the WSSD Women's Caucus

at the
World Summit on Sustainable Development 

Johannesburg South Africa 
4 September 2002

The more things change the more they remain the same. Ten years ago in the Rio process, the last paragraph to be negotiated related to women's rights. Last night at 1:00 AM, governments finally reached agreement on paragraph 47-and once again the issue was women's rights. This attempt at regression was unworthy of the solemn task we undertake here.

Women's issues as a whole have at times seemed invisible in this summit on implementation. Once again women-here in Johannesburg, like millions more in every corner of the world-are forced daily to struggle for a reaffirmation and the implementation of commitments that were agreed to by governments in the last decade.

We insist as always, on being heard and being taken seriously. We demand that health issues and human rights be negotiated on merit and not reduced to procedure: Because sustainable development, we maintain, can only be achieved in a rights-based framework.

Women salute the solidarity of our colleagues and friends inside and outside the negotiations-in the rooms and the corridors and on the streets-as our actions intensified in the last 24 hours. We are particularly appreciative of the major groups-the trade unions, indigenous peoples, educators, youth and energy advocates- and the many government delegates and members of the UN staff and security forces who have supported us.

Though we feel some measure of success on the issue of women's right to health services, we weigh this against the unnecessary time and energy we have all been forced to expend to hold ground. Women have made other gains, most notably, the right to inherit land and sanitation targets. And women have also helped to hold back WTO excesses and inch forward corporate accountability.

But we still have a long way to go. The final outcomes from this Johannesburg meeting have failed to establish the multilateral institutions and resources necessary to transfer the words into action.

There is a great and growing disconnect between the statements of the heads of government and the negotiated text of their countries. Without a prevailing honesty, without an urgent acknowledgement of the crises that surround us-HIV/AIDS, famine, increasing poverty, unjust financial and trade rules, unbearable debt, war and growing militarism-how are we going to achieve a healthy, peaceful and just planet?

Our successes are only a small measure of what needs to be done but what we know is that a better world IS possible, and in the words of Bella Abzug, the Women's Caucus Pioneer, "Never underestimate the power of women, working together with men, to make it happen."

Finally, let us commit to a world that genuinely joins the efforts of women and men, developed and developing countries, determined to act, to create a sustaining and sustainable development for all, especially the poor, the majority of whom are women.