Women have a profound responsibility for future generations. They are the first environment, as they harbor new life. They are also the most affected by environmental issues, from toxic chemicals contaminating their bodies, to damage to their communities from climate change. Many of the solutions to these problems must be crafted by women, who carry the ecological authority to declare the rights of future generations.
Yet women’s voices are often silenced or belittled in political spheres. That’s why, in September 2012, the Science & Environmental Health Network (SEHN) co-convened the Women’s Congress for Future Generations to gather women together, lift up their voices, and crowdsource their wisdom and ideas. SEHN and our allies felt a deep sense of responsibility to map a path to a different future than the gray, overheated, polluted world that seems to lie ahead.
This effort flowed naturally from SEHN’s large body of work around the rights of future generations—work with Harvard and Vermont Law Schools to develop statutes, constitutional provisions, and model institutions to address extreme energy extraction and climate change. The Women’s Congress expanded this theoretical foundation to include women working in their own communities.
The substantive outcomes of the Women’s Congress include a living “Declaration of the Rights of Future Generations and the Responsibilities of Present Generations” which articulates, codifies, and upholds these rights and responsibilities. Through its ongoing work, the Congress aims to establish a broad-based movement to champion these ideas at all levels of government, from local communities to the United Nations.
Now, SEHN and our allies are organizing a second Women’s Congress in Minneapolis on November 7 to 9, 2014, focusing on economics and environmental issues.
The goals of the Congress are threefold: we aim to build infrastructure to help strengthen the ties between organizations; mobilize people and money to create a more just and sustainable world; and reinvent ways of measuring a healthy economy.
SEHN has partnered with several government agencies, including the City of Palo Alto, California, and the United Nations, to adopt practical tools to protect the rights of future generations. These mechanisms include a legal guardian who would review all regulations for their long-term social and ecological impact, and complete audits of the commonwealth and common health and report it to the citizenry.
We also work with economists to establish tools that can be used by governments and banks in setting budgets, deciding what development projects to fund, and creating financial protections in the case of industrial accidents. Imagine a city budget honoring the principle that we do not leave debts to future generations without corresponding assets, or a budget that truly reflected the government’s responsibility for the air, water and ecosystems.
It’s clear that we need new tools and policies that will afford those who come after us the chance for a healthy world. I call on every woman to raise her voice and claim her authority in the conversation about the future of our planet. After all, who better than women to develop a system to protect the rights of future generations to inherit a livable Earth?
Rachel’s Network Advisor Carolyn Raffensperger is executive director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, where she has worked since the organization’s founding in 1994. SEHN has been the leading proponent in the U.S. of the Precautionary Principle as a new basis for environmental and public health policy.