bureau and the Co-chairs and integrated into a Zero Draft document for the conference. The input from all these documents will be discussed by Member States and Stakeholders in New York in December, with negotiations due to being in January.

The Major Group of Women submission is a thorough document compiled to reflect the reality of women’s roles in different regions of the world, and the importance they have in transforming the current society. The document was created by more than 50 organizations from all over the world, including the Human Impacts Institute.

Mr. Sha, Secretary General of the conference, has emphasized the notion of Rio+20 as an “Implementation Conference,” which should carry out all the objectives that were already agreed upon in 1992. The Major Group of Women also claims attention for the implementation and commitments of what has already been recognized, and draws specific attention to the fact that women have been working for “recognition of gender dimensions for sustainable development” since 1991. This was indeed acknowledged at Rio in 1992, as chapter 24 of Agenda 21 states that: “Women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development,” and aims to strengthen women’s roles.

The Major Group of Women, while supporting Sustainable Development Goals as a follow up to the Millennium Development Goals, points out that these do not include specific gender related goals, and call for specific Gender Equality Goals.

The MGW asks for the Outcome Document to include specific targets and indicators to support and promote women’s engagement as key actors in sustainable development and to measure government progress on recommended actions. They also recommend a strengthened UN Women, focused on strengthening women’s role in sustainable development.

The importance of gender equality underlies the women’s perspective as it covers the themes that are a part of other contributions. The following are some of the issues and proposals that surface as affecting women:

1. Education and EmploymentInvestments in women’s leadership, skills and entrepreneurship. Women should be empowered economically, socially and politically, through new financing and credit facilities. Women’s participation in government and leadership should be promoted, with targets of at least 40% women. They should also receive training in technology, business management and extension services. Also, there must be protection of women’s indigenous and traditional knowledge systems, and recognition of their contributions.

2. Ownership and control over resourcesEspecially in agriculture, the Women’s Group emphasizes the role of women in food production, and the need for food sovereignty. Women produce much of the world’s food, and need secure land to ensure productivity. They call for an end to land grabbing, and the protection of women’s access to land, as women are the main victims of the privatization of common land, by losing access to the way they support their communities. They also call to phase out GMO’s, and see women as ‘seedkeepers’ – they must have the right to choose what to plant, eat and sell.

3. Access to justiceThere is a strong call against violence towards women, support services, an affordable access to justice, and proper information about their rights.

4. Political representation and institutional decision-makingPointing out that women make up a small percentage in decision-making positions in public and private spheres, they call for a deeper connection of women and policy-making. Women need a voice to be adequately represented.

5. Care giving and household and community management:Investments in health care, child-care and social protection measures. They want an agreement on a Social Protection Floor as a fundamental human right to reduce poverty. Women and men should also be enabled to combine jobs with childcare.

7. EnergyA phasing out of nuclear energy, pointing out that women are more likely to die of cancer than men exposed to a similar dose of radiation. Also, it is mostly women in developing countries who have to collect biomass fuels (wood, charcoal, dung, etc), which leaves no time for education and income generation. The MGW calls for access to clean and efficient energy.

8. Climate changeWomen’s decision-making power and participation in the development and implementation of climate change policies, mechanisms and funding must be increased to ensure they are gender-responsive, as well as support to the women who are forced to migrate due to the environmental degradation caused by climate change.

9. HealthSomething of key importance for women is sexual and reproductive health rights. There is also concern about technologies, from geo-engineering to nano-technology, as well as the chemical production of toxic chemicals, which can cause much harm and disease, especially cancers, infertility, and developmental disorders. Other issues within health are access to clean water and sanitation, especially for poor rural and urban women and girls. The lack of (clean) water poses a health threat, especially for women in a state of pregnancy, and the health of future generations. Women must be at the leadership of water management.

An interesting sidenote is that the MGW is concerned with the proposed term of “Green Economy,” with fears that it is separate from poverty eradication and sustainable development, as well as misused as a green-washing technique, and is not transformative enough from the current paradigm. They recommend switching to the term: “Sustainable and Equitable Economy.”

If you are interested in reading the whole document from the Women’s Major Group, or of any other Major Group or Nations State, including the Human Impacts Institute’s submission, you can view them here.

By Mariana Orozco, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Leadership Intern

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