A month ago this weekend I boarded a plane to Rio de Janeiro for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development
. Over the past few weeks, I have had some time to reflect on the amazing (and exhausting) experience afforded to me. Unfortunately, the final Rio+20
outcome document (considered by some to be misnamed as “The Future We Want
”) failed to recognize
the connections between reproductive rights and sustainability. However, since I returned I’ve also found myself in conversations with colleagues eager to celebrate the successes of the conference.
Jason Bremner, program director at Population Reference Bureau, reminds me that the initial “zero draft document” that was circulated prior to Rio had absolutely no mention of reproductive health, family planning, or population. “Though the ultimate conference document wasn’t a success by many measures, I commend the efforts of the many advocacy organizations that resulted in the inclusion of reproductive health and family planning as a key aspect of sustainable development,” he said.
Other wins were recognized at Rio as well. On a panel organized by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Brazilian Minister of Policies for Women Eleonora Menicucci de Oliveira pointed out that the presence of women this year was much stronger than at the 1992 conference. And she stressed that the overall importance placed on the reduction of poverty will have a big impact for women.
Though the official language was weakened in the final outcome document, there was much more support expressed at side events and off the record conversations. Speaking at the same event as Oliveira, Christian Friis Bach, Minister for Development Cooperation in Denmark, said that “one leader after another has stood up for reproductive rights, and we’ve started a campaign which will go on until ICPD+20.”
In fact, as the Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute Director Paulo Sotero points out, there was a great deal of progress made by non-government representatives alongside the main conference:
I left Rio more hopeful about the future than the official part of Rio+20 would allow. As governments clearly fumbled in the face of the complex challenges of imagining and building a more equitable and sustainable economic growth model in the decades ahead, I saw senior business executives and leaders of civil society engaged in intelligent and productive dialogue about difficult issues at hundreds of thematic panels held at the Corporate Sustainability Forum and other sessions held in Rio.I felt the same energy. And many groups there seemed to already be planning for next steps.
On the first day of side events I attended, members of the Population and Climate Change Alliance discussed strategies to ensure that in the post-2015 (i.e. post-Millennium Development Goals) international development agenda sexual and reproductive health and rights are explicitly recognized as core to sustainable development. The panel included Mialy Andriamahefazafy of Blue Ventures Madagascar, Joan Castro of PATH Foundation Philippines, Inc., and Negash Teklu of PHE Ethiopia Consortium, who all shared examples of efforts in their countries to integrate reproductive health with other sustainable development programs.
The Rio+20 conference was, at the very least, a re-affirmation of the tenets set down by the ‘92 Earth Summit – that is, that there is middle ground between full-tilt economic development and uncompromising environmentalism, called “sustainable development,” and we ought to be moving towards it. It was also a fantastic gathering place for disparate groups of people to come together on to similar issues and to build momentum and networks on their issues.
For those hoping to see a stronger link recognized between reproductive rights, population, and the environment, the good news is that elsewhere, awareness and momentum seems to be growing. Just this week, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joined the United Kingdom, United States, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, Norway, Sweden, and Australia to pledge more than $2.6 billion towards meeting global unmet for contraceptives. And the connection to development was explicit: “Contraceptives are one of the best investments a country can make in its future,” reads the summit website.
Coincidence to have followed so closely behind a “disappointing” Rio outcome? Perhaps not.
Sources: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Estado, UN Conference on Sustainable Development.
Photo Credit: “UN Women Leaders Forum at Rio+20,” courtesy of UN Women.