Women Leave Rio+20 Motivated to Galvanize Sustainability Around Family Planning and Reproductive Rights
Posted Jun 26 2012 7:36am
There is a direct correlation between access to voluntary family planning, women’s empowerment and environmental sustainability. And though the official delegates to last week’s “Earth Summit” tried to water it down, thousands of grassroots activists (left) made it one of the biggest issues to rock Rio+20, as the event was also called.
Why? Because ensuring that women have full reproductive rights creates one of the most desirable “two-fers” on the planet. Complete access to voluntary family planning is among the quickest, simplest, and most affordable ways to improve women’s quality of life. It is also one of the most direct, immediate and cost-effective ways to reduce climate change. In fact, studies show that slowing population growth by giving women access to the contraception they already want could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 8 and 15 percent [PDF] — roughly equivalent to ending all tropical deforestation.
Women took these issues to Rio because more than 200 million women in the U.S. and around the world cannot choose whether or when to have a baby, simply because they don’t have access to voluntary family planning. Groups like the Global Fund for Women and International Planned Parenthood Federation spent several days last week making their case, button-holing delegates, meeting with celebrities, blogging and Tweeting, and protesting in the streets.
This did not sit well with Hillary Rodham Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State who led America’s official summit delegation. “Women must be empowered to make decisions on whether and when to have children" if the world is to attain agreed-upon sustainable development goals," she said.
Peggy Clark, the executive vice president for policy programs at the Aspen Institute, concurred. "Removing references to reproductive health from the outcome document was "an unacceptable step backward that erases decades of global commitments," she said. "The ability to choose the number, spacing and timing of children is not a luxury. It is a basic human right, one that has already been affirmed by the world community at the Cairo and Beijing conferences."
“Overall, it was disheartening to say the least to see the lack of recognition of women’s sexual and reproductive rights and the critical role women’s equality plays in ensuring sustainable development,” she said. “It bears repeating time and time again that as long as women don’t have sustainable lives, there will not be, and cannot be, global sustainability.”
Nevertheless, activists who left Rio seem more determined than ever to secure reproductive rights for all women and to draw a bright line between voluntary contraception and sustainability.