Women as a stakeholder group and new challenges for stakeholders


Minu Hemmati, Gender & Sustainable Development panel, 03 April 2002


Thank you very much for inviting me to share some thoughts on this panel.

The Johannesburg Summit process offers – or could offer - a unique opportunity to "re-engender" the debate on sustainable development, to ensure that women's concerns, needs and contributions are an integral part of reviewing the implementation of Agenda 21 (1992) and the Programme for Further Implementation (1997) as well as an integral part of forward looking analysis and decisions for the future.

The women’s movement is standing up to this challenge. Numerous initiatives are underway and being planned as well as strategies for lobbying, campaigning and awareness raising, some have been described here by our colleagues.

Sustainable development is about the three pillars, it is about good governance, it is about significant changes that need the will and effort of all – and it is about levelling the playing field (which for many is not a PLAYING field!). It is about peace and learning to integrate interests. It is about building and nurturing societies that respect any kind of differences and celebrate diversity.

And there is no way we can do this without the full and equal participation and the leadership of women.

Governments, United Nations bodies and other stakeholders can play a significant role in making this happen. And they need to stand up to this challenge.

Women are one – but one of the most significant or even the most significant – single group in society. They are a diverse and powerful group. If we cannot mobilise women for sustainable development we will fail. This can only be achieved if the process and changes are really geared to being answerable to women’s needs, their concerns, their vision.

Women will not engage in a process that once again puts up the façade of “comma, particularly women”.

Or, in Kofi Annans (1999) words: "Women are not the feel-good factors of international policy."


"Human development, if not engendered, is endangered" (Human Development Report 1995, 1). Sustainable development requires the full and equal participation of women at all levels. None of the three aspects of the goal of sustainable development can be achieved without solving the prevailing problem of gender inequality and inequity.

If we are serious about this, women need to consider in what ways and under which circumstances they will want to participate in partnership initiatives.

The Women’s Caucus has expressed its concerns about the so-called type '2 outcome documents'. These concerns include, for example:

Partnership initiatives led or driven by large corporations – trans-nationals and multinationals and their linkage to the UN. This is linked to criticism towards the UN Global Compact where women have for a long time expressed the same concerns as many NGOs.

Inequity in so-called “partnerships”, and this again, by the nature of the game, concerns partnerships with large corporations.

The former is related to a general lack of consensus-oriented debate on the role of governments vis-à-vis stakeholders, the lack of transparency regarding some stakeholders’ influence on policy-making, the need for a re-affirmation of governmental and intergovernmental leadership, and the strengthening if the few and precious democratic institutions (particularly internationally).

The latter is linked to the fact that there are indeed immense power gaps between stakeholders, at all levels.


Women’s experience with inequity extends over eons.

Women’s experience with inventing and using varius mechanisms to overcome inequity and inequality is equally vast.

Their experience with putting inequality on the table is equally impressive.


I believe that the involvement of women lends a number of very important resources and requirements to partnerships – multi-stakeholder processes – collaborative stakeholder action:

Quality – women add particular experiences and knowledge of issue areas, eg water, energy, consumption, waste management, traditional knowledge etc etc.

Representativeness: more often than not, you need women at the table to be able to represent significant components – perspectives, experiences, needs, expertise.

Credibility: any partnership will, in its development and practice, gain credibility if it is an effort of groups and organisations that do not represent the same interests. People know that collaborating across interests groups is difficult, the result of identifying the common ground and building trust, often the result of compromise. All of that, if done in an equitable, transparent and democratic manner, will create results that gain respect and are more likely to be seen as legitimate than efforts, work programmes, and projects that are undertaken by one group.

Handling inequality: I have mentioned women's experience with dealing with inequity and inequality. Among women, you will find many who are willing and able to analyse inequities and address them openly and constructively.

Outreach: women’s networks extend to all places in the world, women are connected more than any major group, in all cultures.


Therefore, I believe that women should continue their multiple approach to change:

Maybe a dual approach - with many facets – will serve us well here as it does elsewhere:

1.       being on the inside: participating in policy-making, rising to the ranks of decision-making, playing a significant role in partnerships for the implementation of sustainable development agreements

2.       being on the outside: unpicking the current discourse, outlining the fundamental injustice in our global society as much as within individual societies


In short, I believe that women will not only participate. They will lead.

They will have to lead. And smart are those who acknowledge, welcome and further women’s leadership.

Thank you.