Women and Sustainability: Five Youth-Led Initiatives That Are Shaking Up Rio+20

By Seyyada Burney, Research Intern, Nourishing the Planet

Women Deliver is collaborating with Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project to highlight the important role of women, youth, and reproductive and sexual rights in sustainable development at the upcoming Rio+20 conference.Women Deliver is collaborating with Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project to highlight the important role of women, youth, and sexual and reproductive health and rights in sustainable development at the upcoming Rio+20 conference.

Les jeunes, os jovens, or vijana. Call them what you will, young people make up nearly 40 percent of the global population. According to statistics from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 85 percent of the world’s children and youth currently live in the developing world, mostly in Asia. From the Arab Spring to countless Occupy movements, young people are shaking up societies around the world with innovative ideas, cooperation, and a commitment to fair and inclusive sustainable development. Next on their agenda: the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

At Rio+20, the Major Group on Youth and Children (MGYC) serves as the official voice for young people and has organized numerous panel discussions, dialogues, and a special pre-conference to inspire and collaborate with young people around the world. Thanks to their efforts, youth-led initiatives are actively contributing to critical discussions on sustainable development and are ensuring that the needs of future generations are a top priority at Rio+20.

Here is a snapshot of five initiatives that are bringing the issue of youth participation, leadership, and development to Rio+20:

1) Youth dialogue at Rio+20
Since sustainability is often measured by the ability of a project, initiative, or policy to meet the needs of future generations, it is no surprise that many organizations and institutions alike are making efforts to create spaces for youth participation and dialogue at Rio+20. The MGYC hopes to empower and train youth attending the conference through workshops and networking opportunities in a six day Youth Blast: Conference of Youth for Rio+20. The pre-conference aims to provide a space where “young people can meet to create a unified youth vision for the future of sustainable development and inclusive policy.” Later in the week, the Geneva International Model United Nations, a student run NGO, will be hosting a “Youth Perspective on Environmental Issues in Contemporary Societies” side event where participants will have the opportunity to debate issues of sustainability and even work with each other to draft possible solutions.

2) Contributions by Youth Organizations
Representatives from the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YCSRR) will also be bringing their experiences and ideas to panel discussions such as “New Generation Leaders Unite HIV and Environment for Sustainability.” At this side event, both the YCSRR and Advocates for Youth will participate in an interactive dialogue led by the UNAIDS secretariat to address how lessons from the global HIV/AIDS movement can be used to encourage cooperation among organizations and activists to promote and implement a new vision of sustainability.

3) The Topic of Youth in the Context of Sustainable Development
Even without direct participation by youth organizations, numerous side events throughout the conference will discuss how development policies can adjust to changing population dynamics and the diverse needs of a growing youth population. For instance, Population Action International and the Sierra Club will be focusing on how awareness and advocacy for youth sexual and reproductive health and rights can contribute significantly to female empowerment and sustainable development in their dialogue, “Youth SRHR in the Context of Sustainable Development.” Research finds that pregnancy related complications are the leading cause of death among girls between the ages of 15-19 in the developing world. But just one additional year of education can simultaneously delay marriages, reduce birth rates, and raise incomes for women and their households. According to a World Bank study of 100 countries, “every one percent increase in the proportion of women with secondary education boosted a country's annual per capita income growth rate by about 0.3 percentage points”. 

4) Youth Leaders in Action
Oxfam International Youth Partnerships and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) are both hosting side events that highlight different ways in which youth leaders, particularly young women, can and have contributed to sustainable development. Youth leaders from around the world will provide diverse perspectives on issues of sustainability in panel discussions on how to further promote youth participation and leadership for sustainable development. Oxfam will focus on how youth, particularly female, empowerment can support food security, while the WAGGGS will highlight the crucial role of young women leaders in developing and delivering community-based sustainable development solutions. The World Mission Foundation will also be discussing ways to promote responsibility and accountability in local governance by fostering value-based leadership among African youth. 

5) Sustainable Development beyond Rio+20
Governments, NGOs, civil society organizations, and activists all acknowledge that young people will play a crucial role in the future of sustainable development by carrying on the legacy of Rio+20. The European Students' Forum (AEGEE) will be calling attention to ways the global youth movement can promote sustainable development by both contributing to Rio+20 and by taking Rio+20 initiatives beyond the conference in their side event, “Beyond Rio+20: A global youth movement for Sustainable Development.” Two Sri Lankan ministries will also be collaborating to address ways in which North-South partnerships can strengthen and support youth participation in the global sustainable development movement after Rio+20 in their event, “Enabling Youth in bridging Rio+20 outcome beyond 2015”.

Have you heard of any other exciting youth led initiatives at Rio+20? What are your thoughts on the role of young women in sustainable development? Let us know by commenting below.

To learn more about the work that Nourishing the Planet is doing with Women Deliver at Rio+20, please click here.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click here. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click here.

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