People´s Summit At Rio+20: Movements Demand Structural Changes!
While governments were selling out on women’s reproductive rights at the official United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), women’s rights and feminist groups were organizing at the People’s Summit for Social and Environmental Justice to denounce the green economy and neoliberal development model and offer feminist proposals in relation to the future of the planet.
By Alejandra Scampini
From 20-22 June 2012 world leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, UN Agencies, NGOs and other groups gathered at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in Rio de Janeiro to discuss poverty reduction, advancing social equity and environmental protection. At the same time in Flamengo, also in Rio de Janeiro the People’s Summit for Social and Environmental Justice, organized by global civil society, took place in parallel to the UNCSD.
The People’s Summit: mobilizations and reflections
The People’s Summit for Social and Environmental Justice convened civil society organizations, networks and movements from across the globe to challenge the notion of the ‘green economy’ and to search for alternatives to this approach, which was one of the key issues for discussion by heads of state and governments at the UNCSD.
Participants at the People’s Summit were critical of the lack of debate on global governance by the formal Rio +20 Summit and sought to emphasize the diverse struggles occurring around the world to confront the current dominant economic model, while strengthening solidarity and presenting proposals and solutions to deal with the systemic crisis.
Debates, plenaries and other activities took place in tents with more than 15 000 people participating in the final People’s Assembly. The People’s Summit re-energised participants, contributed to developing shared agendas and sent a political message to the formal Rio +20 conference through its final declaration. Miriam Nobre of World March of Women (WMW) said, “The summit ends but the process of struggle continues”, and this onward struggle is captured in the Final Declaration of the People’s Summit which refers to a historic moment of new synergies among movements of women, feminists, indigenous people, afro-descendants, youth, peasants, trade unions, quilombolas, development activists and others.
Indigenous peoples, in particular, had a strong presence throughout the People's Summit, and organized a major international gathering, the “Indigenous Peoples International Conference on Sustainable Development and Self Determination”. In their final declaration, indigenous people from around the world called for the continuation of the struggle against the extractive industries, predatory investments, land-grabbing, forced relocation and unsustainable development projects. These struggles are based on defending the right to define and implement their own priorities for economic, social and cultural development and environmental protection, based on their own traditional cultures, knowledge and practices.
Women reflect, propose and protest in Rio de Janeiro
“The aim of women’s and feminist groups that contributed to the organization of the Summit was to create an inclusive event for the global convergence of feminist struggles and for sharing and discussion on the critiques of the unequal and unsustainable development model” said Graciela Rodriguez from EQUIT, Brazil. Women from all over the world made visible the critical role of women in the debates on the future of the planet from a feminist perspective.
Articulacion de Mujeres Brasileras (AMB), Articulacion Feminista Mercosur (AFM), Equit Institute and others supported the creation and organization of the Global Women´s Territory, a women’s specific tent within the People’s Summit, which provided an opportunity to reach ordinary people, the majority of whom are severely affected by the crisis. The Territory gave visibility to the struggles that women are experiencing all over the world to guarantee the sustainability of resources, from access to land for women in Malawi and the expansion of transnational capital and mining in some parts of Africa, Guatemala, Argentina and Peru to the appropriation of water by foreign and national companies in the Amazon River basin. Women representatives of the Rural Women´s Assembly in South Africa, women quilombolas from Brazil, Via Campesina and AMB talked about the many forms of resistance that seek to defend common goods; goods that cannot be commodified, financed or taken over by a few. The speeches raised awareness of the need to demand real solutions from governments and highlighted food sovereignty and agroecology as key alternatives to the modes of production and consumption that prevail in the current economic development model.
Participants in the Global Women’s Territory were clear that alternatives are not just about economic empowerment. As many highlighted, violence is a major obstacle to development and it is difficult to think about development when women and women activists are being killed, persecuted, raped and forced into early marriage. As a women from Pakistan observed, there was no discussion on this issue at the UNCSD which is indicative of the low priority accorded to violence against women and sexual health and reproductive rights on the international development agenda and in planning, programming and budgeting.
The World March of Women (WMW) together with women from La Via Campesina, Brazil's National Articulation on Agroecology (ANA) and Andean Coordination of Indigenous Organizations (CAOI), organized program activities about feminisms, food sovereignty and agroecology with the aim of revealing the green economy concept to be “the same market oriented development model that mercantilises our lives, our bodies, our territories.” They said no to market solutions that generate more business and do not change the models of consumption, production and social reproduction and reaffirmed that alternatives have to come from the people and should include equity, equality between men and women, rights to a life free from violence and the sharing of domestic work and care between men and women.
More than 10,000 people marched on the morning of the June 18th under the slogan “Women against the commodification of our bodies, our lives and nature”. Women raised their voices and their banners against the capitalist, patriarchal, homophobic and racist model of development. With drums, whistles, dances, chants and banners women denounced the green economy, and exposed transnational corporations and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) as key actors in the commodification of nature and the deepening environmental crisis our planet faces. “They are the real parties responsible for the global crisis that we are experiencing today and for the increasing violence and poverty among women” said Nalu Faria of WMW, “We need to overcome this model, but in order to achieve that we must overcome the sexual division of labor, which does not recognize our work as work, that says that women have to do care work for love or because we share a burden of guilt. We are demanding the recognition of women’s work and also an end to the sexual division of labor in the productive world”.
For the women on the march, the struggle is not only for environmental sustainability but also to build another model of production and consumption that ensures equality. “We are here to claim our right to land and the right to choose how to plant and produce. Land is life and it is an expression of our existence; it is part of our ecosystem on which we survive. Our culture is deeply rooted in our land and how we use it”, said a representative of the Rural Women´s Assembly in South Africa.
What is next?
The debates criticizing the current capitalist system, the economic recession and the financial crisis experienced by many countries since the financial meltdown of 2008 and the reflections around possible alternatives did not happen at the Official Summit. Some women in the People’s Summit did not consider the UN space to be conducive to debate for finding real solutions to the systemic crises, and they criticized the limited space given to civil society in such formal UN spaces. For many, the People’s Summit offered the only real space to advance struggles against the capitalist, patriarchal and racist system.
Participants at the Summit shared a vast array of experiences and forms of relationships with nature that can help to construct public policies, yet the challenge of how to address the contradictions between an alternative sustainable development model and the neoliberal extractivist model remains. The concept of sustainable development was echoed many times but the construction of such sustainability is threatened by free trade agreements, corporate power and the eroded role of the State. The final declaration of the Global Women’s Territory also referred to the weak role of UN in global governance and the growing threat and erosion of already agreed commitments especially on sexual health and reproductive rights.
The work ahead seems immense. The systemic crisis is here to stay and the voices of women at the Summit were clear about the need to establish better relations between human beings and nature and to look for new forms of consumption, production and social reproduction. The intersections between environment, class, gender and social justice challenge us to revise feminist proposals, among other things. We need to understand what it would require have a more harmonious relationship with mother earth and how to consider mother earth a subject with rights in this discussion.
And this cannot be done in isolation. We need to foster alliances with environmentalist development and justice movements. Preparations for Cairo+20, Beijing+20 and Vienna+20 and the next World Social Forum in 2013 will provide important opportunities for such critical debates within feminist movements and other civil society movements.
 Name given to afro-descendant communities of slaves who escaped from plantations that existed in Brazil until the abolition of slavery in 1888. They lived in independent settlements known as "Quilombos", of which the most famous one was the Quilombo dos Palmares in the North East of Brazil.
 World March of Women bulletin distributed at the Summit.
 The mobilization was organized by several women´s groups such as Articulación de Mujeres Brasileras, (AMB), the World March of Women (WMW), and women from mixed movements such as Via Campesina, Contag, CUT, CAOI and ANA, as well as other feminist organizations