There is a need in the current debates over sustainable development to make sure that the voices of the most marginalised people, such as rural women and girls in developing countries, are heard. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation was therefore one of the partners in an event held in the wings of the 2012 UN Commission on the Status of Women. The event, Civil Society Participation in the Sustainable Development Debate: Making Rio+20 Count for Rural Women, was co-hosted with World YWCA and Women’s Environment and Development Organisation, and took place in New York on 1 March 2012. The panel focused on the roles rural women play in sustainable development and poverty eradication, and women’s participation in global decision-making in general and in shaping and implementing the anticipated outcomes of the forthcoming Rio+20 sustainable development summit in particular.
Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, General Secretary of World YWCA and CIVICUS Board Member, made five key points in leading the debate:
- Making sure rural women count in the Rio+20 debates. There is a need to go back and look again at the issues that were first put on the table at the 1992 conference. Issues of water, land, globalisation, the role of women in decision-making, environmental protection and collective responsibility all remain relevant and all need to be at the centre today.
- Being mindful of the context in which rural women live. The influences of current challenges on rural women today also need to be understood. Nyaradzayi stated, “We are currently dealing with the ‘three Fs’: the financial crisis, the fuel crisis and the food crisis…we must carry this discussion from the perspectives of rural women.”
- Filling the holes in the Green Climate Fund. Governments and partners need to resource this fund, created to help poorer countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change, to help it grow and become more accessible to women.
- Focusing on the conversation around Rio+20 and the post-MDG agenda. The discussion at and outcomes of Rio will be fundamental in shaping the post-MDG agenda. The international community needs to place issues around rural women in sustainable development at the centre of the post-MDG agenda.
- Taking inter-generational approaches. Young people must be leaders in today’s decisions around carbon, nuclear energy and deforestation that will in the future hold implications for women of all ages, and society as a whole.
Food insecurity was an important point raised by Dr Jennifer Clifford of the Center for Rebuilding Sustainable Communities after Disasters, University of Massachusetts, USA. She stated that the world’s poorest countries spend almost one hundred percent of their incomes on food. With the possibility of the world’s population doubling in the next 35 years, food insecurity will affect women and their families more. Solutions to this problem include the control of population growth, reducing over-consumption, prioritising education for women, increasing literacy and improving access to family planning.
Caroline Daly of the YWCA-YMCA of Sweden raised the important point that women of all kinds must be at the table during policy-making decisions, especially those that are young. They must advocate for what is needed and be included in the discussion. She went on to stress that inclusion promotes sustainability. When climate change makes it more difficult for women and girls to get water and food to cook for their families, this increases the cost, and directly takes away from a young girl’s education. It must be recognised that climate change and sustainable development are women’s rights issues, because women and girls are almost always disproportionately affected, due to their place in patriarchal systems. Listening to those who are most affected is the only way to make real change.
Nonhlanhla Sibanda of People Opposing Women Abuse, South Africa, discussed violence against women as a challenge to sustainable development. Women must participate fully at all levels of sustainable development, and violence against women prevents this occurring. She stated that sustainability could not be a realistic goal if prejudices exist at the social level. An important statistic shows that violence against women can take away one in every five years of life from a healthy woman between the ages of 15 and 44, and causes more deaths and disabilities than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war. Threat and fear affect women’s rights and well-being around the world, and do not allow for sustainable development.
Sabina Anokye Mensah of Voices of African Mothers, USA and Ghana, spoke of how women must also be encouraged to learn about green initiatives, and learn how different forms of energy use impact on women and men differently. She stated that because women and girls are mainly responsible for productive tasks like getting water, taking care of the home and cooking, dependency on domestic energy has negative consequences for their well-being. Boundaries must be removed between energy that is being used for domestic purposes and that which is being used for enterprises. For example, most households in Ghana are not using grid power for economic empowerment. Only one percent uses it for something other than lighting. Women being more effective in grid development activities would allow them to be freer to own land, receive training, raise finance and acquire relevant technology.
Education of women and girls around new technologies, food insecurities and their rights, protection from violence, and having a seat at the policy table were important points stressed by the panel on the question of rural women’s roles in sustainable development. In many countries, women have limited access to rights, yet are directly affected by environmental issues. Women must be involved at the local and international level to help secure their rights and work towards a sustainable future. If those making the policies are not listening to the needs of women and girls, and women are not fully involved in their discussions, sustainability and poverty eradication will not be achieved.
Erin Caragol, CIVICUS United Nations Intern and Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service
About the event
Civil Society Participation in the Sustainable Development Debate: Making Rio+20 Count for Rural Women, was hosted by CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, World YWCA and Women’s Environment and Development Organisation, and was moderated by Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, General Secretary of World YWCA and Board Member of CIVICUS. The panel included Nonhlanhla Sibanda from People Opposing Women Abuse, South Africa, Caroline Daly from YWCA-YMCA, Sweden, Dr Jennifer Clifford from the Center for Rebuilding Sustainable Communities after Disasters, University of Massachusetts, USA and Sabina Anokye Mensah, Voices of African Mothers, USA and Ghana. The debate was closed by Deborah Thomas-Austin from World YWCA.