Linking Rio+20, Cairo+20 and MDGs+15 from South feminist perspectives – DAWN panel at the People’s Summit
By Elizabeth Cooper
Development Alternatives with Women of a New Era (DAWN) organized a panel titled “Linking Rio+20, Cairo+20 and MDGs+15: South feminist perspectives” at the People’s Summit on June 16th in Rio de Janeiro. This panel raised “questions of moving beyond poverty to questions of environment and social justice and a development in which everyone can participate” said Gita Sen, the moderator of panel and executive committee member of DAWN. Represented in the panel were feminist activists from different regional areas of the global South, Noelene Nabulivou from Fiji, Alex Garita from Mexico, Hibist Kassa from Ghana, Nicole Bidegain from Uruguay, Monica Novillo from Bolivia and Lalaine Viado from Philippines.
Noelene introduced the current context of the Rio +20 negotiations describing it as “theatre, an elaborate performance or reflective space.” She framed the current discussion as presenting “two oppositional stories.” The North concentrated on a “forward-looking” agenda, with pressure behind to push the green economy. Meanwhile, the South, G77 and China, defended for retaining of Rio Principles, especially Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) in order to recall historic damage and failed promises from the North. She urged the renewed commitment and communication between “those that do hard and sharp work” within the policy negotiations and the “long term building of social movements” to hold governments accountable.
Alex Garita reflected on the connection between Rio+20 and the UN Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994, which addressed “population and development and therefore reproductive rights and women’s ability to make decisions about their own bodies,” said Garita. Now, she alerted audience that there is a push to control women’s fertility in the South and a renewed assault from neo-Malthusian approaches that are regressing from the conversations 20 years ago. Thus, she saw “the main challenge [of Rio +20] is to secure women’s reproductive rights so that we can see it when we move forward for the 2015 process.”
Nicole Bidegain spoke to how the sustainable development goals (SDGs) being discussed in Rio+20 are linked to the post-2015 agenda. She articulated three possible scenarios for feminists to be aware of – first, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) mandate could be extended; second, the MDGs could be reformulated to reflect some of the critiques, for example, including secondary education, decent work, etc.; third, a new framework for development could be launched. She suggested that feminists should advocate for the third scenario and ensure that the new development agenda is not minimalistic or donor driven, but instead holistic to include human rights, equity, sexual orientation and gender identity, and the care economy. Any post-2015 agenda must address issues of financing and the reform of global economic and financial governance as little can be achieved without this.
The final three speakers presented their country-based reflections on relevance of Cairo-MDGs-Rio to their home states. Hibist Kassa stressed that following structural adjustment policies driven by key international development agencies, there has been a “decline in cultural and manufacturing center, also decline in focus on social policies.” For Africa there is a strong “argument for a comprehensive agenda as opposed to a narrow approach to development,” said Kassa. Lalaine Viado discussed the strong presence of the Holy See and other conservative forces within Filipino political institutions. Facing this pressure, she says it has been difficult for the national government to push through policies for sexual and reproductive rights despite signing on outcome documents of Rio, Beijing, and Cairo conferences. Finally Monica Novillo stressed the links between what is achieved at the international level, and what can be fought for at the national level. Bolivia projects itself as a progressive nation, and is greatly interested in maintaining this position in the international community. Novillo drew attention to the fact that this projection carries many contradictions on a national scale, such as not yet affirming sexual and reproductive rights. Novillo hopes that Rio +20 will “reaffirm the principles of the Beijing platform and principles of Cairo, that would be a basic achievement,” meaning an assertion of sexual reproductive rights as essential to sustainable development.
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