The Feminist Movement and Rio+20


Graciela Rodriguez

The UN Conference on Sustainable Development is meant to serve as a point of departure for addressing new challenges and as a space for discourse among different interests to design ‘the future we want.’ It has profound implications for social movements, including the women’s movement.  However, the negotiations taking place in the official space at the United Nations are not moving in a positive direction in terms of advancing the necessary changes for the planet that are required at this time of economic, environmental and social crisis. Moreover, the lack of attention given to these negotiations by the press and some governments is of great concern. The event’s obscurity is not a coincidence, but part of a process that is designed to deflate the importance of the negotiations and of the UN itself in order to facilitate private sector initiatives and the control of large transnational corporations.

The current agenda calls for a ‘green economy’ and the possible adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals at the same time that human rights language is withdrawn in the official text. This signifies a brutal backtracking from the gains that have already been made to guarantee full compliance on the rights of all peoples, including the rights of women and Indigenous Peoples.  Where the official negotiation text offers language seeking to expand the privatization of water, food, and energy, among others, nothing is said about how sustainability goals will be met. Likewise, the text is silent about who will guarantee access to and enforcement of basic human rights in those situations even though it has been clear for some time that public policies to combat poverty and inequality, including gender inequality, are crucially important.

For the Women’s Movement, this debate is essential as women are on the frontlines of the withdrawal and weakening of already established human rights. When one reviews the main environmental problems, one sees a differentiated impact on women and the poor because of the vulnerable contexts in which they live.  The various forms of contamination and poisoning of water and food they face in their environment affect the daily responsibilities of women and the care of their families. Similarly, climatic change disproportionately affects women, particularly in cases of natural disasters and given their social role in providing household care.

Because Rio + 20 prioritizes market solutions to the serious environmental problems and the achievement of "sustainable development goals," putting at risk the universal rights of populations worldwide, it is fundamentally important that the global women’s movement engage in this process.  Women are keenly interested in intervening in the debate on global environmental governance and its capacity to manage the financial resources for climate adaptation and mitigation.

Indeed, women are a crucial part of the social movements that are preparing to raise their collective voice to denounce the official agenda, and to formulate alternative proposals in the People's Summit, which will be held simultaneously to the official Rio +20 Summit. Women are bringing visibility and a feminist perspective to the debate about the future of the planet. They will have a strong presence in the Peoples’ Summit, and welcome the opportunity to reach out to a more general audience in order to bring visibility to the problems and struggles that many women are facing in various parts of the world to safeguard the sustainability of life and nature.

The Latin America and the Caribbean women’s movements are participating with enthusiasm and guided responsibility driven by the continent’s demands. The last decade has been extremely important for advancing democracy in the region and reversing inequality. However, the progress made in improving the distribution of wealth in most countries of South America has been possible because Latin American countries have followed and intensified the traditional export-oriented model of growth, primarily of commodities. This has resulted in serious negative social impacts such as displacement and loss of livelihoods as well as destruction and environmental pollution at the hands of agribusinesses and mining companies. Women farmers, fishers, quilombolas (the descendants of Brazilian slaves) and people deriving their livelihoods from rivers have suffered in their daily lives the devastating effects from land concentration, lack of access to clean water, contamination of food, lack of quality public services as well as the huge inequalities that persist on the continent, including those between men and women.

For all the reasons listed, in Rio a "Global Women’s Territory," has been prepared to welcome women from around the world to debate the main axes defined by the social movements for the People's Summit. Large assemblies have been designed for all sectors and social movements to develop common positions and joint lines of action for the future. The Brazilian Women’s Movement is also organizing a Feminist House to accommodate women who will arrive in caravans coming from various Brazilian states and neighboring countries. More than 400 women have already been confirmed and more report they are coming.

And, a women’s paseata, an interactive march, is being planned on June 18th, during which the women gathered will talk with people in the city of Rio de Janeiro about their feminist agenda. They will share the demands and proposals they are making with governments, bringing attention to the fact that the discussions taking place in the framework of the UN will undermine the policy space of governments to provide real solutions to environmental problems. And, on June 20th, the Day of Global Action, they will walk side-by-side with other social movements in the mobilizations in various cities worldwide.

To conclude, women of Latin America are counting on women from around the world to take part in the struggle for a better and more dignified life for everyone on the planet. Let’s meet together on the road to Rio +20 and beyond.

Click here for the pdf version of The Feminist Movement and Rio+20 (3 pages, pdf, 458KB)

Graciela Rodriguez is the Coordinator of the EQÜIT Institute – Gender, Economy and Global Citizenship, Member of the IGTN – International Network on Gender and Trade, Member of REBRIP – Brazilian Network for People’s Integration, and Member of the HSA – Hemispheric Social Alliance. She is a key organizer of feminist activities in the alternative People’s Summit in Rio during the official Rio+20 Summit.