Rio +20 – Were the Expectations Met?

On June 20 world leaders, NGOs, and other groups gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to discuss how sustainable development can be achieved by joint efforts. One of the questions before the summit was whether the leaders would include women’s issues in the outcome document. The expectations before hand were both high and doubtful. Many worried that the result would be a weak document that lacked powerful formulations. So what was the outcome, in particular in relation to women’s rights and situation?

The world leaders from 190 nations did close the summit by signing an outcome document – “The Future We Want”. UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon pointed out that the work with sustainable development is one that takes both time and effort: “Our job now is to create a critical mass. The read ahead is long and hard.” At the same time environmentalists and anti-poverty campaigners expressed concern over the path laid out in the document, meaning that it lacks thorough detail and ambition.

It needs to be mentioned that about two years of negotiations precedes the Rio conference. Two years where the importance of women’s rights and rights of future generations in sustainable development seems to have been lost. “In particular, women worldwide are outraged that governments failed to recognize women’s reproductive rights as a central aspect of gender equality and sustainable development in the Rio+20 Outcome Document.” Previous documents on the issue, such as Agenda 21 and the International Conference on Population and Development (ICDP) Program of Action has pointed out the important connection between sustainable development and reproductive health and rights.

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In the outcome document “The Future We Want” the word woman/women is mentioned 21 times and a majority of these instances are in sentences that reaffirm already-made international commitments.

“We also reaffirm the importance of freedom, peace and security, respect for all human rights, including the right to development and the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food, the rule of law, gender equality, the empowerment of women and the overall commitment to just and democratic societies for development.”

This is important however to develop further new ground has to be broken and hence new stronger agreements must be met with regards to women’s rights and the rights of future generations. As it stands the outcome document is silent on women’s sexual and reproductive rights, all the while this acknowledged to be an important factor particularly in relation to sustainable development.

In the running up to the preceding follow-up conferences such as the Beijing +20 and the MDGs +15 a lot of work needs to be done and affirmative action has to be taken if we are to gain new ground regarding the human rights of women in general and the reproductive rights in particular. To reaffirm previous commitments should not be disregarded, it is indeed important. However, the future needs visionary and progressive moves on women’s human rights as well as sustainable development. By strong advocacy for women’s rights and by calling on governments to make their outmost to reach progressive writings on these issues it is possible that future outcome documents and actually reflect the future we want.

By Lisa Eriksson

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