‘The main issue is equality of opportunities’: Rio+20 interview with Sabina Anokye-Mensah, Voice of African Mothers

CIVICUS speaks to Dr Sabina Anokye-Mensah from Voice of African Mothers (VAM) on her expectations for Rio+20. As a civil society organisation and organising partner for the conference's Women Major Group, VAM advocates for women's education and empowerment in the African continent. She speaks about the challenges that arise from the concept of the green economy concept, and the tensions that currently face governments in the adoption of a rights-based approach.

What are your expectations from Rio+20?

The results of Rio+20 are expected to guide the actions of governments and the UN regarding the issue of sustainable development in the following years. Following from the conference I expect a cordial and improved relationship between governments, civil society, major groups, private sector and all stakeholders, so that the collaboration will provide a system of economic and environmental activities related to the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services, which create the opportunity for men, women, boys and girls to live in harmony with nature and be treated equally. Rio+20 results should strengthen sectoral linkages between agencies to ensure the use of the green economy as one of the means toward the achievement of the three pillars of sustainable development.

The results should determine the direction and future to be followed by the multilateral system in dealing with the current social, economic and environmental challenges.

What do feel are the key elements of a green economy and the major impediments to it?

The green economy comprises policies and instruments to exploit natural resources in support of and in contribution to sustainable development goals. The key elements of a green economy have the potential to create sustainable employment for men, women, boys and girls that can reduce poverty and help attain desired economic and social growth in energy, transport, food security, access to emerging green goods and services, agriculture, urban management, water and sustainable cities. The major impediment is in policies to direct affairs and strict implementation of agreed principles, treaties and conventions. The resources and technology transfer needed to drive the implementation of action plans are also lacking or limited.

There is tension between civil society and governments on the adoption of a human rights based approach in the Rio+20 outcome documents. Do you see a way out of the impasse?

The way forward is to join hands and work together on  a rights-based approach to sustainable development governance as a way of ensuring that inter- and intra-generational equity and justice are central considerations in the reform agenda at Rio+20 and beyond.

Appreciation of informal work, especially women’s unpaid work and care work, as well as gender equality recognition, could be a way out of the situation. The special qualities that exist for men, women, boys and girls must be brought to bear on the environment so that society benefits. The main issue is equality of opportunities, which would make men, women, boys and girls benefit equally from the development process by highlighting the impacts of public policy on the real situation of these groups. This can be equated to true democracy in development processes, by ensuring inclusiveness of processes by all.

How is Voices of African Mothers engaging with Rio+20?

Voices of African Mothers (VAM) is one of the organising partners that coordinates the participation of the Major Group for Women (WMG) in preparations and activities planned for Rio+20. VAM has consulted with networks to prepare written inputs on the result-oriented activities of women relevant to the themes of a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development, as well as emerging issues as identified by member states in the preparatory process.

VAM has consulted with networks and identified participants with diverse expertise and knowledge of the themes of Rio+20 to serve on the WMG delegations and as panellists during dialogue sessions. VAM has also organised, managed and disseminated data on the major groups and Rio+20.

VAM has consulted with networks and nominated a number of representatives from developing countries and countries with economies in transition, whose participation has been funded by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA).

Furthermore, VAM has coordinated and facilitated the participation of women delegations throughout the Rio+20 preparatory process, meetings of the Preparatory Committee, Regional Preparatory Meetings and intercessional meetings, working in collaboration with other partners and major group sectors.

The inputs of the WMG contributed during the Rio+20 preparatory processes have been captured in the compilation document which is serving as a basis for the preparation of a zero draft of the outcome document.

VAM has promoted economic empowerment and equality of women through resource production depending on the needs of women through vocational training and the development of business skills. Forums are provided where health personnel are invited to provide education in the areas of preventive healthcare, nutrition, hygiene, pre-adolescent pregnancy and family planning. This is done through the organisation of workshops, seminars and conferences with the aim of educating and sharing information and experiences. VAM organised a national consultation workshop in 2006 on the Millennium Development Goals, and has also built a Montessori School in Kumasi, Ghana, and cultivated farms in the Volta and Brong Ahafo regions of Ghana.