After three days at the 19th session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-19), I began thinking about how important women’s leadership is to the tiered mission of Rio+20 also known as Earth Summit 2012 to help create a global green economy, and alleviate poverty.
Over the course of the prep meetings earlier this year, and during CSD-19 this week, it became more clear to me why women need to have more control over the Earth’s resources and the new technologies that can help to provide clean water, clean energy, clean air, and clean agriculture. With more power and training in the hands of women, particularly in developing countries, there will be more jobs for women, healthier communities, more education for girls, and population stabilization. With so much data that proves that women have a better track record for paying back micro-loans (even at higher rates), for protecting resources, and for investing money in their families and communities, it makes sense that empowering women is critical to the Rio+20 mission.
On May 4th, the Democracy and Gender Equality Roundtable was held by UN Women, simultaneous to CSD-19. I was struck by the statistics that show how unrepresented women are in managerial roles in all walks of life, from board rooms to government positions. Worse than I thought actually. Without a seat at the table, women can have no voice. Some of the developing countries where families rule, presented another glitch. In these countries, when women are put in positions of power, it is often as a surrogate of their husbands and fathers. Questions were asked. Is this better or worse?
I was reminded of the t-shirt worn by my friend, Jody Weiss, CEO of Peacemaker “Cause-metics” that reads, “I want my million bucks.” The slogan refers to a factoid she offered that over the course of one’s lifetime, women in the same job make about $1 million dollars less than a comparable man. And Trish Karter, of Dancing Deer Bakery, standing on her head to show how upside down the proportion of women to men on boards is, and why turning this around can make a big difference in the world. One look at the speaker list at energy and oil conferences tells us where the power lies. As an affirmative action baby myself, I know I wouldn’t have gotten my first job as a research diver for the State of California if there wasn’t a quota to fill. But, as an ice diver, I was just as qualified as the male applicants. They just had never considered a woman before. I wondered about where I’d be? In the back office typing memos for my boss?
On Thursday, May 5, I was invited by Osprey Orielle Lake to a Forum hosted by her Women’s Earth and Climate Caucus, a gem of a side event beyond the walls of the United Nations, out there past the row of flags where women are collaborating to gain traction around climate change and other environmental issues. Which, incidentally, adversely affect women and children more than men. The Forum focused on global topics around water and food security, with presenters from NGOs and businesses, including my friend Ann Goodman, Executive Director of Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future (WNSF), Joji Carino of Tebtebba Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre, Donna Goodman, Director of Earth Child Institute, Anita Wenden of International Peace Research Association, and Bridget Burns, Program Director of WEDO – Women’s Environment and Development Organization. This group of impressive women shared stories and strategies for adapting to and mitigating climate change.
From there, I was cordially invited to a WEDO reception on Lexington Avenue, and some of us walked there together on what I would call an empowerment high. For me, WEDO was like discovering a treasure trove of international mentors and luminaries. Among other things, these highly educated and talented women have been working for twenty years to ensure that the environmental activities at the UN, benefit by a woman’s touch, or stronghold. Throughout the 1990’s WEDO played a key leadership role to ensure that gender was included in the outcomes of major UN conferences. In 2006, it was recognized with the Champions of the Earth award by UNEP and in 2010, WEDO received the Advocacy Award from the National Council for Research on Women. Their 20th anniversary conference will coincide with Rio+20.
As the event wound down, Elizabeth “Liz” Thompson arrived, the Co-Coordinator of Rio+20. I can say I slept a little easier that night, knowing the Earth was in better hands than I thought.