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What We’re Reading: Rio +20 and the Role of Women in Economic Development

By Emily Terrell

Last week, June 20-22, over 45,000 people–including world leaders, NGOs, and other policymakers–came together in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as “Rio +20.” (So named because it has been 20 years since the seminal 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), known as “The Earth Summit,” was held in Rio.) Participants at Rio +20 came to discuss solutions for reducing poverty, increasing social equality, and protecting the environment. But another theme that emerged from this year’s conference was the recognition of women as the key to achieving sustainable development. The final outcome of Rio +20 outlined general steps for achievement of the key conference goals in a 49-page document titled, “The Future We Want.” Although responses to the document were heavily critical of how it addressed women’s rights, it undeniably has sparked global conversation on the crucial importance of empowering women, an essential topic here at Opportunity where 93% of our microfinance loan clients are women. Here are just a few of the many blogs and articles published on women’s empowerment around the time of the conference.

Rio +201. “Africa: Women and Sustainability – Rio+20 Leaders and Activists Convene to Discuss the Future Women Want

Worldwatch Institute‘s Nourishing the Planet — A blog post on highlights from the first two Women’s Leaders Forums at Rio +20. The sessions focused on women’s contributions to development, gender equality, and empowering women to create the green economy. According to Executive Director of the World Food Programme, Ertharin Cousin, “When women have access to food, children eat, families thrive. When they are decision-makers, nations have a strong foundation for food and nutrition security.”

2. “Gender Equality: Smart Economics & Smart Business
The World Bank‘s Voices — World Bank Vice President of Sustainable Development, Rachel Kyte, blogs about pioneers of women’s empowerment and the practical implementation of gender equality. I especially love her fifth paragraph, which highlights real ways that this dream can be made a reality.

3. “Going Holistic: Health and Conservation Converge in Tanzania
The Nature Conservancy‘s Cool Green Science — The Conservancy’s David Banks and Pathfinder International‘s Caroline Crosbie explain the strong link between women’s empowerment and ecological health, the same link that Rio +20 attempted to establish. Through the story of a struggling mother in Tanzania, they show us the importance of “centering the sustainable development conversation on women and families.”

4. “Rio+20: Sustainable development needs women’s empowerment, UN official says
UN News Centre — A news release describes the hopes of UN Women‘s Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet, and other UN officials for the conference’s role in empowering women. Although the final document ended up falling short of their expectations, I admire the passion of these world leaders in standing up for women across the world. “We cannot afford to leave women marginalized,” said Bachelet. “This is not sustainable. This social exclusion of women is not only hurting women, it is hurting all of us.”

5. “Women’s Resistance & Resilience at Rio+20
Women’s Environment & Development Organization — A news release on behalf of the Women’s Major Group summarizes the words of nine women from across the world who gathered on June 15 to express their frustration with the lack of environmental protection and women’s rights in each of their home countries. They are extremely critical in their views, but I admire the courage it took for these women to stand up against injustices.

Did you read something this month about Rio +20 that caught your eye? Give us your feedback on this list and tell us what you would add in the comment field below.

Emily Engel is a marketing and communications intern in the Resource Development department at Opportunity International. Emily recently graduated from Taylor University with a degree in Public Relations. She’s passionate about microfinance and poverty alleviation, and hopes to use her career to serve those in need across the globe.

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