Speech Women for a comon future in Europe

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Dilemmas and contradictions in political strategies towards a sustainable future.

Women are essential in the implementation of agenda 21. Over the last 10 years women have carried out many excellent initiatives for sustainable development. In many regions women were the main catalyst for sustainable development. But successful local initiatives often stand little change against the forces of globalisation and weak international agreements at government level.

Coherence in international sustainable development, human rights and poverty eradication policies has to be taken very seriously. Work on a national level for national environment can simply not be successful if it fails to take into accounts the issues and dimensions of global sustainable development. The air that we breathe in Prague is the same air we breathe in The Hague or elsewhere. Whatever is destroyed in the habitat in and around the capital of Moldova will have an impact, sooner or later, on the habitat in Prague or The Hague and vice-versa.

Today I will talk about dilemmas and contradictions in political strategies towards a sustainable future on 4 dimensions:
1. Green Left policies.
2. National political strategies: the example of the sustainable development agreements.
3. European political strategies: the case of the flower industry in Kenya.
4. International political strategies: the interrelationship between population growth, sustainable development and ecological sustainability.
I will conclude with some ideas, suggestions of how to get more women in the decision-making process.

Dilemma’s of a Green Left party
My party links left politics with ecological or green politics. In fact the very name of the party is a reflection of this linking process. An effective cooperation between the left and the environmental movement requires not only a profound transformation of left politics but also of ecological thinking. Ecological politics can’t bypass the core issues addressed by left politics. This is especially true for the central theme of left discourse: social equity, justice and human rights. For example, the ecological question how to deal with our natural resources is unavoidably linked to the question who should benefit from the use of these resources.
Or in other words, Green politics may have intended or unintended consequences for either oriented to diminishing or enhancing the structural inequalities of society. Awareness of these consequences is necessary in order to develop a sustainable collaboration between Green and Left.
Same objectives concerning sustainable development, i.e. ecological sustainability, may be incompatible with objectives concerning social justice and equity and it may be very difficult to develop satisfying solutions. What we needs is a constant awareness.

Dilemma’s and contradictions in national political strategies
The Rio conference in 1992 shaped Agenda 21, a very ambitious programme of action that fully recognised the necessity of working for the goals of sustainable development in cooperation with civil society and local governments. In fact the main part of the Agenda 21 addresses issues to be taken up at the local level.
Our former minister of development cooperation, Jan Pronk, initiated three sustainable development treaties at the national level between Benin, Costa Rica, Bhutan and the Netherlands. The governments agreed to establish long-term cooperation between their countries based on equality, reciprocity and participation. Sustainable development was more than the fight against poverty, more than development cooperation.
It asks for international cooperation and for cohesion through an integrated consideration of economic, social and ecological aspects between different actors in society.

To live up to the goals in these treaties has not been easy. The idea of reciprocal development partnerships in the form of a treaty instrument was an important breakthrough in the thinking about development co-operation. No longer was development co-operation only foreign aid. This was a shock for some Dutch political parties.


The idea that people in Benin, Bhutan or Costa Rica could formulate critical questions about the way in which the Netherlands deals with issues of airport pollution, noise, agriculture issues or issues of governance and democratic participation, was almost appalling for them.

Last year the sustainable development agreements were evaluated. The evaluation was not bad. The problems encountered arose from trying to implement new ideas with old rules. The evaluators advised the Dutch Parliament to continue the experiment and proposed some changes concerning financial arrangements and institutional rules. Sustainable development was an integrated approach and in need of expanding its activities to other ministries. Our minister of Development never believed in the agreements. What she finally proposed to parliament was not a broadening up of the agreements, but narrowed it down to development issues. In other words poverty reduction.
In a way this is a betrayal of a new approach towards sustainable development. That is a pity but a political reality too. Green Left will keep on fighting for real sustainable development agreements.

Dilemmas and contradictions on a European level.
I will give you the example of the flower industry in Kenya. I could also have given you the example of the oil pipeline in Chad and Cameroon. It is all about ecological sustainability, poverty reduction and social justice.

The flower industry in Kenya supplies about 40% of the flowers imported to Europe and employs about 50,000 people. The industry is comparatively high tech: flowers are grown in plastic greenhouses under drip irrigation with heavy use of chemicals. Because of the huge set up costs and technology involved there is no use of small family out growers. The flowers are flown daily either directly to supermarket chains in Britain and Germany or to the vast flower auction in Amsterdam.
Most of the firms are either British or Dutch owned and have foreign managers. This industry has grown up in the last ten years and is expanding. It currently generates some $110 million a year in revenue. The main competitors outside Europe are Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Israel. Most of the workers (up to 90%) are women.

There is widespread use of casual labour employment terms, which means people are taken on for three months, then fired and hired again on the same terms. Some workers have worked for ten years like this.
This means not only that they are paid low wages but also they have no rights whatever, especially for organising. About 60% of the 50,000 workers in the industry are employed like this.
There is massive use of pesticides and other agro-chemicals with little or no protective clothing. Women report barrenness and blindness as a result. Pesticides accumulate more in women's bodies than men's because of more fatty tissue. This has implications for not only breast feeding but also foetus development.

There is systematic sexual harassment. The proportion of men to women on the flower farms may be twenty women to one man. Men occupy the powerful positions, and demand sexual favours from women in return for 'protection' and job security.

AIDS is rampant.

Child labour does not appear to be a direct problem, but workers testified that some children under sixteen do work and falsify their ages. However, the most serious child issue is that the very low wages (less than a dollar a day for casual workers) means that they cannot afford to send their children to school, and the children therefore may well be engaged in child labour outside the farms.

What to do with these facts. Here we see the tension between ecology and economy, between men and women, between environment conservation and survival, between ecological sustainability and social equity and justice. What to do?

The flower industry in Kenya appears to represent the good and bad sides of globalisation. On the one hand it does provide work for 50,000 Kenyans. On the other hand their conditions would not be acceptable to workers in Europe, and it seems like another example of multinational business going where the labour is cheap and easily manipulated. It is not clear how much of the total profits end up in Kenya.

The EU should demand certain labour standards of the countries it imports from. The present labour standards and environmental standards are not acceptable at all. The EU should, in close cooperation with the ILO, local unions, employers and NGO’s in Kenya make agreements about ethical trading and demand proper ethical corporate responsibility in the firms it imports from. Together they could provide training to the workers and set up development programs in order to send the children to schools and built health clinics. The environmental effects should be taken into the price of the flowers.
Green Left made an initiative law (together with NGO’s) about corporate responsibility and ethical trading.

Before ending the first part of my presentation, I would like to say a few words about the interrelationship between population growth, sustainable development and ecological sustainability.
It is a very important issue and needs to be properly addressed.

Population stabilization, a term used by many environmental organizations, implies declining population rates over time, in other words population reduction.
Traditionally, environmental groups have stressed population control to reduce environmental degradation. Not much attention is given for the health and well being of the women they want to influence to have fewer children. But we know that population growth is now agreed to be only one of the multiple and complex factors that have led to global/environmental degradation. In fact, it is the consumption of the North, the industrialized countries –US, Europe, Japan- that consumes most resources and degrade the environment most.
Anti-immigrant and population control forces use words like ecological sustainability, economic security, human rights and environmentally sustainable consumption, not for the well-being of the people but to get arguments to halt immigration, on a national level. On a global level draconian one-child family policies are proposed. Hardly a women’s health and human rights agenda.
We should be very sceptical and very alert when there is talk about population reduction. It is not women who are the problem, they have a problem. Many of them still struggle to get better access to sexual and reproductive health services. Quite often men are the problem for women. They also have a problem.
Population is not about numbers. Population is about people.

It is particularly troubling to note that in many developing countries maternal mortality rates remain extremely high, with an estimation of 500,000 deaths per year, many of them due to unsafe abortions. This increase can be attributed to lack of access to reproductive health information and services, which leads to unwanted pregnancies and increased prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. The increase has occurred mainly among the young age and prime-age groups.

Other crucial challenges exist, among them, gender related issues such as multiple forms of violence, rape, trafficking of young girls and adolescents, and domestic violence, all of which are widespread. Also in the countries in Europe.
Facts we all know, facts we all say we want to change. It is also a fact that the support, as agreed on at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo to address these issues, is not forthcoming.

I call on all the women present here to press your governments to fulfil their financial commitments made in Cairo to the implementation of the Program of Action.

I come to the second part of my speech. It won’t be long.
It is very important from the principles of equity and justice that women play a role in the decision-making process.
This means that we should work within our political parties, that we should have equal representation of women. Not only at local levels, but also at national and international levels. A gender balanced representation is not something that falls out of the air. One has to fight for it, put the issue on the table constantly. Even in my party - a party which is very much aware of this issue - a gender-balanced representation, this is not always a given.

In the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe we have a women’s group within the socialist group and a committee on Equal opportunities between women and men. We are working hard together. I will give you some examples.
The examination of representation in the political institutions of the Council of Europe member countries has shown that women are very under-represented and this under-representation is reflected in the composition of national delegations to the Parliamentary Assembly. That is why I made a motion for a resolution proposing to change the Assembly Rules of Procedure with a view to ensure the gender balance principle in the work of the Assembly.

More concrete to change some rules to ensure a fair gender representation in national delegations, insisting on a minimum 30% representation of women in each delegation. If this rule is not respected the Assembly shall not ratify the credentials of this delegation. Until now there are 5 national delegations composed exclusively of male parliamentarians.
To respect the principal of gender equality in the composition of the Bureau and to ensure that all reports preparing by the committees should take gender dimension into consideration and this should be reflected in all resolutions, recommendations and orders. This resolution will be discussed in June. It is not sure at all that it will be accepted, but it is a way of trying to pursue our goals.

The committee of Equal Opportunities for Women and Men made many reports. One of them is the report Demographic change and sustainable development. Currently we are working on a report on the State of the world population. Out of this comes a visit to the US, where female parliamentarians from Europe will discuss with US senators the impact of President Bush decision to cut funds to non governmental organizations which are engaged on abortion related activities. This has a worldwide impact on women. Considering that of the 380 women who became pregnant every minute, 190 of them did not wish to become pregnant, 110 will suffer from pregnancy-related complications and 40 will have an unsafe abortion.

These, in short, are issues I wanted to address to you today.
Issues, which don’t have a simple solutions.
Issues where dilemma’s like ecological sustainability, human rights, social equity and social justice play a role.
Issues where it is important to hear women’s voices.
Issues where women word wide needs each other in order to find solutions.

Networking is what we are doing here in Prague.
It is good to have these networks, on a local level, a national level and an international level. If women want to make a change we have to combine our efforts, we have to work together.

Networking - for me - means to give and to take.
I gave you some of my views. In return I would love to take a motion for recommendations made by you which I can take along to the Council of Europe.
A motion for a recommendation to ask the committee of ministers in the Council of Europe for a coherent, integrated strategy by the member states of the Council of Europe towards a sustainable future.

Ans Zwerver, Prague 15 March 2002

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