Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF) was officially registered as a foundation in 1994 in the Netherlands following an initiative of European women to work together on sustainable development following the “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992.
Women from the European region who participated in the “Earth Summit” came together to create the network WECF because they recognized the catalyzing role women play in sustainable development as defined in the United Nations report “Our Common Future.”
The philosophy of WECF has always been to enable local project partners and network members to conduct advocacy work themselves with support from WECF, whether at local, national or international levels, thus giving a direct voices to women and marginalized groups at the environmental policy table. This approach of combined advocacy and project work proved to be very successful and has become one of the strongest distinguishing aspects of the WECF network.
During the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 women were defined as a “major group” representing an important constituency of civil society. The “Agenda 21” which resulted from the Earth Summit recognizes nine major groups: 1) Women, 2) Children&Youth, 3) Indigenous People’s, 4) Farmers, 5) Local Authorities, 6) Business&Industry, 7) Workers&Trade-Unions, 8) Environmental NGOs and 9) Science&Technology.
Despite the fact that the UN recognizes women as a “major grou”, women are still not equally involved in policy processes and continue to suffer disproportionately from poverty and the effects of the environmental degradation. The potential of women as agents of change and as important stakeholders is often neglected. The reason for this is that the gender divide due to different roles and tasks of women and men is still great and discrimination against women has not yet been eliminated in many countries. However, the reality is that women often have different priorities than men and are often more engaged in issues related to health and sustainable livelihoods. As this diversity of views and concerns needs to be reflected in policy making, WECF wishes to pave the way for increased public participation in general, and women’s participation in particular, in policy making on development, environmental and health.
WECF network activities in the larger European region
Serious inequalities persist in both Europe and the EECCA countries (Eastern Europe, Caucasus, Central Asia), in terms of health, pollution, welfare and living conditions. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the new republics faced many problems. At present there continue to be many challenges in the new EU member states and neighbouring countries. Health problems and poverty in rural areas persist and in some areas are in fact worsening due to a disintegration of basic services and lack of environmental resource management.
WECF network expanded in the period 1994 to 2010 with now over 100 member organizations from 40 countries of the EU, EECCA (Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia), South Eastern European region, including Turkey and Northern Afghanistan. WECF develops and demonstrates innovative solutions for sustainable development that are adjusted to the local culture, market and climate, based on local needs, and bring lessons learned from the field to policy makers and into regional policy processes.
WECF’s and WICF’s Work Worldwide
WECF obtained observer status to the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Committee (EcoSoc) in 1999, and has coordinated international women’s organisations input into UN policy making processes, including for the Commission on Sustainable Development, the Climate Convention, the Chemicals Conventions and the UN Environment Program (UNEP). WECF is member of the Taskforce on Health and Environment of the World Health Organisation Europe, representing environmental organisations from the European Eco-Forum. WECF is co-chair of the Women’s Major Group at UNEP. WECF is also organising partner for the Women’s Major Group at UN DESA and WECF co-chairs the Major Group Facilitating Committee at UNEP.
WECF opened its membership to organisations worldwide in 2010 and started working with partners to implement local solutions for women’s empowerment and sustainable development in Uganda, South Africa, Senegal, Chad, Tunesia, Congo Brazzaville and Congo DRC in 2011. The international network acitivities of WECF are implemented via WECF’s international division “Women International for a Common Future – WICF”.