Women and young people accelerate sustainable development

2 July 2012
ITC News
This year’s International Year of Sustainable Energy for All and the 20-year anniversary of the Earth Summit, Rio+20, provide an opportunity to break down barriers and engage in creative problem solving. New technologies fuel innovative collaboration enabling collective knowledge and resources to be brought together to address problems that are too big to solve in traditional ways. The talents of multiple stakeholders, especially women and young people such as university students, can be harnessed to great effect.

According to the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report, women represent 40% of the global labour force, 43% of the world’s agricultural labour force, and more than half the world’s university students. With more than one third of the global population under the age of 28 and 75% of that population living in developing countries, both women and young people have great potential to contribute to the world’s pursuit of green economic growth. If the skills of women and students can be used more fully and channelled into activities that drive sustainability, it will be possible to achieve the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s vision of 9 billion people living well within the limits of the planet by 2050.

Signe Brewster, a senior at the University of Wisconsin and editor-in-chief of the university’s Badger Herald, tells her story of green economic growth. ‘In the mountains of Sumpango, Guatemala, I met 20-year-old Maria Fidelina, a mother of three. We spent several hours in her two-room home installing an ONIL clean cook stove that would drastically reduce indoor air pollution. Fidelina said the stove meant her children would not cough as much anymore. She also said the family could fetch and buy less wood, allowing it to have more time together and more money for food.

‘The stove was a product of HELPS International, a member of the United Nations Foundation Global Alliance for Cookstoves that takes an integrated approach to relieving poverty. Most of the benefits are handed directly to women as they are known to invest newfound resources into their families and communities. Despite being disproportionately affected by poverty, women are the force leading the way out of it.

‘The trip exposed me to how non-governmental organizations (NGOs), businesses and governmental institutions are tackling poverty. CXCatalysts, the NGO that invited me on the trip, is a collaboration accelerator for sustainable development that helps create transformative partnerships between businesses and governments. It is creating opportunities for rural women around water backpacks from the industrial packaging company Greif. It believes that if women are given the chance to earn incomes from activities that promote clean water, sustainable agriculture or waste management, they will not only become powerful agents for change, but also earn the commensurate financial rewards.

‘I returned from Guatemala more aware of the potential that partnerships among NGOs, businesses and governments can deliver. I also discovered the role I can play in creating global change. On returning to the University of Wisconsin campus, I found many of my peers were just as interested in green economic development as me. As editor of the largest independent daily campus newspaper in the United States, I can raise issues to inspire positive action. My voice matters and it will play a part in drawing the leaders of my generation to address important green economic issues.’

Brewster’s story shows the potential to address climate change and poverty, and the effect of collaboration in developing economic solutions. Such positive outcomes need to be maintained, but recommendations to Rio+20 do not include the roles women and young people can play in driving sustainable development. While these groups have been most at risk from climate change, there is an opportunity to not only address the wrongs they have suffered, but also provide the enabling frameworks and commercial opportunities that will allow women and young people to be part of an inclusive and green economy transformation. The UN Global Compact Women Empowerment Principles as well as ITC’s Global Platform for Action on Sourcing from Women are two great starting points, but more must be done.