Environment, Europe, Headlines

ENVIRONMENT: Women Environment Leaders Grapple with Globalisation

Mark Waller

HELSINKI, Mar 9 2002 (IPS) - A first of its kind meeting of women environment ministers from 20 countries marked International Women’s Day Friday by launching a network for sustainable development.

The ministers, together with some 40 women environment experts from around the world, were in the Finnish capital to debate the issues of globalisation, poverty and their impact on the environment and women’s lives.

One aim was to gather proposals for next September’s U.N. World summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

These were compiled at length into a wide-ranging document. They include calls to make globalisation work for sustainable development, empower the poor and develop social and equity policies on environment.

By creating a network of women ministers for sustainable development the participants in the meeting, which took place at the initiative of the Council of Women World Leaders (CWWL), hope to start a new process in top-level decision-making.

“We want to bring a qualitative change to decision-making,” said Finnish environment minister Satu Hassi.

There are 38 women environment ministers worldwide. Hassi said that the attendance of 20 of them in a conference that was “not a crucial negotiation where people have to attend” was a triumph.

“This is an unique event,” Iranian Vice President Massoumeh Ebtekar told journalists. “It is the first time women ministers of environment have met, and that indicates that women are seriously concerned about the degradation of the environment.”

“It’s important that women leaders should compare their visions and achievements,” said CWWL chairperson and former President of Iceland Vigdíd Finnbogadóttir.

“The globalisation of the economy without the development of social goals is unsustainable,” said Yolanda Kakabadse Navarro, president of the World Conservation Union. “Women at the local level understand this.”

But what was less clear from the lofty statements of the women leaders and government representatives is how they can bring substance to good intentions.

Vandana Shiva, director of the New Delhi-based Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology said that despite this the meeting was a positive initiative.

“The world is in a deep political and economic crisis,” she told IPS, “and that is linked to the ecological crisis. Women environment ministers here recognise this. They have been talking about the need to ‘re-position”.

“It is not just rhetoric. The fact that they called a meeting like this is because they sense the need for an alternative within the structures in which they work.”

But Shiva, much of whose work focuses on the effects of globalised free-trade on biodiversity, criticised proposals drawn up by the meeting. “It tries to fit too much into the official dominant paradigm that the markets can deliver and solve problems.”

She said that people’s pro-environment initiatives to save disappearing species, crop and seed varieties and animal breeds is happening more at the level of civil action than at the level of government policy.

“In fact international governmental policy is undermining these efforts. Its globalisation of trade is creating a large expansion of non-sustainable mono-cultures around the world displacing both diversity and the people who produce by using such diversity.”

Shiva said that the foundation she heads has studied how the globalisation of agriculture is leading to the rapacious spread of industrial agriculture.

In India this has led to a six thousand percent increase in pesticide use, suicides by small farm owners and the erosion of the sustainable systems of farming.

“We have been able to show that globalised free trade is actually a negative economy that survives only on the basis of the subsidy structures of the North. Remove the 340 billion dollar subsidy and the systems would collapse. It is not true that these systems produce cheap food: they produce costly and unsafe food that is then subsidised and made cheap.”

But Shiva stresses that opposition to this has mushroomed, particularly in India and Africa where huge movements are asserting community rights to counter individual privatised property rights to natural and genetic resources.

“At the recent World Social Forum we launched a new treaty to ensure that the genes of this planet cannot be owned as property, that they are held in trust by us as the evolutionary potential for our security and that of future generations.”

Shiva’s suggestion to the Helsinki meeting was that the women ministers link up with parts of society that are finding an alternative to globalisation to reach out to empower the forces of transformation.

“There is a lot happening at the level of ordinary people and civil movements. But unfortunately the governments of the world seem to be doped up by World Trade Organisation viagra.”

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