Documents for Earth Summit II
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for Earth Summit II ]
Lighting the Path to Progress
Women's Initiatives and An Assessment of Progress
since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development
Submitted by Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO)
The Fire: The Vision of Rio
The Boiling Point: Critical Issues and Priorities
Steaming Ahead: Women's Initiatives for Sustainability
Each Voice: A Candle- Values & Principles
Dimming of Flames: Policy Gaps and Constraints on the Implementation Of
Lighting the Campfire: Reflections and Recommendations
In reviewing the progress made since the Rio Earth Summit
in 1992, WEDO has chosen to focus its report on the image of fire. Across
religions, cultures and mythologies, fire exerts a powerful and evocative
symbolism. Fire is elemental and transformative, a life-giving force that
can nurture and sustain, giving warmth, light and energy. It can also scorch
and destroy, turning to ashes instantly what may have taken a lifetime or a
millennium to build.
Women everywhere are the users and keepers of fire. Everyday, millions of
women, especially from the South, spend arduous hours in search of fuel wood
to kindle a fire and feed their families. Elsewhere, women can simply light
a flame with a turn of a knob.
But women everywhere have need of fire.
As we near the new millennium, women may well judge their progress through
their relationship with and control of the flame. Women need to ask
themselves, and the world, whether the last decade of the century and the
years since the Rio Summit have improved their access to this basic
But there are many forms of heat that determine our well-being and that of
the planet. The most frightening reality of the degradation of the
environment is global warming. The heating of the atmosphere can lead to
rising tides, flooded lands, new diseases and a resurgence of old ones as
ambient temperatures become more favorable to microbes.
At Rio, global warming was considered to be of such importance that a
special summit was demanded to take stock of the problems of the small
island states who were considered to be so at risk that some could actually
be immersed and lost to the future.
Can we take the heat? Can we afford to ignore the flawed patterns of
production and consumption that lead to a warming of the earth's atmosphere
and deepen poverty and deprivation? Can we continue to gloss over the
disparity in lifestyles between North and South that underpin the
inequalities of a global division that relegates growing numbers of the poor
to a life in the cold? Can the fire-eaters be allowed to produce and consume
at a pace that is devouring the earth's resources? Can women protect the
flame and prevent a raging blaze?
The five-year review of the Earth Summit is an opportune moment for us to
ask these and other questions of all committed to making the planet a
healthy and sustainable one.
I. The Fire:
The Vision of Rio
"Human beings are at the center of concerns for
sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life
in harmony with nature." Principle 1 of the Rio Declaration
A fire was lit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Five years later, how hot is it?
Much positive activity has been undertaken, but the spirit of Rio today
seems to flicker as embers rather than blaze as a fire. The question,
therefore, is how to fan the embers of progress into the flame of widespread
The Rio+5 gathering is an opportunity to identify ongoing obstacles to major
progress since the United Nations Conference of Environment and Development
(UNCED), focus the considerable energy of civil society on key necessary
breakthroughs, and particularly to prioritize the current and future roles
UNCED did not seek mere incremental progress--it was a call for true
structural change. However, it is now apparent that the policy and practical
changes envisioned by the Rio accords must take place in a climate of
unprecedented economic globalization, to some extent underestimated by the
UNCED process. NGOs during the preparatory phase of the Earth Summit
negotiations as well as in Rio warned of the consequences of the end of the
Uruguay Round, which gave birth to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in
1994. Assessing progress since Rio, in any sector, is impossible without
taking economic globalization into account.
Moreover, five years after Rio, post-Rio economic forces seem, in practice,
out of synch with the Rio consensus, despite their theoretical harmony.
There is a question, therefore, as to how successful civil society,
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and small businesses can be in
achieving the Rio vision without concomitant major actions within local,
regional and national governments, as well as private sector and
multilateral economic and financial institutions. The changes necessary in
the operation of these large entities, day-to-day and on-the-ground, have
thus far not been forthcoming.
Women's initiatives have been vital to keeping the vision of Rio alive since
UNCED. But, perhaps even more than five years ago, it is evident that
without intensified leadership, involvement and participation of women at
every level, post-Rio implementation will not achieve the pace or scope its
21 and other International Accords
The importance of women to the vision of Rio is reflected
in the Rio agreements, thanks largely to the unflagging advocacy efforts of
women themselves. This advocacy has intensified since Rio at related
international meetings, demonstrating increasing strength.
One of the more significant methodologies for consultation developed in the
process was the establishment of the Women's Action Agenda 21 that became
the guiding document for action for women involved in the negotiations
during the preparatory meetings and in national fora. Astonishingly, the
first draft document for the Earth Summit hardly mentioned the word women.
Given the obvious role of women in the reproductive and productive role of
women in all societies, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the
framers were little influenced by the realities of ordinary life.
Aghast at this omission, women who were involved in the process organized to
ensure that the negotiations and the documents they yielded responded to the
real world. One of the most significant ways in which the deficiency of the
process was addressed was the holding of the World Women's Congress in Miami
in 1991, where under the auspices of WEDO and its International Policy
Action Committee made up of 55 women from around the world, 1,500 women from
84 countries gathered and developed the Women's Action Agenda 21. This
brought to the intergovernmental process and that of NGOs the realities of
women's experiences, women's knowledge and women's aspirations.
This Women's Action Agenda 21 came to serve as a minimum consensus agenda
within the women's caucus and offered a democratic methodology for arriving
at decisions during the negotiations. They also permitted the ventilation of
global as well as sectoral issues within and across states in such a way
that women who were a part of the actual negotiating process within the
conference framework were not only informed but empowered to continue to
negotiate. Assured in the knowledge that their positions were underpinned
and reinforced by a continuous process of information and feedback, the
women were armed by the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies developed in 1985
which mothered many of these concerns and ideas.
The conference discussions were further strengthened by the evidence
accumulated during the 1991 UNEP conference, Global Assembly -- Partners in
Life, which celebrated 218 success stories in environmental management,
living proof from the world over of women's concrete and vital, if not
always visible, role in the management of the environment.
A women's caucus was established within the conference which impacted both
on the official process and the NGO negotiations themselves. The final
outcome, Agenda 21, was to contain not only references to women's realities
within each chapter but importantly a separate Chapter 24 on women -- Global
Action for Women Towards Sustainable and Equitable Development.
Chapter 24 of Agenda 21 recommended elimination, by the year 2000, of the
"constitutional, legal, administrative, cultural, behavioral, social
and economic obstacles to women's full participation in sustainable
development and public life." This chapter made other recommendations
in such areas as women's health, child care, family planning and access to
Since Rio, other international gatherings have occurred that cannot be
separated from an evaluation of post-UNCED progress. The International
Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo, in 1994, and
the World Summit for Social Development, held in Copenhagen in March, 1995,
have gradually deepened, elaborated upon and extended the recommendations of
Agenda 21 and other Rio accords.
Most notably, the Platform for Action adopted by the U.N. Fourth World
Conference on Women, held in Beijing in September 1995, is the strongest
statement of international consensus on women's equality and empowerment
that has ever been agreed upon by governments. Moreover, the Beijing
Platform was pivotal to moving governments from making only recommendations
to undertaking actual commitments.
In fact, some 90 governments committed to undertake various and specific
actions to implement the Platform, and NGOs kept a running tally in Beijing
as these commitments were made. Monitoring these commitments at the local,
regional and national levels continues to be a major focus of women
activists and women's organizations, and the building of effective
monitoring networks must also be counted as significant post-Rio progress.
Underlying all the Rio and post-Rio agreements, however, is a philosophy so
basic, humane and just it should go without saying. It was, nevertheless,
also codified in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, namely
Principle 1 which states: "Human beings are at the center of concerns
for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive
life in harmony with nature."
Every strategy and recommendation at UNCED was aimed at accomplishing the
goals of Principle 1. The international women's movement has long been
dedicated to realizing this idea, by struggling to ensure that women
everywhere can lead healthy and productive lives for their own sake, and for
the sake of the families, communities and future generations which they
Five years after Rio, though the consensus remains imperfect and can be
strengthened, an irrefutable international political foundation has been
built, largely by women, to underpin the initiatives of women around the
This stands as a major accomplishment of the last five years.
The Boiling Point: Critical Issues and Priorities
"To achieve sustainable development and a higher
quality of life for all people, States should reduce and eliminate
unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and promote appropriate
demographic policies." Principle 8 of the Rio Declaration
Despite unprecedented political agreement, however, worrying gaps between
stated intent and living reality persist.
The core goal of the Earth Summit was to steer human history toward
sustainable development, namely, economic development that is based on, and
inseparable from, social equity, inclusion of women in policy-making, human
development and environmental stewardship. But five years after Rio, global
poverty, social deprivation and environmental degradation remain ongoing.
Alarming statistics accumulate despite the breadth and specificity of
* Five years after Rio, 1.3 billion people try to survive on less than $1
* The globalized market economy has deepened economic polarization between
developed and developing nations. In 70 countries, average income was lower
than it had been in 1980 and in 43, lower than in 1970. The difference in
income between the developing and industrialized world tripled from $5,700
in 1970 to $15,400 in 1993 (UNDP Human Development Report, 1996);
* One billion people lack access to potable water and sanitation services;
* Nearly 50,000 people, mainly children, die each day from preventable
* Over half a million women lose their lives in childbirth or as a result of
Yet, all of these problems, among many others, were the subject of intense
international discussion and negotiation at Rio, Cairo, Copenhagen and
Even in nations experiencing traditional economic growth, and those
traditionally considered wealthy, the numbers of poor and disenfranchised
are rising. The enormous economic profits derived from globalization
concentrate in the hands of relative few.
The over consumption of the North is driving many aspects of the worst
environmental and human crises of the world. Over consumption patterns of
the North have begun to dangerously take root in pockets of the South fired
by the ideals of pervasive growth-oriented market-driven policies that are
eroding all cultures. Equally true is the fact that the growing poverty
attendant on these policies is also emerging in the north.
"In debates (on sustainable development) it is often asserted that
developing countries with large populations pose a greater threat to the
world environment than developed countries with smaller populations. However
it is well known that developed countries have higher levels of consumption
than developing countries and that consumption exerts pressure on the
"The conclusions obtained from estimates of population adjusted by
consumption seriously question the assumption that countries with larger
populations pose a greater environmental risk. Sustainable development is
based on the premise that there has to be a balance between population and
consumption within overall limits imposed by nature. Then it becomes clear
that not only population but also consumption has to be reduced if
sustainability is to be achieved." (Our Global Neighborhood)
Meanwhile, despite much-stated recognition that a healthy natural resource
base is essential for economic health, and the increasing acceptance of so
called "Green GNP" indicators--pioneered by women several decades
ago--unbridled environmental exploitation seems to accompany most economic
activity, including habitat destruction, deforestation, loss of species,
energy waste, coastal degradation, and soil degradation.
Private sector investment, much praised in the post-Rio era as a substitute
for overseas development assistance, flows only to a handful of the
strongest developing countries and often to the most environmentally
These social, economic and environmental trends are well-known, much
discussed, and were already reaching frightening proportions when the Earth
Summit was convened. They were, however, the legacy of numerous parallel,
interacting and powerful phenomena such as the industrial and information
revolutions, large and small wars, the advent of the toxic nuclear and
high-tech militarism, the green revolution, colonialism, feudalism and
Five years is but a moment of time in which to overcome history's legacy.
Still, since the Earth Summit, in the international women's movement, as
well as in many other arenas, the following have been named as key problems
that require priority action:
A. Inconsistencies between UNCED and the effects of the
removal of trade barriers and international capital mobility
Under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and its successor,
the World Trade Organization (WTO), most countries are being forced to open
their markets to the free entry of foreign goods and, in the process,
becoming more dependent on imports for food and other essential items.
Countries with large foreign debts are pried open further by structural
adjustment programs imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary
Fund. The programs emphasize the increase of export earnings so that
countries can service their debt and pay for imports, a debt that has been
repaid in real terms many times over, claiming more than 50 per cent of
government revenues. These export-oriented policies of the World Bank and
IMF have wreaked havoc on many developing nations and forced women to
increase their unpaid work.
The long-term implications of the explosion of free trade, though noted at
Rio, escaped real scrutiny in favor of securing consensus on the core
agreements. However, it is now crucial to examine the relationship of debt
payment structure and trade to the implementation of the Rio accords. The
WTO, under U.S. leadership, held its first ministerial meeting in Singapore
in late 1996 and is moving ahead rapidly to eliminate the last remaining
The doctrine in favor of free trade argues that the investment it stimulates
creates economic growth, prosperity and jobs. However, women worldwide have
noted that the jobs created are largely offset by the loss of livelihoods
destroyed, for example, by the importation of basic foodstuffs to the
detriment of local small-scale farmers, or the shift of agricultural
production away from local food production toward production of high-priced
food commodities for export. Furthermore, often jobs that have been created
through foreign investment--such as clothing assembly factories--pay meager
wages for work under horrendous conditions that include exploitation of
women and children. Investors seeking "flexible" work forces can
shop around the world to find the lowest wage standards, and the most lax or
least enforced environmental regulations, thus pitting nations against each
other in a race to the bottom to attract foreign capital.
At the same time, developing countries, already operating at a disadvantage
on the trading stage, are being forced to choose between implementing the
goals and aspirations of Agenda 21 and winning foreign investment that can
often be at odds with this implementation.
Reversing these trends, while not subjecting developing countries to unfair
trade practices, is essential if the goals of Rio are to be achieved. This
area is a high priority of women's organizations.
B. The rise of transnational corporations (TNCs)
As wages and working conditions suffer a downward spiral, an upward spiral
Private businesses exploiting natural resources, such as in minerals and
forests, have always been prime agents of environmental destruction.
Government agencies also have been inefficient in managing and protecting
public assets, such as natural resources, and are often corrupt, barely
enforcing regulations where they existed. The pursuit of profit over all
other objectives, all the more potent today, means that entities must
exploit workers and natural resources to the limits.
TNCs are wooed aggressively by governments seeking to lure capital and
investment, which compounds the power of TNCs to dictate their terms of
Through international trade agreements and investment contracts, which have
little actual or conceptual connection to the Earth Summit accords,
governments surrender sovereignty, and hence the people's right to demand
accountability of institutions operating in their countries. This phenomenon
is highly visible, five years after Rio, in negotiations connected to the
Global Climate Change Convention, one of the major accords reached at Rio.
In 1992, nations set a voluntary goal of reducing emissions of greenhouse
gases, such as carbon dioxide, to 1990 levels by the year 2000. This goal
applied only to developed countries, which are responsible for most current
However, as a practical matter, the voluntary goal set in Rio has all but
been abandoned. And nations have only a few more months to forge a new
target, having themselves set a cut-off date of late l997.
Paragraph 37.4(b) of Agenda 21 states:
By 1997, the Secretary-General should submit to the General Assembly a
report on the achievement of improved policies, coordination systems and
procedures for strengthening the implementation of technical cooperation
programmes for sustainable development, as well as on additional measures
required to strengthen such cooperation. That report should be prepared on
the basis of information provided by countries, international organizations,
environment and development institutions, donor agencies and
Although energy efficiency is a much-advertised pre-requisite for economic
growth, large transnational corporations dependent on the sales of fossil
fuels have played a very large part in slowing down establishment of a set
of realistic targets and timetables. This delay will have long-term
consequences for economic and health conditions in both developed and
developing countries, not to mention the global climate.
C. Growing private ownership of natural and biological
Post-Rio, through the new WTO, GATT and other attempts to assign economic
value to natural resources, there is now in place a very distorted notion of
private property--property of the intellect and the earth. Patents are being
issued on products that could not be made at all without the ingredient of
local knowledge that is centuries old. Private interests can engage in what
amounts to piracy, for example, to appropriate existing local knowledge of
herbal medicine, or plant-based drugs, or basic irreplaceable seed stocks.
And very often, this knowledge is the repository of women, indeed
acknowledged as special in Chapter 24 of Agenda 21 and other above-mentioned
Even the Biodiversity Convention, one of the main agreements reached at Rio
intended to protect plant and animal resources, tends to reinforce the
notion that plants and animals have an economic value and can be bought and
owned by private interests. Private and semi-private organizations send
ethno-botanists into rainforest areas, for example, to inventory natural
assets. Sometimes, local people are employed in this process. However, the
salaries they receive to share their knowledge are entirely disproportionate
to the profit that will be made by the exploitation of that knowledge on the
global scale envisioned.
Farmers' seeds are now declared 'primitive cultivars' and 'land races,'
suggesting no intellectual work had gone into their evolution. The Green
Revolution varieties were called 'elite' and 'modern varieties.' These
varieties, themselves evolved from a narrow genetic base, were spread
throughout the world, thus displacing the millions of crop varieties that
farmers had evolved over millennia. (Vandana Shiva, The Seeds of Our Future,
The Journal of the Society for International Development, vol. 4, 1996.)
If the benefits of this exploitation remain in private hands and are not
properly distributed to the people, an insidious transfer has occurred, all
in the name of biodiversity protection.
For example, the Neem, an Indian tree that has been used as a bio-pesticide
by local people for centuries, is a key ingredient in a product patented by
W.R. Grace. Now, this international chemical company earns profits based on
indigenous discoveries that are unremunerated.
Further, under the WTO's Trade-Related International Property Rights
provisions, countries are required to enforce patents on plant varieties for
periods of 17 to 20 years, making traditional seed exchange between farmers
illegal and resulting in higher prices based on profitability for private
seed companies. As a few powerful corporations gain control of global seed
supplies, farmers will be forced to abandon traditional varieties and become
entirely dependent on commercial supplies.
In many cases, the same companies selling seeds also control other inputs
such as fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. The loss of crop diversity,
together with higher prices for inputs, is a recipe for destruction of
traditional sustainable farming practices, as these are replaced by
large-scale industrial agriculture based on monocultures and heavy use of
chemical inputs. Often, this trend is reinforced by the drive for export
earnings, as discussed above.
D. Concentration of power and the exclusion of large
segments of global society, including most women from government, business,
industry, military and post-military decision-making
Those in positions of power have always been able to shape the lives of
others with less power. Today, however, small groups of people, such as
boards of directors of large corporations or owners of media conglomerates,
can profoundly shape the lives of hundreds of millions of people, often
instantaneously. A very few economic decisions can influence the cultural
behavior and consumption patterns of whole nations. These decisions can
often transcend, even neutralize, the best intentions of government and
Those who wield this degree of power are overwhelmingly male, and largely
from countries of the North and in Southeast Asia, and are indeed often
operating in private arenas, thus out of reach of the public through voting
or other democratic means. Even in well developed democracies, they are by
and large unaccountable to those over whom they have power.
The heightened concentration of economic power supported by governments, and
the continued exclusion of vast segments of society--especially women, the
poor, marginalized racial and ethnic groups, indigenous people and
others--from decisions that so deeply affect their lives and dictate their
options, over-rides and mocks the vision of Rio.
Five years after Rio, despite much public acknowledgment of the importance
of "civil society," it is clear that until institutions of power
become more inclusive, representative, accountable and truly responsive to
all segments of society, the prospects for making sustainable development a
reality are bleak.
E. The continued under-representation of women in
Though roughly half the population of the world, women are far from holding
half of the world's power in political and economic decision-making, despite
high-level and global recognition of the importance of gender equality. Five
years after Rio, women hold only about 11 per cent of the seats in
parliaments around the world, only six per cent of cabinet-level positions,
and are virtually invisible at the highest levels of the multi-lateral
financial institutions whose activities so influence national capacity to
implement Agenda 21 and corollary agreements.
The results of the gap were succinctly put by WEDO President Bella Abzug at
a U.N. ceremony in her honor in the fall of 1996: "Unless and until
women are 50 per cent of the decision-makers in the United Nations and in
every single country, we cannot expect any meaningful change; we cannot
expect a new vision."
F. Persistent pre-eminence of military and nuclear
It is only in the aftermath of the Cold War that the true extent of the
devastating environmental effects of military activity and nuclear weapons
production has become apparent. Cleaning up the toxic legacy of weapons
production tests the capacity of even the richest countries. And thus far no
nation has truly addressed the ticking time bomb of where and how to safely
dispose of tons of nuclear waste generated in conventional civilian nuclear
Yet, military spending continues at approximately $800 billion per year
globally, sucking vital human and financial resources away from pressing
social, educational and industrial needs.
Meanwhile, the prospect of increasing legal traffic in plutonium for
reprocessing and use in nuclear power plants is truly frightening. It is
likely to spawn an illegal traffic in the highly lethal substance, the
policing of which would undermine the most basic concepts of civil liberty
and freedom of movement.
Also, the main weapons-producing nations have increased their export of
conventional weapons, sometimes to offset reduced domestic military
procurement. This has created a glut of weapons on the world market, which
only worsens civil strife and local tensions.
Mindless industrialization, export promotion and import of toxic wastes in
India has led to environmental degradation. Imports of toxic wastes from
Australia, Canada, UK, and the US has multiplied many times. Much of this
toxic waste comes in the name of recycling but facts indicate otherwise.
Imports of non-reusable lead battery waste are up from 126 tones in 1992 to
346 tones in 1993. Greenpeace International reports that just one company in
Tamil Nadu, Futura Industries, has imported 10,000 tons of plastic waste
since 1992, of which 30-40 percent could not be refused (Political
Environments, # 4, a publication of the Committee on Women, Population and
the Environment, Summer-Fall, 1996).
Women have long been involved in global disarmament, and have been the
strongest voices claiming the elusive "peace dividend" for the
betterment of the human condition. Women continue to organize to draw
attention to the ongoing health and environmental problems at Chernobyl and
Chelyablinsk, to continued nuclear testing in the Pacific, and to rapacious
uranium mining on indigenous lands in the US Women are in the forefront of
demanding a halt to the construction of new nuclear plants in favor of other
renewable energy sources. While welcoming agreements on non-proliferation of
nuclear weapons and ending nuclear testing, they continue to call for
elimination of all nuclear weapons.
In Russia, the Movement for Nuclear Safety, an NGO, is striving to educate
citizens about the dangers of nuclear energy for civilian use through
campaigns by sending fliers to activists, mass media channels, citizens'
groups, schools and universities. As people gain access to information they
become more concerned and this increases their involvement in environmental
In Germany, Mothers Against Nuclear Energy led a successful campaign whereby
together with other groups they prevented the construction of a project for
reprocessing a nuclear fuel in Wackersdorf, Bavaria. The group also hopes to
prevent the completion of a nuclear research reactor in Garching, which is
supposed to produce neutrons with the help of highly enriched uranium.
The Mozambican Campaign Against Landmines (CMCM), along with the
International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and other Southern African
Landmines Campaigns, will host the Fourth International NGO Conference on
Landmines in Maputo, Mozambique, from 25 to 28 February 1997. Thousands of
women and children have either been killed or maimed by landmines at an
There are over 62 types of mines from 17 countries, including the former
Eastern Bloc, the US, China, Italy, Portugal, France, Sweden and South
Africa. On the continent of Africa which is the most heavily mined
continent, countries like Mozambique have had a lot of landmine accidents:
On December 5, 1995, in a village in Maputo province, Mozambique, several
children were collecting scrap metal to sell. Among the bits they found was
a landmine. When the scrap metal was weighed on a scale in the market, the
landmine exploded, killing eight children instantly. Three others died later
at the hospital.
Women's organizations also consider the reduction of military spending to be
an essential prerequisite to true implementation of Agenda 21 and further
G. Women's Initiatives in Peace and Human Rights
In Sudan, the Sudanese Women's Voice for Peace (SWVP) is working at the
grassroots level with women, the church and community leaders to initiate a
constructive dialogue among the warring parties of southern Sudan. This
group of women came together to advocate for the suffering of women,
children, the aged and the disabled. SWVP is addressing issues such as lack
of food, shelter, clothing, human violations-rape and the problem of
Women's WORLD, an international group of women writers and publishers
working on gender-based censorship, condemns the strictures on women imposed
by the Taliban after their takeover of Afghanistan. The Taliban has attacked
women's human rights by forcing women to withdraw from work force, denying
women and girls the right to education and severely curtailing their
mobility. Women's WORLD urges all those working with women and on democratic
rights and civil liberties to come out and protest against the oppression of
women in Afghanistan.
In Rwanda, Pro-Femmes Twese Hamwe, a collection of Rwandan women's
organizations, was named the first winner of UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize
for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence. This association of 32
women's groups has worked under extremely difficult conditions to promote
peace in Rwanda. Not long after the April 1994 massacres in Rwanda,
Pro-femmes launched the Action Campaign for Peace to fight for social
justice and against the denial of women's rights. They ran rural development
programs, gave aid to widows and orphans and conducted health and training
In Russia, the Soldiers' Mothers' Committee of Russia was honored with the
Alternative Nobel Prize for defending soldiers' rights in the Russian
military and for their effort to end the war in Chechnya. On December 9,
1996, an award worth $250,000 was presented to the committee.
The International League for Human Rights has awarded the Carl-von-Ossietzky
Medal to the Saturday Women of Istanbul in Turkey for their efforts for the
human rights in Turkey. About 150 women have been holding sit-ins in
downtown Istanbul each Saturday since May 1995 to protest against the
disappearance of relatives and violations of human rights in their home
Turkish security forces conduct many arbitrary arrests. For example, Leyla
Zana, who was the first Kurdish woman to serve in the Turkish parliament,
elected from the Kurdish city of Dyarbakir by an overwhelming margin on
October 21, 1991, is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Ankara for
"speaking too much". Last year, the European Parliament awarded
her with the 1995 Sakharov Freedom award. Leyla Zana was honored because of
her exceptional courage, dynamism, intelligence and fortitude.
Steaming Ahead: Women's Initiatives For Sustainability
"Women have a vital role in environmental management
and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve
sustainable development." Principle 20 of the Rio Declaration
To counteract current and historical forces that continue to track the world
on an unsustainable course, individual women and women's organizations are
leading countless initiatives -- from the community level to the global. The
challenge remains to transform these initiatives into a critical mass of
effort toward solving the priority problems.
Following is a selection from countless women's initiatives since 1992 that
demonstrate the critical problems and possible solutions. The examples were
drawn from WEDO's ongoing contacts with women and women's groups around the
world, as well as a special global solicitation for contributions for the
Rio+5 forum. The selection is by no means meant to be representative; rather
it illustrates the complexities involved and inspiration of what can be
There is no doubt that when women lead, initiate and implement an action,
the results are transformatory.
A. Giving Women Credit
In rural areas throughout the world, lack of capital prevents poor women and
men from taking steps that would increase their productivity as well as the
sustainability of their livelihoods. With greater privatization and
commercialization of agriculture, traditional livelihoods are typically
destroyed, without new jobs being created. Without other options, poor
people can be forced to turn to unsustainable practices, or migrate to
already overcrowded cities.
Access to credit is one of the best mechanisms for expanding options, and is
increasingly recognized as an important component to achieving
sustainability. The growth of the micro-credit movement has been a critical
force in post-Rio progress.
Poor women generally have faced the greatest obstacles in borrowing money,
for a variety of legal, cultural and other reasons. Currently, many NGOs
around the world are engaged in delivering financial services to poor women,
with high success and payback rates
Rural credit initiatives will become increasingly important to post-Rio
implementation, especially as food production becomes less locally
controlled and rural communities must search for alternative incomes. At the
1996 World Food Summit, it was made quite clear that poor people, especially
landless poor tenant farmers, seeking to produce food for themselves will
find they are in increasing competition for land with those who wish to
produce more lucrative crops for export. Therefore, alternative livelihoods
are vital to generate earnings with which food can be purchased.
The Country Women Association of Nigeria (COWAN), led by Chief Bisi Ogunleye,
a member of WEDO's board of directors and recipient of the 1996 Hunger
Project Award, has since the early l980s, administered an African
Traditional Responsive Banking system. Based on traditional savings and
credit practices, the project now serves nearly 80,000 women throughout
Nigeria. Borrowers typically use loans to expand food processing activities,
for example, cassava, palm oil, soybeans, maize, and rice; or small-scale
manufacturing such as cloth, mats and pottery.
One key to COWAN's success has been its working closely with community
leaders in organizing informational and planning meetings, monitoring
borrowers' collateral and convening arbitration courts to discourage and
discipline defaulters. COWAN is now planning to formalize these activities
by establishing a Rural Women's Development Bank.
The Grameen Bank, both a bank and a poverty alleviation organization, was
created after seven years of experimentation with an action research project
intended to demonstrate that the poor can generate enough income from small
enterprises to support small-scale lending. Grameen became a government
lending bank in 1983 with the objective of providing credit to the rural
poor. Today, the Grameen Bank is the largest operating NGO in Bangladesh
with more than two million members and served by more than 1,000 bank
Grameen Bank has also created much support for poor women. Women's
participation in groups for borrowing gives them the confidence and support
that enables them to assert their rights to economic assets. Bangladeshi
economist Mahbub Hossain, in semi-structured interviews with 120 female
borrowers, found evidence of increased social status of women. The women
reported that husbands were more likely to treat them as equals, and that
there was a decrease in physical violence, threat of physical violence and
other verbal abuse.
The Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) has set up the Shri Mahila SEWA
Sahakari Bank, a separate bank of poor, self-employed, women workers at the
initiative of 4,000 self-employed women workers with a capital of Rs 60,000
in 1974. The bank is owned by self-employed women as the shareholders, and
policies are made by their own elected board. Today it has nearly 51,000
depositors and a working capital of Rs 100 million (US$ 1 = Rs 35).
The SEWA Bank has been a catalyst for many changes in laws and practices in
addition to the changes in institutional arrangements and processes. It is
the first bank of its kind in India and was able to demonstrate that poor
women do save, use loans productively and repay loans in a timely manner (in
fact better than others). Based on this example, many other groups have
taken training at the SEWA Bank and have subsequently started saving and
loaning cooperatives, for instance, the Cooperative Development Foundation,
Working Women's Forum and Indore Mahila Cooperative, among many others.
Drinking water is another area where SEWA women have taken the lead. Gujarat
being a dry, and in some regions, desert state, water is a major issue for
most people. SEWA has helped women to build their own water structures --
wells, ponds, hand-pumps-- and helped them to manage these through their own
water committees. Thus SEWA gives poor women control of natural and
Poonsap Suanmuang, an Ashoka Fellow for the environment, is promoting
cloth-weaving and natural dying, showing how village women can develop both
income-generating skills and environmental consciousness, and greatly
empower themselves in the process.
Meryem Aslan (U.N. volunteer -UNDP/Women in Development Unit, Turkey),
initiated an income-generation project with private funds for women. She
bought chickens for eight women in two villages. Each woman got 25 chickens
with feed for a year. During the first year, these women support a fund that
ensures that they have money to purchase more feed, build better coups and
purchase new chicks, medicine, expand the project, etc. This process is
based on self-help whereby the income from the first group of women who
received chickens is used to assist other women to join the business.
The Sharmoukh Community Development Association, an NGO, has established
activities that generate income for the population in this area. Women have
a choice either to weave baskets or breed cows and goats. There is also a
weaving program for men. This is an example of grassroots development. The
income these women make from the baskets covers the monthly clothing
B. Fighting Large Infrastructure Projects
Trained as a missile engineer, Dai Qing worked as a military intelligence
agent, a post which led her to become extremely disenchanted with the
policies of the Chinese government. From 1982 to 1989, Dai Qing worked as a
journalist at the Enlightenment Daily, where she began to question the
proposal of the Three Gorges Dam. This infrastructure project , which was
approved in 1992, will result in the world's largest dam, taming the Yangtze
river and generating 84 billion kilowatt hours of electricity a year.
The construction of the dam, 610 feet high and spanning 6,846 feet, will
create an inland cesspool , fouled by 265 billion gallons of raw sewage each
year and the effluent from the flooding of 1,000-year-old landfills,
threatening water supply to millions of people, and will possibly lead to
disease and extinction of endangered aquatic and terrestrial species.
Critics such as Dai Qing argue that approximately 1.9 million people's homes
stand to be flooded and scenic panoramas and archeological sites could be
destroyed. They contend that if the project is not stopped by the end of
1997, it will have reached the point of no return.
With the support of various activists and international environmental
agencies, such as the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, Dai
Qing has been an instrumental activist in the fight against the construction
of the Three Gorges Dam. As part of her tactics to pressure the United
States and the World Bank to withdraw support, Dai Qing, along with 40 other
Chinese scientists and intellectuals, wrote Yangtze! Yangtze! in 1989,
condemning the project and the Chinese government. Dai Qing had to endure 10
months in prison as a result. She has recently completed another book titled
The River Dragon Has Come, which gives details of China's worst dam failures
and reveals problems that the government tried to hide. Although she has
been offered political asylum in the United States and Germany, she has
decided to pursue her campaign in her country and resides in Beijing under
The Women in Development Foundation (WID) based in Pasay City, Philippines,
has long been dedicated to promoting women's empowerment through
participatory economic development, feminist organizing and institution
building within the conceptual framework of environmental sustainability.
For the past three years, WID has been engaged in a campaign initiated by a
group of women of Balinao, Pangasinan, against a proposal to build the
world's largest cement plant complex in their village. This proposed
project, backed by foreign funding and a transnational consortium, threatens
to displace and marginalize women in the allocation and use of natural
If approved, this project will displace approximately 10,000 women whose
livelihoods depend on the local fishing industry, and cause irreparable
damage to the environment, specifically to the Lingayan Gulf area which has
been designated by environmental experts as an "environmentally
critical area". The plant would also destroy archeological sites that
could add to the collective knowledge of how women lived in the past.
WID's chairperson, Virginia Passalo, has been a key advocate for the
anti-cement movement. She and her organization have carried out
information-gathering, strategic planning, media campaigns at many different
levels and networked with various concerned agencies and individuals. In the
past year, WID has turned to developing alternative, integrated macro and
micro planing processes at the local level based on agricultural and marine
industries that will provide sustainable economic activities while
protecting and preserving the natural resources and cultural heritage of the
WID has received endorsements of support against this cement complex
proposal from organizations such as WEDO, the UNDP and Greenpeace.
When President Daniel Arap Moi decided Kenya needed a third airport, in his
hometown no less, Dr. Wangari Maathai, founder of the Greenbelt Movement,
launched a campaign to protest this white elephant that would only increase
the Kenyan people's burden of foreign debt for an airport they neither want
or need. In the face of strong international criticism, the Canadian firm
contracted to build the airport pulled out, as did the World Bank which was
to fund the project through loans. Despite these setbacks, Moi decided to go
ahead with building the airport, tapping into the national coffers. This
means Kenya will have less money for schools, health clinics and
Although the airport has been built and test flights have been conducted,
Dr. Wangari Maathai is continuing her fight for debt forgiveness and good
governance in Kenya. Her campaign focuses on the accountability of public
leaders to ensure that scarce resources are diverted to projects which serve
narrow political interests rather than broad social objectives.
C. Fighting Unsustainable Fishing Practices
This is a particularly vivid example of how the Rio consensus is being
undermined by global economic pressures, and to what lengths women must
often go to resist and overcome destructive and dangerous practices.
Export-oriented shrimp cultivation in Bangladesh is fueled by the drive for
export earnings, and the luxury market demand of the North. Not only are
people prevented from growing food on land illegally occupied by shrimp
farms, but plots of land near the shrimp farms are destroyed by salinization.
In these areas, powerful shrimp farmers pay hired thugs and local police to
forcibly gain control over common lands, especially fragile mangrove
ecosystems that are often the only resource to which poor families have
Shrimp cultivation is threatening both the survival of large numbers of
people and the mangroves of southwestern Bangladesh, which are in turn
critical nursery habitats for juvenile fish and other sea life along the
Landless women in Bangladesh are responding to the destruction of their
livelihoods by commercial shrimp farming and the ensuing violence, including
at least two deaths in 1994.
With support from prominent NGOs like Nijera Kori ("Doing it
Ourselves"), landless people have mobilized against the shrimp farmers.
As the primary targets of violence, men may be forced to go into hiding,
while women are left to face police harassment. Individual women have
displayed remarkable bravery in confronting conditions against which the
most well-intentioned international agreements and institutions seem
impotent. As one woman explained:
"My husband was in hiding for the last few days and I had no food in
the house. On top of everything else, the police came into my home, used
obscene language, and pushed me around. I had no place to hide. I was pushed
against the wall. I had no choice but to defend my children and myself with
whatever I had. So I picked up my broom and beat the policeman with
In a few areas, this type of resistance and activism allowed people to keep
their lands as "shrimp-free zones," at least temporarily, as of
However, this sort of situation does expose the extent to which the Rio
consensus can be rendered moot at the local level by international economic
competition. As long as shrimp prices remain high, and export earnings
remain the highest priority, local food production will receive short-shrift
to the detriment of local people and local ecosystems. Local involvement in
the shrimp market may be viable, and could be undertaken sustainably, but a
major realignment of the shrimp industry would be necessary if its benefits
were to become more universal.
Papua New Guinea
The Women in Fisheries Support Project in Papua New Guinea (PNG) broke from
the unsustainable export-oriented, male-targeted focus of earlier
development projects to emphasize family food security and income generation
through enhancement of women's post-harvest fish processing skills, given
their responsibility for this stage of fish production. To determine the
scope of the project, the PNG government carried out local surveys to
identify women's training needs, appropriate extension activities and
potential constraints. Training workshops were adapted to different regions,
with content based on local findings. In addition to technical advice, the
project later offered credit for purchasing equipment and other capital
The project is considered a model in the region, and its success is
attributed to its emphasis on meeting the needs of women as identified by
the women themselves, thus securing their involvement and commitment at
In 1996 a National Shrimp Consumer Campaign took place in Sweden and the
U.K. Christian Aid of the U.K. and the Swedish Society for Nature
Conservation are using this campaign to launch a nation-wide consumer
education about the social and ecological costs of commercial prawn farming
for export to other countries. These NGOs have conducted extensive research
of conditions in producer countries. This has enabled them to produce
materials on how shrimp can be produced in a sustainable manner and they ask
consumers to demand sustainability in shrimp production from suppliers.
D. Women's Movements Against Corporate Ownership of
Seeds and Plants
One of the most important movements since UNCED is confronting monopolies in
seed and plant material, especially trade-related intellectual property
rights codified in GATT. The relevant chapter was drafted by multinational
corporations with major interests in this sector, and lobbied by them before
their own and other governments. This represented an unprecedented
involvement by industry for self-interest in GATT procedures.
Ironically, the same corporations that came before GATT to argue that they
invent new qualities in plants, and therefore need patent protection, also
argue in the bio-safety fora of the Biodiversity Convention that there is
nothing new or unsafe in their products--"this is how nature made
it." In other words, when it comes to biosafety, the product is
harmless and natural but when it comes to property rights, the product is a
totally novel and original creation. The women's movement has long
maintained that this separation between rights and responsibilities is the
highest symbol of patriarchal power and characterizes the irresponsible use
In Europe, women won a ten-year struggle in 1995 when they managed to
overturn a directive that would have allowed the patenting of life forms.
In India in 1995, a combination of grassroots movements and advocacy and
lobbying in Parliament managed to block the implementation of that section
of GATT which would turn life forms into the private property of
corporations and give exclusive marketing rights to pharmaceutical and
agricultural companies, which would then carve out larger shares of
Plant breeding strategies of maintaining and enriching genetic diversity and
self-renewability of crops were substituted by new breeding strategies of
uniformity and non-renewability, aimed primarily at increasing transnational
profits and first world control over the genetic resources of the Third
World. The Green Revolution changed the 10,000-year evolutionary history of
crops by changing the fundamental nature and meaning of seeds. (Vandana
Shiva, The Seeds of Our Future, Journal of the Society of International
Development, vol. 4, 1996.)
The issue of patents and property rights remains highly charged, and women
are extremely active in this sphere. Their success must be considered a
measure of the increasing strength of the voice of women post-Rio. However,
the question of how to reconcile concerns about "ownership" of
life forms with economic "value" of biodiversity resources remains
one of the most intractable dilemmas of the post-Rio era.
E. The Women's Caucus: Unprecedented Power For Women's
Advocacy At U.N. Conferences
Since its inception, WEDO has facilitated the participation of NGO women
through the Women's Caucus, held daily, at five world conferences: UNCED,
ICPD, the Copenhagen Social Development Summit, the Beijing Women's
Conference (where the name used was the "Women's Linkage Caucus), and
Habitat II, held in Istanbul in June, 1996. A women's caucus at the Human
Rights Conference in Vienna was a vital force in the recognition that
women's rights are human rights. Women also participated in a key
negotiating session prior to the November, 1996 World Food Summit held in
Rome, to insure that prior commitments made to women in Cairo and Beijing
were reaffirmed in the final Food Summit documents. And whereas prior to
this caucus process, begun at UNCED, the tendency among civil society might
have been to dismiss the United Nations as a high-minded talk shop where
words on paper carried no weight, post-UNCED, governments are being
increasingly held accountable by their citizens, especially women, to take
international agreements seriously.
However, the constant need to protect nearly universal past consensus from
continued attempts by a handful of ideological interests to roll them back,
sadly, has cost vital time, money, energy and human resources that could
have been better applied to advancing consensus on critical areas of
Indeed, at times the trade-off has been reduced to holding ground rather
than gaining ground.
The objective of the Women's Caucus methodology, developed by WEDO and
collaborating groups, is to mobilize women from every region around common
agendas and to facilitate the participation of women from developing
countries in policy advocacy. Examining negotiating documents line by line,
suggesting deletions and additions, women became skilled lobbyists, often
working side by side with their national delegations in unprecedented peer
acceptance. Success was sometimes achieved in a single critical word or
paragraph. But in the case of the ICPD documents, nearly two-thirds of the
final recommendations of the Women's Caucus were reflected in the final
Programme of Action.
Subsequent conferences, particularly the Copenhagen Social Development
Summit and the Beijing Conference on Women, demonstrated that women are a
powerful force in international negotiations, and largely as a result of
their work, the Women's Caucus, and many women's organizations, both the
Copenhagen and Beijing conferences produced more concrete commitments by
governments than had been expected during the conference preparatory
Women's emergence as a force to be reckoned with at the U.N. is a major
achievement since Rio. However, women continue to be disproportionately
underrepresented in senior positions within the U.N. administration, and
women heads of mission to the U.N. remain scarce.
The task ahead is to translate the power women acquired in negotiating U.N.
conference agreements to the institutions that oversee and control
F. Women Take On the Environmental Causes of Breast
Breast cancer is by far the most frequent cancer among women worldwide,
accounting for 19 per cent of female cancer, each year causing 161,000
deaths in industrialized countries and 147,000 deaths in developing
countries. Worldwide, breast cancer rates have increased 26 per cent since
Though there are regional and other variations in the patterns of the
disease, increasingly, connections have been made between incidence of
breast cancer and environmental factors, including water contamination and
excessive or dangerous use of pesticides. At the November 1991 World Women's
Congress for a Healthy Planet organized by WEDO in advance of the Earth
Summit, women called for a major international assault on the environmental
and developmental causes of the disease.
As part of its follow-up, WEDO and the New York City Commission on the
Status of Women, both headed by Bella Abzug, held a first public hearing on
breast cancer and the environment, bringing together scientists, researchers
and activists to submit testimony to legislators about the issues. Other
highly visible initiatives have followed, such as the successful effort by a
group called "l in 9"--the incidence of breast cancer among women
in Long Island, New York--to secure a $5 million study on the environmental
factors that may be linked to higher breast cancer incidence in that area.
Thanks to the efforts of women, breast cancer has emerged as a key public
health concern in the United States, with increasing emphasis on prevention
and environmental links to the disease (The First World Conference on Breast
Cancer, organized by WEDO and the Kingston Breast Cancer Conference
Committee, will be held in Canada, July 13-17, 1997).
Canada and the U.K. have seen a new wave of activism, spearheaded by such
groups as the Toronto-based Women's Network on Health and Environment and
the Women's Environmental Network. In Latin America, and the Caribbean,
increased activism has resulted in communities receiving diagnostic
mammography equipment where it has been previously non-existent or very
limited. In Brazil, as a follow-up to the Beijing Conference on Women, free
breast and cervical cancer examinations are to be provided to all women aged
35 to 59.
A significant step forward has been the commitment of 110 ministers from
countries around the world to development of a legally binding instrument
for the reduction and elimination of emissions, discharges, manufacture and,
where appropriate, use of 12 of the most persistent organochlorine
substances which have been found to pollute the marine environment. These
substances are also implicated in breast cancer, and the agreement is an
G. Women Make Links between Environment and Health
In Cameroon, the League for Woman and Child Education decided to tackle the
problem of poor sanitation head on in the capital city of Cameroon-Yaounde.
It organized bands of women and girls to clear the city's streets of the
mountains of garbage that had become a breeding place for mosquitoes, rats
and flies. Residents had started burning the garbage and this led to
pollution and a number of respiratory diseases. Today, young girls and women
are out sweeping the streets of the capital as early as 6:30 a.m. The
success of this project has led to the birth of other NGOs in Cameroon.
In Russia, the Center for Independent Ecological Programs, an NGO, has
focused attention on the contamination of human breast milk with dioxin in
different regions of the country. Research is now ongoing to determine the
source and extent of the contamination.
The Native American Women's Health Education Resource (NAWHERC), an NGO from
the U.S., is working to improve the health and welfare of indigenous women
in their immediate community and beyond. NAWHERC is trying to stop toxic
industries from targeting indigenous land because of their impact on
reproductive health and cancer.
In Pakistan, Shirkat Gah, a women's resource center, has focused on creating
awareness on environmental issues and to highlight the linkages between
environmental change/degradation on women's lives. This is done through a
bi-monthly wall newspaper produced in simple Urdu, addressing women and
focusing on issues that confront their daily lives. Easy tips to prevent
problems form part of each newspaper, 6,000 copies of which in Urdu and
1,000 in Sindhi are distributed across the country.
H. Women Claim Political Space
A record 100,000 women ran for electoral office in Brazil in 1996. To
fulfill pledges made at the 1995 Beijing conference, the Brazilian Congress
also passed a law requiring that at least 20% of all candidates for
municipal office be women.
Among the women winning office this year was Alba Corral, the mother of
Thais Corral, a Vice-President of WEDO. REDEH ("Network in Defense of
Humankind"), the NGO headed by Thais Corral, has also produced a series
of radio programs that have been used to train radio journalists on gender
issues. The productions have been aired on 140 local and commercial stations
The South African Women's National Coalition uses the government's
commitments to the Beijing Platform for Action as a tool to break women's
silence in the building of the young democracy. Women have learned to ask
big, strategic questions and take big, strategic action. In asking how to
make the Platform for Action relevant to the national transformation, they
answered: "Bring women's issues out into the open so the they become
public debates and issues, not only women's issues." On development
questions, they asked questions such as, "How do trade agreements
work?" Which they answered with, "It is our business to find out
how trade agreements affect us."
NGOs on their return from Beijing used the momentum from the conference to
press for women's greater political participation, and doubled the number of
women who ran for local public office from 400 to 800.
An important legislative measure is the drafting of a bill to give women 33
per cent of the seats in state legislative assemblies and in Parliament. The
prime minister has given an assurance that the bill will be passed during
the current session of Parliament. The bill is not likely to be opposed
since almost all political parties had promised such a reservation in their
manifestations in the recent elections.
A national women's lobby group worked to ensure that more women participated
in the local government, parliamentary and presidential elections last year
in an effort to implement the Beijing conference agreements around
increasing women in local and national decision-making positions. The
non-partisan group issued a declaration of peace in Africa which condemned
the perpetration of violence and any threats to peace, and also called for
the inclusion of women in peace negotiations led by the Organization for
Thousands of women and girls from every state in the U.S. joined a national
day of discussions on September 28, 1996, on a proposed National Action
Agenda for women. The goal was to help develop a national plan to implement
the Beijing Platform for Action mandate at local, regional and national
Many groups held all-day meetings, panels and other sessions. But all groups
linked up to a two-hour teleconference held by the President's Interagency
Council in Washington, D.C., which is holding subsequent discussions with
women's organizations to seek their recommendations for the national plan of
action. Earlier, WEDO launched a Contract With Women Of The USA campaign to
galvanize a national action and consultative process to implement
commitments made by the U.S. government at Beijing in the 12 key areas of
the Platform for Action, including an end to poverty, educational equity,
work place rights, sexual and reproductive rights and environmental
I. Women's Eyes on the World Bank
The "Women's Eyes on the World Bank" campaign intends to make the
World Bank more accountable to women, and is a joint project of WEDO, Oxfam
America and the Bank Information Center. The campaign is also closely
tracking the NGO-World Bank Structural Adjustment Participatory Review
Initiative (SAPRI) to insure that the review includes gender issues. SAPRI,
a major gain for NGOs worldwide in efforts to eliminate the negative social
and environmental effects of structural adjustment programs, will work with
governments and World Bank officials to assess the actual impacts of these
programs from the grassroots point of view.
Countries involved are Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ghana,
Hungary, Mali, Philippines, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
The Uganda chapter of the Council for Economic Empowerment of Women in
Africa coordinated consultations between grassroots women's organizations
and World Bank officials, including its President, James Wolfensohn
J. Women Promote Sustainable Agroforestry
In Nicaragua, women producers in the arid region of San Rafael del Sur have
organized into agroforestry associations to promote sustainability in this
area. A project administered by Nicaragua's Institute of Natural Resources
offers training and technical assistance in soil conservation, nursery
maintenance, and reforestation for association members. The women grow the
kind of trees they need--mainly for construction, soil protection and
fuelwood--utilizing both common land and individual plots. Through regular
meetings, leaders selected by association members share ideas, experiences
and seedlings with other women's groups.
Many members initially faced opposition from their husbands, but after
witnessing the positive results of the efforts of their wives, most men
became supportive and joined the project themselves.
In Mexico, Paty Ruiz, an Ashoka-Nature Conservancy Eco-Entrepreneur, is
educating the population of Queretaro, Mexico to preserve the forests and
ecosystem. Degraded by decades of deforestation, pollution, soil erosion,
the land is becoming less and less productive for farming and ground water
is becoming contaminated by sewage and other pollutants. Ms. Ruiz's efforts
combine education in primary and secondary schools with community trash
pick-up drives, composting, and tree-planting.
Other Ashoka fellows have been involved in education and environment.
Edvalda Torres of Brazil designed rural community education programs that
combine ecological perspectives with traditional farming systems. Her
methods create schools that build on the community's own knowledge and
needs, intertwining symbols and cycles from the natural and human
environments into educational tools. Ximena Abogabir educated Chileans about
the environment by generating teaching materials for trainers and the
public. According to Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, Ms. Abogabir views
each ecological crisis as an "opportunity to invest more harmonic forms
of cohabitation, and to motivate people to learn to act for the common
K. Women Strive for Environmental Sustainability in Africa
Kenya's Green Belt movement has been historic in its campaign to protect the
environment, empower the poor and women and challenge the unbridled powers
behind large-scale top-down development. The Green Belt Movement originated
from Wangari Maathai's idea of planting trees and shrubs as a way to help
create jobs for the poor in the early 1970s in Kenya. This movement formally
began in 1976, when Wangari Maathai was invited to join the National Council
of Women of Kenya. In the past two decades, this movement has grown
exponentially and has created over 3,000 tree nurseries which are mostly
managed by women.
This movement approaches development from the bottom and moves upward to
reach those who plan and execute the large-scale development models whose
benefits hardly ever trickle down to the poor. The movement has no blue
print, preferring to rely on a trial and error approach which adopts what
works and quickly drops what does not. It calls upon the creative energies
of the ordinary local women and men, on their expertise, knowledge and
capabilities. It addresses both the symptoms and the causes of environmental
degradation at community level by teaching the community members to
recognize differentiate between the causes and symptoms and to discern the
linkages. It encourages participants to develop expertise in their work and
not be limited by their illiteracy or low level of formal education.
The movement also identifies and subsequently educates citizens about
economic and political issues which form important linkages with
environmental concerns and which are likely to have a negative impact on the
environment. These include holding seminars and workshops on the development
of a democratic culture. It also addresses the role of the civil society in
protecting the environment and urges a participatory, accountable and
responsible governance which puts its people first, protects their human
rights and the rule of law.
Promotion of sustainable agroforestry is one of the major goals for majority
of African NGOs because, the continent of Africa is facing the worst
desertification problems. Progreen: Trees for Africa (South Africa), Agri-service
in Ethiopia, and Progress in Action Through Home Resource Development in
Gambia are some NGOs striving for environmental sustainability.
Uganda Women's Tree Planting Movement, an NGO, founded by Ms. Mubiru, has
created environmental awareness among both rural and urban communities
through seminars, workshops, conferences and mass media. Ugandans have
realized the need to plant trees, and the government has declared May 31 of
every year as National Tree Planting Day. For her dedication to restoring
her country's ecological stability and teaching the women of Uganda the
importance of trees, Ms. Mubiru was awarded with the 1995 Global ReLeaf Jean
The International Working Group based in Nairobi, Kenya, is trying to
incorporate a gender perspective in the implementation of the Convention to
Combat Desertification. The groups is focusing on five key areas -- land
tenure and land rights, access to credit, women's role in decision-making,
information, communication and networking and the representation of women at
the local level in the drafting of national action plans. The working group,
set up by the sixth session in 1994 of the Intergovernmental Negotiations
for the Convention to Combat Desertification, is coordinated by the Women,
Environment an Development Program of the Environment Liaison Center in
Nairobi, Kenya, and has 30 members, most of them from Africa, which is worst
hit by desertification. More than a million hectares (73 per cent) of the
total cultivable land in Africa is desert.
L. Women Monitor Governments Worldwide
Five years after Rio, women and women's organizations closely monitor
virtually all governments on earth with respect to specific actions,
legislative decisions and budget allocations. This strength derives from the
decades of effort and struggle of the international women's movement, and
has been greatly aided by the networking that has ensued as a result of the
Earth Summit and other subsequent conferences.
The Second Women's Congress for a Healthy Planet was held August 13 -
September 1, 1995. Organized by WEDO, the two-day Congress reviewed
accomplishments gained and setbacks faced by women around the world since
the first Congress in Miami in November 1991, in their struggle to create a
peaceful, healthy and sustainable world. Featuring a tribunal of eminent
women judges who took testimony from expert witnesses, the Congress provided
an opportunity to highlight many critical issues. Witnesses provided
holistic and feminist analyses of the interconnected and structural problems
that continued to block their goals.
Rather than aim at comprehensive "State of the World's Women",
WEDO organized the Congress so that it would spotlight key and emerging
issues facing women in the 21st century. We sought to build upon the
international work of women over the past decade - not only in Nairobi at
the U.N.'s Third World Conference on Women (1985), but also throughout the
process of subsequent U.N. conferences and summits, as well as in other
local, national, regional and international struggles.
Testimony presented at the Second World Women's Congress for a Healthy
Planet was delivered over two days in four thematic sessions -- Status of
Women and Our Earth; Weaving New Concepts of Global Security and Justice;
Health and Environment and Lifestyles; and Global Dimensions of Diversity
& Democracy. The testimony of each witness was intricately interrelated.
Their stories created a whole that was visionary, powerful and true to the
reality of women's lives. (Weaving a Better Future: WEDO's Final Report of
Daughters of the Earth: The Environment and Development Collaborative Web
Including the Second World Women's Congress for a Healthy Planet, NGO Forum
on Women in Huairou, China, August 31-September 8, 1995.)
One year after the Beijing Conference, almost no country in a survey of 51
countries had failed to involve NGOs in some way in the post-Beijing
process. The report compiled by WEDO in a document called Beyond Promises,
covered roughly one-third of U.N. member states,. In many countries in Asia
and Latin America, NGOs were involved as consulting partners for the first
time, both during and after the Beijing process, as, for example, in
In the Republic of Korea, the national committee on women's policies is
headed by the Prime Minister and is involving women experts and women NGOs
in policy formulation. Similar partnerships seem to be emerging in
Indonesia. In South Africa, the office of the status of women was
established within the presidency. As of mid-1996, however, some open
democracies like Canada, New Zealand and Australia seemed reluctant to
involve NGOs in Beijing follow-up.
Efforts are not unfaltering. Nations slip ahead, then fall back, then move
ahead again, depending on the issue, the current political climate and the
willingness and ability of citizens to become involved. However, it is
undeniable that women are highly effective monitors of the pledges and
commitments of governments. The vigilance of women significantly helps
continuity in policy-making, and the overall influence of women continues to
acquire momentum and strength.
Each Voice, A Candle: Values and Principles
"The right to development must be fulfilled so as to
equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future
generations." Principle 3 of the Rio Declaration
The values inherent in the examples presented above are self-evident. Each
reflects a key principle of sustainability, as expressed at UNCED and since,
but cannot be isolated from other principles of sustainability. They neither
move closer to nor away from the Rio Declaration on Environment and
Development, for there is very little debate remaining on what values should
infuse sustainability. In short, each example expresses the most basic truth
about sustainability: its elements are inseparable.
The above examples reflect situations that have resulted in clashes of
values, for example between values of self-sufficiency and global
interdependence, or sustainability and profits.
They demonstrate that accountability and public participation are critical
to successful post-Rio implementation.
However, overall, the examples reflect the importance of understanding that
success, five years after Rio, is highly relative, and that monitoring
progress is insufficient. Five years after Rio, it is time to demand more
concrete action and broader progress.
It is testimony to the nature of post-Rio "success" that success
stories almost always depict individuals or small groups throwing themselves
against titanic global forces. Clearly, responsibilities rest with the
global forces and decision-makers who must acquire the values of
sustainability, not only with those who have undertaken initiatives against
Dimming of Flames: Policy Gaps and Constraints on the Implementation Of
"States shall enact effective environmental
legislation ... Standards applied by some countries may be inappropriate and
of unwarranted economic and social cost to other countries, in particular
developing countries." Principle 11 of the Rio Declaration
In short, the imperatives of the global economy seem to be outrunning the
post-Rio agenda, five years later. How to bring them into closer step is the
Clearly, national budget allocations are not sufficiently in tune with
post-Rio needs, and neither are national policies that seek and maintain
foreign capital investment. A critical problem developing countries face
here is the accumulation of external debt. Despite debt relief measures in
favor of least developed countries since 1990, their total external debt
increased from $114 billion in 1990 to $127 billion in 1993 (UNDP Human
Development Report, 1996). Some of the world's richest nations are now
forging a plan to relieve the poorest nations of this crushing burden, but
the plan is being jeopardized by some countries and multilateral
As a rule, the private sector and large private entities do not yet take the
post-Rio agenda seriously, and it is these very entities that remain to a
large extent outside the control of NGOs, civil society, even at times of
their own stockholders.
Moreover, there is a serious question as to how effective a catalyst for
implementation the U.N. can be. Nations are notoriously unself-critical when
they make national reports at the UN, and private sector interests
participate only voluntarily.
There is no international forum in which private sector activities can be
effectively examined for their "compliance" with Agenda 21 and
other agreements, which are, after all, mainly non-binding. There is no
global stimulation of more environmentally sensible investment patterns, and
the Environment Committee of the WTO seems hopelessly mired in highly
technical issues such as "eco-labeling," and is not chartered to
bring the WTO agenda into better coherence with the post-Rio agenda.
Attempts to "green" the WTO agenda at the 1996 ministerial meeting
in Singapore were unsuccessful, in part because developing countries did not
wish to see further actions that could undermine their already vulnerable
Even "green labels" intended to educate consumers and discourage
unsustainable consumption patterns in developed countries can have a
negative impact on the export earnings of developing countries, if the
countries concerned cannot meet the environmental standard devised in the
labels, for any number of sound reasons outside their control.
Thus, the main gap does seem to be between today's global economic forces
and the inherent requirements of the post-Rio accords.
Lighting the Campfire: Reflections and Recommendations
"All States and all people shall cooperate in the
essential task of eradicating poverty as an indispensable requirement for
sustainable development, in order to decrease the disparities in standards
of living and better meet the needs of the majority of people of the
world." Principle 5 of the Rio Declaration
Powerful vested interests can be discouraging to envisioned solutions.
However, history has indeed shown that large numbers of disenfranchised and
enlightened people can confront powerful institutions and succeed.
Democratic structures must be strengthened, and private interests must be
more accountable, including to governments, even though the trend is toward
less government oversight of private initiatives.
The private sector, too, must be infused with the vision of Rio, but this
requires a re-evaluation of free-market theory that world powers do not yet
appear willing to undertake. Policy-makers must differentiate between the
private sector and eliminate the bias towards the largest entities of the
private sector, which are not the biggest employers of people, and support
the small and informal sector which employs large numbers of women. The 200
largest corporations in the world now control a quarter of the global
economy activity but employ less than one per cent of the global workforce.
All governance structures, global and national, in the next century must
continue to enhance the fundamental principles of equal representation and
The following recommendations highlight some of women's priorities in
implementing the Rio agenda, although they are by no means an exhaustive
list. What is important is that the Rio+5 process emerge with agreed
priorities that address the fundamental and key obstacles to major progress
on the Rio and corollary agendas.
1. Expand efforts to eliminate negative effects on
developing countries by reconciling WTO rule-making and global trade
practices with the post-Rio agenda.
2. To achieve gender balance in governance, expand,
enhance and improve affirmative action programs or other incentives that
will encourage and support the leadership and involvement of women in
3. Evaluate the activities of existing local, regional and
national Councils on Sustainable Development for gender balance and evidence
of concern about gender issues. Ensure that these councils are established
where they have not yet been.
4. Expand NGO access to and participation in the U.N.
General Assembly and related committees. Encourage international NGOs, such
as IUCN and WWF, to support and strengthen commitments to gender equality as
a prerequisite to achieving sustainable development.
5. Strengthen the reporting functions of the Commission on
Sustainable Development and its links to corollary Commissions. Widen public
dissemination of information on environmental degradation and government
compliance in achieving U.N. conference goals.
6. Strengthen links between the World Bank, IMF, WTO and
post-Rio accountability. Ensure that the WTO does not threaten national
sovereignty in controlling the extent and nature of investment decisions.
7. Work for international codes of conduct for
corporations and to govern weapons trade and export subsidies. Support an
international negotiation process on new financial instruments such as a tax
on speculative capital transactions to reduce market instability and
generate resources for social sectors.
8. Reconcile private sector investment codes and
indicators with post-UNCED criteria, and particularly implement the Habitat
II agenda which calls for "regulatory and legal frameworks ... to
promote socially and environmentally responsible corporate investment and
reinvestment in and partnership with local communities."
9. Encourage NGOs to intensify demands that local
privatization contracts take into account gender, environmental, and social
issues during the privatization process, as well as increase monitoring
activities of the privatization process.
10. Enforce compliance with ILO agreements and promote an
international code of conduct to protect the rights of workers in developing
countries and prevent their gender-based and economic exploitation by
transnational corporations. Establish a ranking system, like MisFortune 500,
for TNCs to indicate their adherence (or lack of it) to Agenda 21 goals.
11. Reduce over-consumption in the North and support a new
plan being forged by some rich nations to relieve Third World nations of
their crushing debt burden to break down North-South barriers.
12. Evaluate efforts of handling hazardous wastes such as
nuclear waste and plutonium and support the goal to eliminate nuclear
13. Raise $21.7 billion to ensure that 100 million of the
world's poorest women and their families receive credit for self-employment
by 2005, and remove legislative barriers to women's control of land and
other productive resources.
14. Ensure that governments enforce the new ILO convention
to protect home-based workers and implement the Beijing commitment to
construct satellite accounts to the gross national product to measure
15. Ensure that the ideas and values enshrined in U.N.
conferences and conventions are taught in the school system to produce
environmentally and socially responsible citizens.
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