by Mimi Melles, Manager, International Youth Activist Network
The UN Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20, recently came to a close. The conference offered an opportunity for world leaders and activists to come together to "shape how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet to get to the future we want." Going into the Rio conference, Advocates for Youth and many civil society organizations were committed to ensuring that the outcomes acknowledged the inextricable connections between environmental sustainability, gender equity, and young people's sexual and reproductive health AND rights.
You also showed your commitment. Over 1,200 of you signed a petition to ask that youth sexual and reproductive health and rights issues be included in the Rio+20 outcome document.
Unfortunately, some governments bowed to pressure from religious conservatives. The United States, Norway, Finland, other governments, and organizations including Advocates for Youth fought hard to keep language on youth, reproductive rights, and gender equality; but the Holy See (the Vatican) led an opposition that ultimately prevailed in removing key sections of such language.
Many of us — particularly those advocating on behalf of women, children, and youth — are very troubled and angry at the outcome of Rio+20. Many have spoken up about their disappointment, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who underscored the need to ensure women's reproductive rights to attain sustainable development.
But we're also inspired — by the movement within governments and among civil society that recognizes the importance of gender equity, youth, and reproductive rights within the context of sustainable development. And by youth activists like Leo, who spoke about youth global activism and youth rights at Rio+20. And by our network of youth activists like you, who signed the Rio petition in record numbers.
The story doesn't end here. There will still be many opportunities to advocate for the inclusion of youth sexual and reproductive health and rights in discussions of sustainable development. Now more than ever, the Time is Now to mobilize and take action so that these critical connections are recognized and acted upon in future negotiations at the global and country levels. Read blog posts from youth activists at the Rio Conference, and stay tuned for new opportunities to speak out, mobilize, and take action leading up to November's United Nations Climate Change Conference in Doha!