With one year to go to the Johannesburg Summit 2002, women from Korea, China and Japan gathered to share experiences in their respective environmental movements and to evaluate post-Rio Summit accomplishments.
During the 'Northeast Asia Women's Environment Congress for Rio+10' held from September 13 to 15, participants confirmed once again that there was a long way to go before Chapter 24 of the Rio Summit Agenda 21 on integrating gender concerns and Chapter K of the Beijing+5 Women's Platform for Action are fully realized. This year's Congress will be the beginning of efforts by women from the 3 countries to reflect Northeast Asian women's position in the Johannesburg Summit next year.
Fujii Ayako, Director of the Shiga prefecture Environment Cooperative, was speaker on the first day of the Congress. She said that since the 1990s, the search for ways to recover a 'recycling society' is expanding as more and more people are becoming concerned about preserving the environment for future generations.
Ayako recalled how shocked she was upon learning that Germany attempted as early as 1973 to substitute rapeseed oil for fossil fuel. She revealed that "3 years ago, Japan's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry began a project to grow rape flowers on abandoned farmland and use rapeseed oil as cooking oil and fuel."
When it came to Agenda 21 and the Beijing+5 Platform of Action, however, participants mostly had negative things to say about how much had been realized so far.
Odah Yukiko, senior researcher with the Asia Women's Forum, explained, "Women accounted for only 21% of the employees of the Environment Agency as of September last year. Women do take up 53.2% of environmental NGOs, but most of the international relations or representative positions still belong to men." Also, 46.2% of working women are casually employed and 37.4% work only part-time, and the average working time per day for women is 525 minutes as compared to men's 491, showing that working conditions for Japanese and Korean women are quite similar.
As for Local Agenda 21, created to further Agenda 21, only 11.6% of participating local groups involved women, and a mere 2.3% of the local agenda allocated some importance to women's issues.
Senator Mataki Kyoko of Kanagawa prefecture summed up Local Agenda 21 as "nothing more than the making of a good-looking brochure."
China, with a different socioeconomic background from Japan or Korea, had a different women's environmental movement as well. With its short history of NGOs and on-going development of the western region, China is seeing the rise of environmental issues such as 'desertification,' 'Green Olympics,' and the 'green living campaign' involving waste recycling and consumption reduction.
Liao Xueli, President of the Beijing Center for Global Environment and Culture, expressed great interest in 'green living,' even suggesting the creation of a green residents' league in Asia.
Wang Mingying, executive secretary of the Shanxi Women's Association and Volunteer Mothers' Society, said, "China's western region, currently threatened by desertification, is being developed in an environmentally friendly manner for the sake of sustainable development." She explained that "China is placing considerable emphasis on educating women to break out of poverty in the course of the mammoth development project of the western region."
Zhu Xiaozeng, Deputy chief of the Social and Cultural Department of China's National Women's Association, said that "since the Rio Summit, themes such as 'women' and 'environment' have begun to gain ground in Chinese society." In particular, "the International Women's Conference in Beijing in 1995 was an important turning point in women's environmental movement, with the landmark birth of the civic group, the Beijing Center for Global Environment and Culture." Zhu went on to comment that "despite such achievements, most of the women in China have low awareness of the environment." She pointed out that "China is loaded with too many environmental hazards but too few civic groups," and said that "the government should encourage and support the establishment of more civic groups."
Korea is also lacking in many aspects in the realization of Agenda 21, such as women's poverty, participation in policy-making and mainstreaming gender concerns in the environment agenda. In the case of Ansan City, a small group of housewives are participating in the process of putting together Local Agenda 21 Korea. However, Ansan YWCA secretary Yoo Mi Hwa said that "things are not working out well despite the importance of women's participation in Local Agenda 21." She explained that this was because of "the resistance to women-related issues being included in the agenda and the lack of women workers who can be put in charge of the project."
Kim Sang Hee, leader of the forty-somethings group within the Women's Alliance for the Environment, said that "although all 3 countries are focusing on changing consumption patterns, changes are being made on a personal level, failing to change national economies into environmentally friendly systems." Kim added that "each country is searching for ways to establish women's viewpoints, induce women's participation and realize women's values in the environmental movement, but we have yet to map out a plan of action."