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WECF Report from Budapest – June 2004

More than 100 women from 25 countries of the WECF network came to Budapest to take part in the Health and Environment Conferences. Much happened...

08.07.2004 |Sonja Haider




100 women of the WECF network from 25 pan-European countries came to Budapest to take part in the Ministerial Conference on Children’s Health & Environment, in the NGO Healthy Planet Forum, in the WECF network conference “Our Common Future”, and in the Hungarian Women’s Day on Chemicals and Health.

1.    Ministerial Conference on Health and Environment (23 – 25 June)

During the Budapest Conference with the motto „The Future of our Children“ 1000 delegates from 50 pan-European countries discussed the prepared documents (Ministerial Declaration, Children´s Environment and Health Action Plan CEHAPE; Framework of Actions). In our view the „political highlight“ was that the Minister of Environment of Denmark until the very last moment insisted on having a paragraph in the ministerial declaration saying that countries will “enact a general ban on phthalates in children’s toys made from soft PVC”. After long negotiations the compromise now calls on manufacturers to stop placing on the market products containing substances that harm, or may harm, children. Relevant authorities should "consider all legal measures addressing phthalates" it goes on. Use of fragrances in children's products should be evaluated."

Outcomes: The conference didn’t produce a legally binding document. Nevertheless, WECF used the opportunity to try and get commitments from governments on two main issues „chemicals“ in daily products and how they are dangerous particularly for children, and also eco-sanitation as a solution for the 150 million people in the NIS without safe drinking water and sanitation. Our combined activities significantly increased WECF’s visibility. We were able to invite officials such as the EU-commissioner Margot Wallström, the Secretary of State of the Environment of the Netherlands, the Director of the Ministry of Environment of Ukraine, the Health Minister of Russia and the Health Minister of Tadjikistan to our exhibition stand and discussed with them about chemicals, eco-sanitation and many other issues.

Keynote speech from Sascha Gabizon about Housing and Health (23 June)

In her 5 minute speech during the plenary session, addressing the one thousand government delegates, Sascha Gabizon, Director of WECF, called the attention to two urgent topics:
-    Plastic waste-burning indoors
-    Toxic chemicals in our homes

Plastic: With increasing poverty in rural areas in NIS and CEE countries, the burning of plastic waste in home stoves seems to have become very common. Hardly anybody seems to know that plastic waste can contain chlororganic compounds such as PVC, which, when burned, can emit dioxins. Dioxins are the most toxic to humans, they accumulate in our bodies and we give them to our children, causing great health problems. Governments need to take measures to ban plastics containing chlororganic compounds from the market.

Toxic homes: Many chemical substances are used in home  products such as furniture, flooring and electric appliances, for example brominated flame retardants, which have been doubling in our bodies every 5 years. Brominated flame retardants are as dangerous as PCBs, but hardly anybody knows this. Governments should introduce better chemicals legislation, which will inform consumers and down-stream industries of the health dangerous of such chemicals so that we can avoid them in our daily lives.

Round Table with Ministers and Civil Society (24 June)

Together with Genon Jensen of EPHA, Sascha Gabizon organised the Roundtable between eight Ministers and eight Civil Society representatives, session eight of the plenary sessions. All of them presented an action already being implemented by their country or organisation and which are an example of how to implement the CEHAPE. WECF’s members from Ukraine and Romania spoke about water and air pollution and need for public participation in decision-making. WECF’s partners from local authorities and science called on governments to strengthen the proposed EU chemicals legislation REACH. The Industry representative of H&M Sweden explained how their company is taking dangerous chemicals out of children’s clothes, and that REACH would help them. Many of the delegates attending the session said they had found it the most interesting session of the entire conference.
Outcome: The practical examples brought all the words of the documents alive. The messages were very strong and motivating. Many delegates said this was the most interesting session of the conference!

Press action WECF „Stop polluting our children“ (24. June 04)
WECF organised a silent appeal with 40 women and some men wearing T-Shirts with „Stop polluting our children“, handed out badges, tea-mugs and press-releases. The Environment Minister of Hungary and Ms. Wallström supported and posed with us for press-photos. The „star“ of the action was 4-month old Carlotta – the conference`s youngest participant, daughter of WECF financial director Annemarie Mohr!
Outcome: The press action was covered by Hungarian television and journalists from the UK. The WHO secretariat used a photo of our event and of baby Carlotta as the final image of the Ministerial conference projected on the big screen in the plenary.

WECF Exhibition. WECF paid for an exhibition stand and invited MAMA-86 Kiev, WASTE Netherlands and Eco-San Vienna to participate. The exhibition focussed on ecological sanitation.
Outcomes: As the stand was very central and a place where many people met, we managed to raise a lot of interest for Eco-sanitation. WECF’s member Muborak Sharipova continuously brought us Ministers from NIS countries so we could explain the concept to them.

2.    Healthy Planet Forum (22 – 25 June)

The parallel NGO Forum was logistically organised by the Regional Environment Center Hungary (REC), the programme was mainly prepared by WECF and EPHA with support from Greenpeace. Sessions and workshops were organized on chemicals, water and air. Due to the fact, that hardly any funding for NGOs was available, the number of participants was very limited. WECF brought the largest number of NGOs. Many thanks to WECF and all it’s members for co-organising many of the plenary sessions and workshops, for chairing them and for reporting from the Ministerial conference.
Outcomes: During the closing session with Ms. Wallström, many WECF members could present their concerns and wishes. Ms Wallström invited the NGOs to start working step by step on issues where immediate health effects are proven, such as banning lead from petrol, which is still common in all the NIS. In the closing session the NGOs concluded that at the next ministerial conference (in 5 years) the NGO forum should take place in the same building.


3. Hungarian Chemicals Day (26 June)

WECF organised together with Hungary's "Large Families Association" and "Clean Air Action" a training day for Hungarian Women's Organisations on hazardous chemicals in daily life. Fifty participants took part in the full day event on Saturday 26th of June. It was an interactive training day with a mixture of presentations and workshops. The training day was made possible thanks to support of the DG Education, EEB and Rousing Trust. The power point presentations can be downloaded.
Outcome: Our Hungarian partners were very good in identifying and inviting Hungarian women’s NGOs and the speakers have done a fantastic job to introduce the issue of chemicals. The participants were very interested and motivated to do future actions. The action was shown on Hungary’s main TV channel TV2 (4 min), on DUNA TV and interviews carried out with the organisers on two local TV stations. The conference was also reported on by 3 radio station and in 3 newspapers.

4.    WECF network conference “Our Common Future” (26 – 28 June)
Our main sponsor the European Commission (DG Education and Culture) made it possible to hold WECF’s 2nd network conference “Our Common Future” with 100 women of member organisations from 25 pan-European countries. The presentations of European Women´s Lobby (EWL), of promoting an intercultural dialogue and the Gender workshop taught us many new insights and tools. Presentations by WECF members from Romania presented the challenges on working with different ethnic groups and over-coming prejudices, using the experience of work with Roma communities. Additional during workshops on toxic chemicals, agriculture and rural development, water and sanitation experience, cooperation and plans were discussed. 2 excursions were organised, to an organic farm and to an ecological waste water treatment plant. These gave good examples how to put theory in the praxis.
A theatre workshop on how to use theatre for environmental and gender education lead to a final ‘theatrical event’ in which all the participants took part. Relationships were built or deepened. We could sharing experiences, strengthening the network and created a workplan with joint project ideas and concrete steps for the upcoming years.

Outcome: The WECF network was strengthened, very positive momentum to create new projects. Best cases and lessons shared.