RIO+20 Conference Concludes Without Significant Mention Of Reproductive Health And Rights
The “Future We Want” outcome document from this week’s United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20, lacks meaningful inclusion of reproductive health and rights.
While the document includes promising language on women’s empowerment and family planning, leaders missed a historic opportunity to affirm the central role of women and their reproductive health and rights in global sustainable development goals.
The Rio+20 meeting, which convened more than 100 Heads of State, aimed to develop a global framework to reduce poverty, while preserving the environment. The meeting also marked the beginning of global discussions around future Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs), which could potentially replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after they expire in 2015.
Regrettably, gender was included as one of the last sections of the Rio+20 outcome document, and women and reproductive health were not mainstreamed in other sections, such as education, cities, food and water. Gender equality and, in particular, reproductive health and rights, must be a core component of any future global sustainability development framework.
“We simply cannot achieve sustainable development without the inclusion of women, who deliver enormous social and economic benefits for their families, communities and nations every day,” said Jill Sheffield, president of the global advocacy organization Women Deliver. “Twenty years after the first Earth Summit, the world must do better to acknowledge that the right of women to plan the number and spacing of children is inextricably linked to reaching global development goals.”
More than 220 million women in developing countries have an unmet need for modern contraceptives. The World Health Organization estimates that there are almost 80 million unintended pregnancies every year, which lead to approximately 20 million unsafe abortions, and 68,000 maternal deaths annually. Research shows that meeting women’s needs to plan the number and spacing of their pregnancies could not only save women’s lives, but also help slow population growth and reduce global carbon emissions by between 8 and 15 percent – the equivalent of stopping all deforestation today.
"The Rio+20 document, the Future We Want, mentions women, their needs and the importance of their empowerment, many times," said Robert Engelman, president of the Worldwatch Institute. "Women are appropriately a vital aspect of the document's important themes. Yet the world's governments still fail to grasp the centrality of women's capacities, and especially their reproductive autonomy, to the conference goal of sustainable prosperity for all. A human population in which women, men and young people are sexually and reproductively healthy, and whose sexual and reproductive rights are assured, will be far more likely to live sustainably than one in which these rights and this access remain too sensitive and controversial for governments to endorse unanimously."
In particular, it is critical to focus on the sexual and reproductive health needs of young people, who currently make up more than one-quarter of the global population. Progress to reduce maternal mortality and unwanted pregnancies among adolescents has stalled, and girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth as those older than 20 years of age. Every year, 16 million young girls become mothers.
“Young people are the future of development,” said Esther Agbarakwe, an international advocacy fellow at Population Action International. “Developing a framework that is representative of their needs requires young people to be fully involved in the process, from start to finish.”
To be successful, global efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 – and all frameworks on sustainable development thereafter – must prioritize women and reproductive health and rights.
Women Deliver: Women Deliver is a global advocacy organization bringing together voices from around the world to call for action to improve the health and well-being of girls and women. www.womendeliver.org
Worldwatch Institute: Through research and outreach that inspire action, the Worldwatch Institute works to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world that meets human needs. The Institute’s top mission objectives are universal access to renewable energy and nutritious food, expansion of environmentally sound jobs and development, transformation of cultures from consumerism to sustainability, and an early end to population growth through healthy and intentional childbearing. http://www.worldwatch.org/
Nourishing the Planet: Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project assesses the state of agricultural innovations—from cropping methods to irrigation technology to agricultural policy—with an emphasis on sustainability, diversity, and ecosystem health, as well as productivity. The project aims to both inform global efforts to eradicate hunger and raise the profile of these efforts, while simultaneously considering the institutional infrastructure and investment each analyzed approach requires. http://www.worldwatch.org/nourishingtheplanet.