Around the Institute

Open Letter to Rio+20 Negotiators

June 20, 2012  • Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health

Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso joins former heads of state of Norway, Ireland in condemning failure to include reproductive health services in strategy for sustainable development

We, all members of the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health, call on the negotiators in charge of guiding discussions at the upcoming United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development to ensure that reproductive health and voluntary family planning have a central role in any comprehensive strategy for sustainable development.

Rio+20 – known as the Earth Summit – promises to chart a course for global sustainable development that will lift people out of poverty, while preserving our environment for future generations. But negotiators working on the Summit’s outcome document are sidelining all language describing what should be a fundamental strategy for achieving these goals – access to contraception and family planning services for the 215 million women who would like to plan their families, but lack the means to do so.

Achieving universal access to reproductive health is critical for achieving sustainable development. Expanding voluntary family planning services will improve the health and wellbeing of women and their families, help slow population growth, and make it easier for governments to address the needs of their people while developing sustainably. When women are able to plan the size of their families, they and their children are healthier, better educated, and more economically productive. And when governments invest simultaneously in voluntary family planning, public health, and education, nations can benefit from the “demographic dividend” seen in the Asian Tiger countries.

There are now more than 7 billion people on the planet, and population growth is most rapid in the poorest countries. Those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change already face shortages of food and water, severe land degradation, and loss of biodiversity. Meeting the demand for family planning would reduce pressure on already-scarce resources, improve ecosystem health, and significantly reduce the number of women and children who die of causes that can be easily prevented.

Despite the links between sustainable development and reproductive health, Rio negotiators have so far buried any reference to women’s reproductive health and family planning deep in the negotiating text. We worry that it may fail to survive even the next round of negotiations.

We call on Rio negotiators to show their commitment to empowering women and to recognizing the fundamental role of reproductive health services in reaching the goals of sustainable development. The language is in the text already, or it is at the time of this writing, but it is at risk, and if it remains, its current placement deep in the text suggests the low status of reproductive health and population dynamics in shaping the strategic objectives of Rio+20. Instead, the language must be reflected in the first two sections of the negotiating document for Rio+20, demonstrating in this way that the words have meaning, and that they will be followed by action. We further call on negotiators to support the recommended amendments of the Population and Climate Change Alliance that emphasize the connection between sustainable development and universal access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning.

Including reproductive health in a comprehensive strategy for sustainable development is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. Reproductive health is an essential investment in the future we want – a future with healthy families and communities, stable societies, and abundant natural resources.


The Honorable Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Former President of Brazil

The Honorable Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland; President, Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice

The Honorable Joy Phumaphi, Former Minister of Health, Botswana; Former Vice President of Human Development, the World Bank

The Honorable Gro Harlem Brundtland, Former Prime Minister of Norway; Former Director-General, World Health Organization

Dr. Fred Sai, Former President, International Planned Parenthood Federation; Former Director of Population, World Bank

Ms. Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, Former Deputy President, South Africa

The Right Honorable Dame Jenny Shipley, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand; Vice President, Club of Madrid

[i] A shorter version of this letter was published in the Guardian Letters section on Friday, June 15


Follow @GLCRHresolve and #WomenRio