Powerful stories by Powerful Women who decry lack of real progress since 1992

by Claire Greensfelder and Bridget Burns on behalf of the Women’s Major Group

For 90 minutes on the morning of Friday June 15th, a strong and diverse group of nine women passionately engaged a crowd at the Rio Centro Conference Center with their first hand reports of each on women’s determined resistance to unsustainable projects and policies and their resilience in staying the course in their fight for Mother Earth.

From Kazakhstan to Nigeria, Cambodia to Guatemala, Sudan to Bolivia—their stories echoed each other: that around the world, corporate greed, unsustainable energy use and environmental degradation are at the roots of social inequity and environmental crises, causing women to have to struggle in order to live in a just society with a healthy environment, women’s rights ensured.

The event was part of a series of daily activities at Rio+20 organized by the “Women’s Major Group”, a collective of over 200 women’s and ally organizations from every corner of the world . Gita Sen of DAWN (Development Alternatives for Women for a New Era), moderator of the event, stated this morning, “The voices on this panel are the ones which policy makers MUST be listening to.” (Follow their inspiring presentations @Women_Rio20).

Sascha Gabizon of Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF), one of the key organisers of the Women’s Major Group, said “Rio+20 could be our last chance to mobilize world leaders and civil society to assure a real paradigm shift away from greed and unsustainable growth towards societies based on human rights and gender equality”

Norma Maldonado from Guatemala, addressing women’s resistance of monocultures introduced by foreign countries, said “There is a cruel irony that Guatemala is the home of so many species of food and yet is also the most malnourished country in the hemisphere….We can grow our own food!”

Winnie Kodi of Sudan spoke on moving towards energy independence & political empowerment in post-conflict regions and Maureen Penjueli of Fiji told the gathering that “There is a moral obligation to speak truth to the human and ecological disaster that is being perpetuated on innocent people. It is critical to resist governments who seek to invest in our countries when the results of those arrangements take away our rights and our well-being”,  while Carmen Capriles of Bolivia told how Bolivian women were “steadfast in their protection of the climate and forests.”

Sophea Chrek from Cambodia said that Cambodian women have been engaged in a non-violent struggle for their land rights, she declared “Women cannot & will not be suppressed.”

Goldman Environmental Prize winner Kaisha Atakhanova of Kazakhstan spoke out on the harmful effects of uranium mining on women in Central Asia and Caroline Usipeko-Omoniye of Nigeria reported that the Niger Delta generates nearly 80% of revenue for the country, yet the people remain in poverty and suffer the devastating consequences of the oil industry.

Moderator Gita Sen summarized: “We have heard women speaking truth to power. But are those policy makers listening to us?”  She continued, “Are the voices, that should be heard, and should be responded to, 20 years after the earth summit, really heard by decision makers? We have our doubts!”

“We have had testimonies from women from different countries of the South. We have heard how women’s land and resources are being grabbed…..We have heard that pollution of massive scale is created, soils degraded, and people being displaced, after having cared for these resources for centuries, are now turned into refugees.”

“Women, indigenous peoples, youth — their lives are being put on the line when they dare to resist a form of development which destroys their lives and livelihoods and communities and cultures.”

Sen added “This is being reinforced by anti-women laws, by patriarchal practices, in families, in states, and in the way states interact with each other.”

The panelists also offered ideas for the path forward – how to live more in tune with nature, calling for women’s tribunals, a UN special rapporteur on uranium mining, the right to development.

Sen remarked “We need a Women’s Charter of Rights defining what WE mean about sustainable consumption & production.”  She concluded: “the real struggle for the right to development is fought by women on the frontlines, working every day as our panelists demonstrated here this morning.”

Click here to read the Women’s Major Group June 13th press release.

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