At Rio+20 UN Women Executive Director calls for central role for women in achieving sustainability

Date : 18 June 2012

At a press conference on 18 June during The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro, Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women calls for women's central role in achieving sustainability. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Former Prime Minister of Norway and Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on Climate Change, joins the press conference.

Watch the press conference via webcast

The webcast begins 9:00 a.m. EST (10:00 am Rio de Janeiro time), Monday 18 June

Venue: Main Press briefing room, Media Centre, Pavilion 3, Riocentro

Moderator: Deborah Seward, Director, Strategic Partnerships Division, DPI

Press Statement

[Check against delivery.]

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is my pleasure to be here today with Gro Harlem Brundtland in Rio for this very important Conference on Sustainable Development.

Today the world is speeding along a dangerous course of economic and social disparities, and environmental destruction. We are here to make our voices heard and tell the world about the Future Women Want.

Women's advocates are a strong presence here. With the support of the Government of Brazil and President Dilma Rousseff, UN Women is hosting a Leaders' Forum tomorrow and a Women Leaders' Summit on 21 June.

At the Women Leaders' Summit on the Future Women Want, women Heads of State and Government will issue a strong call to action pledging their support and urging governments, civil society and the private sector to prioritize gender equality and women's empowerment and accelerate action to achieve sustainable development.

Two days earlier at the Leaders' Forum, hundreds of representatives from government, civil society, and the private sector, will come together to discuss The Future Women Want. Their voices and views will pave the way for the Women Leaders' Summit.

UN Women supported an online survey of women around the world that will be shared here widely this week. These women told us directly about the Future they Want. They made strong recommendations for the urgent need to focus on economic development, on access to financial and technical resources for women, and on increasing women's participation and leadership in decision making across all levels.

Throughout this week in a number of events, UN Women will bring the voices of these women forward.

I will personally start later today at the Corporate Sustainability Forum, where I will call on companies to join more than 400 other CEOs in signing onto the Women's Empowerment Principles. By making equality their business, companies can not only improve women's position in the workplace, but also improve sustainability and their corporate performance.

Sustainable development requires women's rights, equal opportunities and women's full participation. The current model—of environmental decline, rising inequality and an up-and-down economy is not sustainable. A world in balance requires gender equality.

Twenty years ago, the Rio Declaration emphasized that women's full participation is essential to achieving sustainable development. 20 years later, women continue to face inequality in rights, opportunities and participation.

Today one woman dies every 2 minutes from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Violence against women remains a global epidemic. Women earn less than men for the same work, and remain under-represented in decision-making. Less than one in ten Heads of State and Government, less than one in five members of parliament, and less than 4 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women.

This is not sustainable. This social exclusion of women is not only hurting women, it is hurting all of us.

For the sake of current and future generations, we must nurture and develop all of humankind's collective intelligence and capacity.

The full and equal participation and leadership of women is no longer an option. It is an urgent necessity if we are to achieve the transformational change needed at all levels and spheres of society for sustainable development.

Since 1992, global economic growth has soared 75 percent. However, at what cost? More than one in four people still lives in extreme poverty. Two-thirds of natural resources vital to humankind are declining. By 2030, the world will need 50 percent more food, 45 percent more energy and 30 percent more water. And rising sea levels and climate change pose an unprecedented threat to humanity.

We cannot afford to continue on the present path, and we especially cannot afford to leave women marginalized in leadership and decision-making, and subject to violence and discrimination.

When women enjoy equal rights, opportunities and participation, they can make a greater contribution to sustainable development. The full and equal participation of women makes societies, economies and the environment healthier.

Today women in developing countries make up 43 percent of agricultural workers, but can't get equal access to land, credit or new technologies. This is not sustainable. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that giving women the same access as men to fertilizers, seeds, tools and other types of agriculture support would raise agricultural output and result in 100 to 150 million fewer hungry people.

Today millions of mostly rural women still cook over smoky, polluting stoves. As a result, two million people die each year from respiratory ailments; 85 percent are women and children. This is not sustainable. Women need clean energy.

Today in urban areas, a quarter of people lack piped water in their homes. This places a disproportionate burden on women and girls who spend long hours each day fetching water for basic household needs, instead of getting an education or earning an income.

The Sustainable Development Conference this week needs to encourage specific actions to reduce women's poverty and cut harmful health and environmental impacts. Leaders need to recognize the value of women's contributions to environmental management, and development.

To uphold and deepen this commitment at Rio+20, UN Women is championing four measures.

First, we call on Member States to reaffirm women's empowerment and gender equality as vital for sustainable development and in any international development frameworks that are adopted. This principle needs to be the foundation for all continued action.

Second, governments should agree on—and then take—measures so that women can access opportunities as leaders and fully participate in decision-making, whether related to policies, social or economic issues, or the environment.

Third, women should be fully included in economies, so they can both contribute to and benefit from the choices that sustainable development provides. This demands a series of measures, such as ending violence and discrimination, and removing barriers women face to owning land and accessing credit.

Finally, sustainable development will come when every person has access to essential public services, including for education, health care, water, sanitation, energy and social protection.

Through its country programmes around the world, UN Women regularly sees firsthand the difference made when women are empowered as drivers of sustainable development.

The organization has helped women gain greater land ownership rights in Morocco, become leaders in agricultural cooperatives in Rwanda, and work as key partners in disaster management in Thailand and Viet Nam.

The future women want is free from poverty and discrimination, with equal access to opportunities and leadership, with wise stewardship of natural resources. In short, where development is sustainable everywhere and for everyone.

At Rio+20, we have a chance to claim this future. This is why women are here to make our voices heard. So that the future women want is the future we all share.

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