Unsaid at UNCED

Women Demand Inclusion of Military Issues at the Earth Summit

By Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg

Last November's World Women's Congress for a Healthy Planet in Miami was an opportunity for over 1500 enthusiastic women from around the world to network and prepare proposals for UNCED, the United Nations "Earth Summit" Conference on the Environment and Development, to be held in Brazil this summer. The women warned that "male-led technologies, wars and industries are killing people and the planet.

In her keynote speech, Costa Rican presidential candidate Margarita Arias likened women's environmental work to their struggles to protect their own bodies from abuse. She reminded us that every advance in women's rights has meant a gain for all humanity. She encouraged women to develop new models of global leadership.

The women responded with abundant creative proposals. On the very first day a notice for a Women's Security Council caught my eye. It read:

"January 15, 1991. The United Nation's ultimatum for Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait runs out. At the last minute, the Women's Security Council, made up of thirty prominent and independent women, especially from the world's chief crisis areas, casts a veto against the U.N. resolutions. The Women's Council instructs the Security Council to follow the policy of economic sanctions against states that violate international law."

The International Women's Action Scheherazade (IWAS) would have preferred this scenario for avoiding the Gulf War, because, like other wars, it created more problems than it solved. Concerned about dangerous Situations in the Middle East, the emerging states of the former Eastern bloc, and the Third World, they called upon thoughtful, active women to set up other models of collective social responsibility.

The IWAS pointed out that existing political organizations such as the United Nations, the European Community, or the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe fail to resolve these issues, and challenged women to create alternatives. They are soliciting ideas and plan to publish the best ones and invite their creators to an international congress in 1992 (contact Halina Bendkowski, Helmstedter Str. 26, D -1000 Berlin 31;Tel 0049308537391).

Prior to the conference, the Women's International Policy Action Committee on Environment and Development (IPAC), a brainchild of the peace-oriented Women's Policy Council, literally forced a Women's Agenda on the UNCED process. As peace activists are well aware, specific topic U.N. conferences tend to get organized in ways that neglect to recall and include findings and recommendations of previous conferences. Understanding the process, IPAC members pressured their governments to honor the Decade for Women resolutions at the UNCED Preparatory Committee meeting in Geneva in August, 1991. The IPAC members attended that meeting, which as a result of their efforts passed a resolution sponsored by ten countries (including Canada) to recognize some of the recommendations of the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women, signed in Nairobi in 1985.

The Miami meeting was held as a tribunal, where women from all over the world testified before a distinguished panel of women judges from each continent. Peggy Antrobus, director of Women and Development at the University of the West Indies in Barbados, set the tone by declaring on the first day that "Women must make links between the decisions reached in far-off boardrooms and military headquarters, and the world-wide subordination of both women and nature."

Antrobus pointed out that the world's leaders all piously came to the U.N. World Children's Summit last year, but not one of them repudiated the economic policies that are killing children. In fact, she said, the U.S. used the Children's Summit as a means of getting support for the Gulf War.

Dr. Rosalie Bertell of the International Institute of Concern for Public Health documented the severe damage to the ozone layer and aggravation of acid rain caused by supersonic jets, space shuttles and nuclear weapons tests. She spoke of the 70,000 new chemicals which have been dumped onto the world since the end of World War II, most of which were created by the military to kill masses of people or to defoliate jungles. While the military is the world's biggest single destroyer of the environment, women work in their communities to "clean up the mess," she said.

Magda Renner of Brazil noted that wars during the "four decades of peace" were the leading cause of homelessness. She reminded us that every 30 seconds, war preparations cost the same as the annual budget of the United Nations Environment Program. Marilyn Waring, former member of parliament in New Zealand, called for an examination of economic policy from perspectives of gender, peace and ecology. (See review of her book, A New Feminist Economics, p. 27.) She exposed the exclusionary nature of the United Nations System of National Accounts (UNSA), used by all countries to calculate the economic value of transactions. The system measures only financial transactions. Example: water when carried through pipes has value, but when carried by a woman has none. A tree has value when it is chopped down and sold, but not when it is giving us oxygen, shade and beauty.

Countering this system of accounts, Rosalie Bertell has proposed a means of appraising well-being which could replace the Gross National Product. Her guidelines, developed with help from the Norwegian Women for Peace, evaluate values, politics, human development, and use of resources on a scale of 0to 10.

A global campaign to carry out this evaluation would be difficult in some regions but could have significant world-wide impact. It was received with enthusiasm at the conference and it is hoped that it will arouse considerable interest in Brazil and beyond.

Together the women came out with the strongly worded "Women's Agenda '21" which insisted that the powerful governments of the North put the issues of poverty, militarism, nuclear power, free trade, and international debt on the UNCED agenda.

The Secretary-General of UNCED, Canadian Maurice Strong, acknowledged the importance of the Women's Agenda-he could hardly avoid it. As the document was being read, women jumped to their feet cheering the resolutions containing the "sensitive issues" they demanded to be addressed at UNCED. The indomitable Bella Abzug shook her finger at him, saying "Do you hear the women, Mr. Strong?" He promised to carry the message to the UNCED committee, and admitted that the rich nations are resisting such inclusion.

Conference participants vowed to take these points to their home governments immediately, in time for the final preparatory meetings in March which will seal their positions. There will be a huge demonstration in New York on March 8, International Women's Day.

Most encouraging for me in Miami was evidence that international feminism is evolving positively, with growing collaboration on economic, social, and political values, and action agendas. It illustrated that women of different cultures, backgrounds and experiences are now working together with much less of the stereotyping and anger than in previous meetings. They recognized differences, but shared an analysis of power relationships, oppression and destruction. They were able to agree on positive alternate policies.

The women united in describing the lack of political will among world leaders as a lack of basic moral and spiritual values and a sense of responsibility towards future generations. Over 1500 women from over 90 countries pledged their commitment to the empowerment of women in the search for equity and peace between and among the peoples of the earth and the life support systems that sustain us all. The Women's Action Agenda will continue this work long after Brazil, until it succeeds.

IPAC, 845 Third Avenue, 15th Floor,

New York, N.Y. 10022. Tel (212) 759

7982, Fax (212) 759-8647.

Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg is working on a Masters in Environmental Studies and is an editor at Peace Magazine.

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1992

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1992, page 8. Some rights reserved.

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