Rio+20: not the future we want
The Rio+20 Summit on sustainable development ended last Friday with the approval of a plan towards a ‘green economy’ to stop the degradation of the environment and to fight poverty. However, the Summit has left more losers than winners and amongst the losers are the environment, developing countries, indigenous communities and women. Members of civil society have expressed their anger in terms of the economic and environmental crisis and inequality that has now been imposed to future generations.
An empty text
This Summit was held 20 years after the historical Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, and has become the biggest in UN history, bringing together leaders and government representatives of 191 countries. The Summit was supposed to bring concrete actions in terms of addressing poverty, protecting the environment and maintaining economic growth. However, the final outcome document titled “The Future We Want” lacks specific commitments. There is nothing concrete on environmental justice, sexual and reproductive rights nor the impact of extractive industries like mining. At the end of the day the governments involved seem to have produced an empty text.
Sustainable economic development: an impossibility
One of the problems is the continuing focus on economic growth as the only form of “development”. The related concept of “sustainable development” so popular 20 years ago is now criticised by economists, environmentalists, and human rights and development advocates because the truth is that is impossible to secure infinite economic growth when the planet and natural resources are finite. The ‘green economy’ is not the answer.
The People’s Summit
Approximately 50,000 people participated in the alternative People’s Summit that was held at the same time than official Summit. They have produced a document criticising the final Rio+20 outcome document and has been presentedto the UN Secretary General. They expressed their concerns that Rio+20 has become more of the same: solutions based on market mechanisms and the exploitation of the earth which make the crisis deeper and worsen the violation of human rights.
Rio+20 for women
In terms of women’s rights, the outcome document shows once again that women’s rights are the first casualty in international negotiations, with the rise of conservative governments and the strong influence of the Vatican. The Women’s Major Group (WMG) representing 200 civil society women’s organisations from around the world said that the governments of the world have failed both women and future generations. As always, women’s organisations had to work hard to maintain the rights and commitments for gender equality that have already been agreed to, leaving little time for negotiating real progress. Anita Nayar, who is on the Executive Committee of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era(DAWN) said that the problem is:
“not only about mentioning ‘gender’ in the text, but about how many governments are showing a lack of will to adopt concrete actions and the weakening of international agreements about gender equality and women’s empowerment.”
Women’s rights, human rights and reproductive rights activists worldwide, including Human Rights Watch, the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Hilary Clinton, are outraged that governments failed to recognise women’s reproductive rights as a central aspect of gender equality and sustainable development. The removal of the phrase “reproductive rights” from the final outcome document is a reminder of the ongoing war on women’s right to bodily autonomy and control over when, how and if they have children.
Reproductive rights were not the only casualty, as the text showed a lack of commitment to women’s rights to land, property and inheritance. Also, the critical connection between climate change and gender is not mentioned at all, which is unacceptable as women, children, indigenous peoples are the most heavily impacted by climate change.
An alternative vision
At the Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) conference last April there were many discussions around alternative ways of development and the impact of extractive industries, the privatization of water and natural resources have on women. At that conference Lolita, a Mayan indigenous leader said “Development is not about accumulation of wealth but harmonic living with humanity and nature”. That is what development means to me, that is the future we want.