By Musimbi Kanyoro, President and CEO
Who thinks women’s health and human rights are radical, dangerous, and controversial? Apparently, powers-that-be at the Rio+20 environmental summit.
Their refusal to include sexual and reproductive health in the final agreement is a deterrent to sustainable development, the economy, and education. It also contradicts other UN agreements and most significantly, the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which prioritized the empowerment and health of women and girls. ICPD clearly affirmed the right of women and girls to quality sexual and reproductive health care, AND their integral role in building a sustainable environment.
We agreed then, that the empowerment of women and making sexual and reproductive health a reality for women was the simplest path to a sustainable earth; it was a major step forward.
The Rio+20 agreement is a leap backwards. While there are references to Cairo and Beijing agreements on sexual and reproductive health, there is no reference to reproductive rights in the final agreement—where it really matters.
How did this happen? We can count the ways. But in the interest of time and space, I’ll focus on two that stand out to me.
The first is a well-organized religious contingent whose ultimate goal is to change the language and message of the ’94 ICPD conference. Most interesting is the Holy See (the Vatican). Is it that the Holy See prefers not to see the human rights of women, or does it not believe the human rights of women are holy enough? In light of the allegations within the Catholic Church around the sexual abuse of children, what moral authority does the Vatican have to be lobbying against women’s health? To be fair, the Holy See was not a lone rider here, several other countries, including Egypt and Syria, were part of their posse.
Second, opponents argued that gender equality and women’s human rights (including reproductive rights) have nothing to do with sustainable development, and in fact detract from the really “important issues” like trade, financing, and the green economy. Tell that to the National Center for Atmospheric Research. It’s recent study shows that a reduction of 8 to 15 percent of essential carbon emissions can be obtained by providing family planning to all women who want it. This reduction would be equivalent to stopping all deforestation or increasing the world’s use of wind power forty-fold.
Women are not asking for the world. They just ask that our leaders open their eyes, do the right thing, and take a giant leap forward.