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Women Empowerment, Sustainable Development, and the Rio+20 Summit

With the debate of the effectiveness of the Rio+20 Summit still lingering, it is important to assess where the dialogues of the Summit could and should have gone. This discussion is inspired by the article, “The elephant in the room at Rio Summit,” by Jenny Shipley, which is an opinion piece on CNN addressing the role of empowering women and family planning in sustainable development.

The Rio Summit was designed as a milestone in the renewed discussions focused on the environment and moving towards a more sustainable and equal world. The Summit was described as trying to shape, “how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet to get to the future we want.” In order for the Summit to have effectively discussed how to advance towards these objectives there were seven priority areas which had been identified to further guide discussions in a positive manner. These priority areas include: “decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness.” However, there are a few things missing from the above “priority areas” which remain essential to the progression of our planet towards a global reduction in poverty while improving our social equity and global environmental protection clauses: the empowerment of women and family-planning.

In our world today one of the major problems we face is controlling our rapid population growth. Many environmentalists and experts have expressed their concerns that we have indeed passed the world’s carrying capacity, and this fact has become continuously more apparent in the last ten years with the increasing concern for environmental issues such as: global warming, resource depletion, deforestation, degradation of water resources, etc. The Rio Summit was theoretically responsible for addressing all of the above issues; however the real problem was without including the discussion on the role of women we were and continue to ignore the solution to our problems.

It has been proven that literate women who have access to education, not only in general but specifically related to reproductive health, put a higher emphasis on the importance of education for their children. In addition, literacy and education level are negatively correlated to the number of children a woman is likely to reproduce. Meaning, with an increase in literacy levels we are likely to see a decrease in child-bearing rates. Education, as deemed by many countries as the key to success, should have been discussed and encompassed as a key player in the fight for future successful implementation of sustainable development. This education factor, if directed specifically at women, can change the way our population is growing allowing for the strain on our Earth’s carrying capacity to be eased. Instead, some of the most influential leaders of international relations left Rio without a real plan or any solid progress towards a sustainable future.  If as a part of the Rio Summit, we strove towards implementing globally-focused education plans for women we could in the future make enormous strides for not only the environment, but also in reducing poverty, world hunger, infant and mother mortality while increasing quality of life and changing the way we view education as a whole. The Rio Summit instead of aiming high, lead us disappointingly to yet another conventional plateau of recycled ideas and promises.