Women from every region of the world have launched a global campaign for a significant role when "fate of the Earth" policies are formulated at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) next year in Brazil.
The June 1-12, 1992 conference will consist not only of official delegations from all 160 UN member nations, but also a simultaneous and parallel unofficial People’s Congress for an expected 20,000 citizen activists. (See IC #27, p.8 ).
This mega-conference and its many official and unofficial preparatory meetings offer an important opportunity for women from all nations to work together to increase their participation and influence. Crucial issues that profoundly affect the lives of women everywhere will certainly be on the agendas of these UNCED conferences.
Women’s lives are intertwined with every aspect of the environment: as child-bearers, family caretakers, and purchasing agents; as food growers, gatherers and users; as dependents on safe water, air, soil and energy; as field, forest and office workers; as primary managers – and often preservers – of natural resources; and as activists and leaders in campaigns to promote environmental awareness and protection.
The women’s campaign was made necessary by the fact that, although women are more than 50 percent of the world’s population, historically they have been excluded from policy-making at every level in the vast majority of the world’s cultures. In developed as well as developing countries, women’s work is generally undervalued and undercompensated. Thus women are disproportionately victimized by poverty, hunger, illiteracy, poor health, scarce social and technical services, and inadequate population policies. All of these deficiencies are also the result of a lack of effective political power. As the disparity between northern and southern economies widens and traditional policy-making continues, the situation worsens.
To give women a chance to contribute equally with men at all levels of decision-making in the UNCED conferences, the U.S.-based Women’s Foreign Policy Council brought women activists from around the world to New York in October of 1990 for a first meeting of the International Policy Action Committee.
The 45-person committee includes such political pacesetters as Petra Kelly of Germany and Bella Abzug of the U.S.; grassroots environmental activists Wangari Maathai of Kenya [see p. XX of this issue of IC for more on Ms. Maathai] and Vandana Shiva of India; economic development pioneers Esther Ocloo of Ghana and Erna Witoelar of Indonesia; scientist Dr. Farkhonda Hassan of Egypt; and human rights activists Elizabeth May of Canada and Margarita Arias of Costa Rica.
"Although they came from diverse cultures," the New York Times reported, "the women had little difficulty in reaching a general consensus on their basic goals, principles and plan of action."
A healthy planet became the group’s central theme, and they decided to hold a World Women’s Congress for a Healthy Planet from November 8-12, 1991 in Miami, Florida. The Congress will be held following the UN Environmental Program-sponsored Global Assembly of Women and the Environment, to be convened November 4-8, 1991.
The Women’s Congress for a Healthy Planet will spotlight women’s resources and women’s needs, work to ensure that women comprise at least one-third of participants at UNCED in Brazil, and develop a Women’s Action Agenda to be presented at the 1992 conference.
Women worldwide are encouraged to participate. The concerns of women should and must be included in forming the international agenda for the fate of the Earth.
– Libby Bassett
Libby Bassett is editor of the United Nations Environmental Program’s North America News newsletter. To participate in the women’s issues planning for UNCED, contact Women’s International Policy Action Committee on Environment and Development, c/o Women’s Foreign Policy Council, 845 Third Avenue, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10022, USA.