Women and Sustainable Development

"We cannot walk alone. Many have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom". Martin Luther King Jr

1968-   The newly created Club de Rome started to reflect on economic growth. Their first report The Limits to Growth published in 1971 reported five interacting parameters that can hinder socio economic growth: population explosion, agricultural production, depletion of non- renewable natural resources, industrial output, and pollution generation. From mathematical modeling, an urgent message was spelled out: “The earth’s interlocking resources cannot support present rates of economic and population growth beyond 2100”.

 1972-  The United Nations, concerned by the Club de Rome’s message, organized the Conference on the Human Environment. Its purpose was to assess ” the need for a common outlook and for common principles to guide the peoples of the world in the preservation and enhancement of the human environment “. The result was the Declaration of the United Nations on the Human Environment also known as the Stockholm Declaration which proclaims 26 principles. The first stipulates that: ” Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations”. This principle underpins the other 25 that focus on responsible economic and social development compatible with protection of the environment.

The integration of these principles was debated during the World Commission on Environment and Development.

1987-   The UN World Commission on Environment and Development published a report entitled: Our Common Future also known as the Brundtland Report. Its findings bought to light North-South disparities in the use of natural resources and proposed Sustainable Development as a means to address these gaps. Sustainable Development was defined as a “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This emerging concept was articulated around three pillars: economic development, social development and environmental protection.

The Brundtland Report was criticized for its vague definition of a concept anchored in the perspectives of rich industrialized nations and, thereby, excluding the reality of developing nations. These criticisms triggered more open dialogues that were reflected on and discussed at the UN Conference on Environment and Development five years later.

1992– The first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Rio Conference occurred in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. About 178 countries, 2,400 NGO representatives and 17,000 people at the parallel NGO “Global Forum” gathered in Rio. Included in the signing of some binding agreements, one of the lasting results of this conference was the pivotal creation of three major documents which still serve as reference to future global policies.

  • The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development signed by 170 countries, has 27 guiding principles on Sustainable Development. These principles cover a wide array of topics such as: human rights, precautionary principles, protection of the environment and the roles that women and Aboriginals People can play in Sustainable Development.
  • Agenda 21 has 4 major sections and, is viewed as a voluntary Action Plan for the 21st century. It supports Sustainable Development in terms of: (1) socio economic development, (2) natural resource management, (3) strengthening the roles of majors such as women, indigenous populations, child workers (4) means of implementation such as education and green technology.
  • Forest Principles which support sustainable forestry.

2000- All efforts deployed by the UN so far were summarized in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), as part of the UN Millennium Declaration that was adopted in September 2000 at the UN Millennium Summit. The MDGs proposed 8 goals with targets to be met by 2015: (1) Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, (2) Achieve universal primary education, (3) Promote gender equality and empower women, (4) Improve maternal health, (5) Reduce child mortality, (6) combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases (7) Ensure environmental sustainability and (8) Develop global partnership for development.

2002- The World Summit on Sustainable Development also known as Earth Summit 2002 or Rio+10 was held in Johannesburg, South Africa. On outcome was the Johannesburg Declaration which identified major threats to Sustainable Development to be: ” chronic hunger, malnutrition, foreign occupation, armed conflict, illicit drug problems, organized crime, corruption, natural disasters, illicit arms trafficking, trafficking in persons, terrorism, intolerance and incitement to racial, ethnic, religious and other hatreds; xenophobia; and endemic, communicable and chronic diseases, in particular HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.”


2012- The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development also known as Rio+20 is the 3rd international conference on Sustainable Development. It was a follow up on the Rio Conference, and the Earth Summit held 20 and 10 years earlier respectively. This discussion was framed around two themes (1) Building a green economy to achieve sustainable development and (2) Improving international coordination for sustainable development. The outcome was a Resolution entitled: The Future we want which is a passionate plea for Sustainable Development and a renewed commitment to the Millennium Development Goals which were supposed to be achieved by 2015.

2013– Following the Rio Conference, the Commission on Sustainable Development was established to follow up on the progress of Agenda 21. This Commission was replaced in 2013 by the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development that meets every year as part of the United Nation Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) meetings, and every fourth year as part of the General Assembly meetings.

2015-   The UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda, titled Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This Agenda proposes 17 “Global Goals” associated with 169 targets. The 5th goal aims at Gender Equality and empowering all women and girls. The 2030 Agenda remains the object of several criticisms based on various epistemological, conceptual and practical arguments.

2017- The sixty-first session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) will take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 13 to 24 March 2017. UNCSW is a functional Commission of ECOSOC, involved in promoting and monitoring progress made on objectives for gender equality and advancement of women worldwide. Discussion at UNCSW16 is organized around three themes (1) Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work. (2) Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls. (3) The empowerment of indigenous women.

In summary, the report on Limits to Growth published in 1968 was a call for action that started to map global policies for the 21st century. In assessing how best to counter these Limits, the Stockholm Declaration of 1972 set 26 principles which tackled the rights to adequate conditions of life, a safe environment and a responsible use of natural resources. The global nature of these principles required a common point of reference. This is how Sustainable Development emerged in 1987 as an integrative framework offering means to control and prevent these Limits. These socio-economic and environmental means were discussed and evaluated in Rio in 1992. One of the outcomes was Agenda 21, an action plan where the roles of women and Aboriginal People in Sustainable Development was elaborated for the first time. Evaluation was done 10 and 20 years later, leading first to the 8 Millennium Development Goals and later to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The next evaluation is scheduled for 2017.

The UN Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) is the international political corridor for the Graduate Women International (GWI) and the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW). There will be a 20-person delegation representing CFUW at the UNCSW61 on March 2017.

As a member of CFUW and GWI, UWCM supports the promotion and monitoring of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s goals by its advocacy work. UWCM is part of CFUW delegation at UNCSW61.

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