Rio+20 Do We Want this Future?

From 20 to 22 June this year in Rio, state leaders from the world had the chance to make real progress on the sustainability agenda. Instead Rio+20 proved disappointing. Eva Lachkovics, from WIDE Austria, a WIDE+ platform, reports from the perspective of women’s rights.

At the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, women‘s organizations put down their vision of a sustainable development in the “Women‘s Action Agenda 21“. They heavily criticized the concept of the free market economy including pointed to the constraints to the economic growth idea. Instead, they called for an economy that respects biological as well as cultural diversity, justice between North and South, access to resources as well as to democratic and reproductive rights for women. Twenty years later their demands remain unacknowledged. The follow-up conference Rio+20 confirms that nothing has been learned.

The current crises demonstrate the failure of the prevailing capitalist-neoliberal economic system. Yet this system is not questioned by the “Green Economy“ concept propagated at Rio+20. The ideology of profit maximization and constant economic growth remains untouched. Yet again new technologies are presented as solutions to hunger and climate change ignoring negative experiences of the past and potential risks in the future.

Putting a stop to the commodification of nature – biologic diversity, seeds, soil etc. – is not taken into consideration despite well known adverse effects caused by such private appropriations of common property. Thus indigenous peoples and traditional communities, among them women in particular, will continue to lose more and more access to, and control over, natural resources.

“Green Economy“ as put forward at Rio+20 does not include the balance of the three pillars of ecologic, economic and social sustainability. Its “one size fits all“ approach ignores the principle of common but differentiated responsibility of the original Rio-Declaration, thereby disregarding the economic differences between the various countries of the North and the South. The result may lead to further exploitation of the South and further marginalization of women.

The outcome of Rio+20 even undercuts the absolutely inadequate aims of the suggested concept of “Green Economy“ (a mere greening of capitalism) not to speak of the demands of the “Women‘s Action Agenda 21“ of 1992. Women, to a great extent excluded form the current economic system, are indispensable for an effective sustainable development. The empowerment of women is central to any sustainable economic system, so are human rights in general and women‘s rights in particular as well as the rights of indigenous peoples and of the marginalized. They go hand in hand with the adherence to, and recognition of, the limits of nature‘s ability to regenerate.

Therefore, the cornerstones of women‘s demands for „the future we want“ include:

  • Access to resources and political participation for women, i.e. empowerment of women.
  • Upgrading of the “care economy“, smallholder and ecologic agriculture, biodiversity, local food production and regional economic cycles as well as the role of women.
  • Rejection of the economic growth constraints.

Eva Lachkovics, WIDE Austria

Further information: read the WIDE Austria position paper on Rio+20

Read the statement of 200 civil society women’s organizations from all around the world, that concluded that the governments have failed both women and future generations.

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