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Rio+20: Key Messages

The following are suggested messages for Every Woman Every Child partners to utilize in the context of Rio+20, based upon publications, speeches, fact sheets and submissions  to the negotiation process by UN agencies and partners.

People must be at the center of sustainable development


  • The world has over 7 billion inhabitants; a figure that could reach over 9 billion by 2050. Principle 1 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development affirms that “Human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development”.  Now, more than ever, it is critical for the global community to pursue a people-centered development approach to ensure a sustainable future.

  • Taking a rights-based approach to sustainable development, as agreed in the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action, is essential for the health and prosperity of our future generations.  To make real and lasting change, we must strive to reduce poverty, improve health and education and achieve gender equality – with an emphasis on equity and reaching the world’s most vulnerable, including women and children.

  • Investing in the health and education of women and children will reduce child and maternal mortality, slow population growth and break vicious cycles of poverty.

Healthy women and children are agents of sustainable development

  • Principle 20 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development affirms that “women have a vital role in environmental management and development.  Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development.”  Furthermore, many women in developing countries are the primary users of water, food, land and other natural resources.  For them to become powerful agents of change – for economic, social and environmental development – they must be empowered and healthy, two critical components of a more sustainable future.

  • The empowerment of women and girls is not only an important goal in its own right – it is also a critical component of sustainable development.  When women thrive, there is an economic ripple effect across entire families, communities and nations.

  • Education is one of the most important long-term investments for greater prosperity.  With half of the world’s population under the age of 25, educating youth is crucial to ensuring a sustainable and prosperous future.  Girls who have access to education tend to marry later and have fewer children, protecting their health and enabling them to fulfill their potential.

  • Promoting women’s health, and the health of their children, is a cornerstone of creating a sustainable, stable and prosperous future. Research shows that healthy women work more productively, and spend more money on food, housing, education and income-generating activities, all of which reduce poverty levels and promote sustainable development, including greater national productivity and higher GDP.

  • Efforts to achieve Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG 5) – reducing maternal mortality and ensuring universal access to reproductive health and family planning – allow women to take control of their future and the future of their families.

  • Ensuring universal access to family planning for the 215 million women around the world who want, but do not have access to, modern contraception, is not only essential for reducing child and maternal mortality, but also allows women to have smaller families, if they so choose.  This, in turn, promotes human development and wellbeing, and lessens the collective global strain on our vital natural resources such as water, land and food.   If all women had access to family planning who wanted it we would avert 53 million unwanted pregnancies, 640,000 newborn deaths and 150,000 maternal deaths.

  • Measuring, tracking and reporting on women’s and children’s health, including the 11 indicators outlined by the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health, is essential not only for improved health outcomes, but measuring progress across the pillars of sustainable development, including poverty reduction.

Sustainable development drives women’s and children’s health and the goals of the Global Strategy

  • Robust sustainable development policies that take into account the health of women and children are urgently needed to ensure that we can meet the goals of the UN Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.

  • Every Woman Every Child puts into action the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, which presents a roadmap on how to enhance financing, strengthen policy and improve service on the ground for the most vulnerable women and children.  The movement has brought together key actors under one umbrella and integrated their objectives and programs into one coherent approach to advance MDGs 4 and 5, related to children’s and maternal health, respectively.

  • To date, partners have made over 200 commitments, which will ensure more health and sustainability for the money, through better and more focused use of all available resources.  They also represent more money for health and sustainability, taking a major step towards filling the gap between the investment needed and what is currently provided for women's and children's health – with an estimated US$40 billion in funding already committed over the next five years.


  • 3 billion people around the world currently use wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste to cook and heat their homes, exposing themselves and their families to harmful emissions and causing 2 million premature deaths per year – with women and girls the most affected. 

  • Exposure to smoke from traditional cookstoves can cause pneumonia, an acute respiratory infection that affects the lungs, is the leading cause of death of children under 5, and kills an estimated 1.4 million children per year – more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

  • Achieving the goals of the Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative, including access to clean, renewable energy sources through solutions such as the use of clean cookstoves, will improve women’s and children’s health, empowerment, education, literacy, and nutrition, all of which will contribute to a more sustainable future for themselves and their families.

  • Improving access to energy, specifically electricity, is essential for reducing maternal mortality rates, as it allows for the provision of health care services in clinics, storage of vaccines and medication, and illumination of roads so women can safely access health facilities and services.


  • Sustainable access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation is essential for the basic health of women and children.  Global efforts to advance sustainable development must include the education of women and children about sanitation and improve access to safe drinking water.

  • Dirty water and inadequate sanitation cause diseases such as diarrhea, typhoid, cholera and dysentery, especially among pregnant women, and diarrheal diseases are the second major killer of children, responsible for 15% of all under-5 deaths.

  • Infectious diseases strike the world’s most vulnerable populations – those without access to clean water, basic sanitation, or healthcare – making it difficult for these communities to lift themselves out of poverty.  In particular, one billion people worldwide – or one in seven – suffer from neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), which primarily affect poor people, especially women and children, in tropical and subtropical areas of the world.  Nine NTDs (human African trypanosomiasis, Chagas disease, lymphatic filariasis, soil-transmitted helminthiases, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, leprosy, fascioliasis, and blinding trachoma) represent more than 90% of the global NTD burden.  Currently, more than 500 million children live with these debilitating diseases, which keep them from attending school and reaching their full potential, while NTDs prevent millions of women from having successful pregnancies.


  • Agricultural productivity and food security, including targeted interventions to end hunger and child malnutrition, must be central components of a more sustainable future.

  • One in 7 people – or 925 million people around the world – are undernourished, 60% of whom are women.  In developing countries, one out of four children is underweight and 60% of all under-five deaths annually are caused by malnutrition and hunger.

  • Women account for nearly half of the agricultural work force in developing countries, but lack equal access to productive agricultural resources such as land, training, technology and credit.  If women had the same access to agricultural resources as men, they would produce 20-30% more food, raise output in developing countries by 2.5-4% and reduce the number of hungry people globally by 12-17%, helping themselves and their families enjoy enhanced nutrition, health and livelihoods.   Healthy women are producers, agents of change and drivers of sustainable development.


  • Each year, an estimated 226 million people are affected by disasters, and women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men, making the protection of the environment essential for their health and safety.

  • It is important to ensure that women’s and children’s health, including reproductive health, is a component of disaster preparedness plans in order to ensure their health and wellbeing is not forgotten in times of crisis.


  • Globally, 1.3 billion workers earn less than $2 a day and 190 million people are unemployed.

  • Women’s unpaid work – farming, managing their homes, caring for their children and others – accounts for an estimated one-third of the world’s Gross National Product.

  • Productive employment and decent jobs for women are essential for their empowerment and the health and stability of their families, making this a central component of sustainable development.


  • 828 million people currently live in slums, a number which is increasing, and it is estimated that 60% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2030.

  • Clean, efficient cities, which include easily accessible healthcare facilities and services, are indispensable for the health, prosperity and wellbeing of future generations.


  • Over half of the world’s population lives near a coastline, making them vulnerable to rising sea levels resulting from global warming.

  • To protect the health and livelihoods of people living near the ocean, particularly women and children, we must prevent environmental degradation as part of a more sustainable future. 

Post-2015 Development Agenda

  • Given women’s indispensable role as agents of sustainable development, their health and empowerment must remain a central component of a post-2015 development framework and all future sustainable development policies must incorporate a gender perspective.

  • In recent years, we have made tremendous progress toward improving the health and wellbeing of women and children around the world, but we cannot become complacent.

  • We urgently need continued political will and financing to ensure that we build on the progress we have made and that we do not lose ground.

  • Investing in women’s and children’s health is not only the right thing to do; it is also the smart thing to do to ensure a sustainable future for us all.