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Rio+20 Agreement Fails Women, and the World

11:38 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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Written by Zonibel Woods for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

See all our coverage of Rio+20 here.

Brazil, a country that in the past has championed women’s human rights, including reproductive rights, at the global level, has failed women in both Brazil and the world over.

During meetings to finalize the Rio+20 document, Heads of State will adopt in the next few days at Rio+20, delegates agreed on a plan short on vision and big on compromises. After three days of long, drawn-out negotiations, marked with lack of clarity about the process, a document to be signed off by heads of government was presented. Quickly gaveled through by the Brazilian chair, one after another government thanked Brazil for facilitating this document and largely expressed how this was the best they could do. By all accounts, despite the attempts to spin the outcome as a success, this document is neither “the future we want” nor what future generations deserve. In an effort to get consensus at whatever cost, Brazil forgot Rio: the vision and commitments of the Rio Earth Summit held 20 years ago.

From the start of the negotiations, gender equality and women’s human rights, including reproductive rights, have continuously been challenged by a few governments, claiming that [these] had “nothing to do with sustainable development.”

This debate continued until the last few hours of the negotiations. In the end, the text includes a re-affirmation of both the Cairo and Beijing agreements, but it falls short by failing to recognize that reproductive rights are also critical to the achievement of sustainable development. If a woman cannot decide if and when to have children and if she is not provided with the reproductive health care that is her human right, it is challenging to contribute to sustainable solutions for the planet.

Opposition to women’s human rights per se was concentrated among a few countries, with the un-holy alliance of the Holy See and oppressive governments such as Syria and Egypt insisting on marginalizing women. And since there was so much at stake for “more important issues,” such as trade, financing for sustainable development, and the green economy, other governments in the end traded away women’s reproductive rights, giving the Vatican what it wanted in the first place. But even if reproductive rights had been reaffirmed, the lack of real commitment by the international community to eradicate poverty, address urgent environmental concerns, and to chart a clear path for implementation of sustainable development, makes it difficult for women– and for the world — to  achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment in this context.

Norway, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay, Mexico, Iceland, Switzerland, Israel and many others fought to the end to retain the reference to reproductive rights and expressed disappointment that this was not incorporated in the final text. However, it is expected that they will speak of their continued commitment through their leaders during the High Level Segment that begins today.

The Brazilian failure: selling out women’s human rights in this negotiation, has not gone unnoticed. Brazilian feminists quickly mobilized and demanded an explanation from their government. In an interview with local media following the agreement on the text, the Brazilian Foreign Minister expressed disappointment that “reproductive rights” had been kept out of the document, but went on to explain that this was done out of the need to reach a compromise. Immediately following the adoption of the text, women gathered and protested at Rio Centro, the main venue for the conference, chanting “reproductive rights are not for sale”, “governments have failed women and the planet” and “women’s rights are human rights.” Finally, in a meeting with Michelle Bachelet, the head of UNWomen,  and the Brazilian Minister for the Environment, Brazilian Women presented their declaration to Rio+20 which fittingly ended with these words:

“We defend women´s rights to equality, autonomy and freedom in all the territories where we live, particularly in our bodies, which are our first territory.”

For now, governments attending Rio+20 have failed both territories. 

Rio+20: Holy See and G77 Fight to Erase Women From Sustainable Development Agenda

10:51 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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Written by Zonibel Woods for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, the “Earth Summit,” was the first of a series of United Nations global conferences that sought progress on sustainable development, including human rights, population change, social development, women’s human rights and gender equality. The ambitious plans of action resulting from the Rio, Vienna, Cairo, and Beijing Conferences have set the blueprint for the development agenda over the last two decades. In addition to Agenda 21, the Earth Summit also resulted in three ground-breaking international treaties or conventions – the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. Rio set the tone for what was a global effort in envisioning what “could be possible” to improve the lives of people and the planet.

This week, 55,000 people are expected to attend Rio +20, including at least 115 world leaders who will participate in the high-level segment from June 20th to 22nd. At 80 pages, the expected outcome document, titled “The Future We Want,” still remains largely under negotiation. Governments began negotiating Wednesday with only 30 percent of the text already set, and with only three scheduled days of negotiations left. It remains to be seen whether we will agree on “The Future We Want,” or if the Brazilian government, in a last ditch attempt, will pull out a short political declaration to be signed by heads of state and thus “save face” with minimal commitments, including any commitment to achieving gender equality.

In 1992, women’s human rights advocates played a critical role in shaping Agenda 21 and ensured that “three pillars” of sustainable development (social, environmental and economic) remained central to the sustainable development agenda. However, negotiations for Rio+20 have been fraught with attempts to take “people” and social development out of the equation and lay the solutions at the altar of market driven forces through the “green economy.” For women and young people, this means that fundamental issues affecting them, such as their right to health and education, are in danger of being sidelined. Human rights have also generally been forgotten. While the European Union, the United States, Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland, Liechenstein, and Iceland have attempted to incorporate goals for the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women as critical elements of sustainable development in the outcome document, there has been a shameful display by the G77 and China to try to roll back internationally-agreed language on women’s human rights.

Agenda 21 acknowledges that environmental policy must take into account protecting the rights of women; that strategies for poverty eradication must include empowering women’s groups; and that women should have full, access to land, resources, and ownership; It also includes full recognition of women’s rights in health including reproductive health. Now, however, during negotiations, a few countries within the G77, mainly led by Egypt, are attempting to block references to women’s human rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights, and to women’s right to inherit land and other productive resources. The Holy See, a non-member-state permanent member of the United Nations — without legitimacy to speak on behalf of a citizenry of its own — is seeking to impose their values on Catholics and non-Catholics alike by watering down references to gender equality, women’s human rights, and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Luckily, women’s human rights advocates are in Rio. We are working hard to ensure that the gains of the past 20 years are upheld. We will make the point, again and again, and as long as it takes, that the human rights and health of half the world’s population are not only vital to achieving sustainable development, but that there is no other way to realize that goal.