Our Story

In 2011-2012, WEDO is celebrating its twentieth anniversary! Visit the WEDO20+ pages for stories, photos, video and more! READ our NEWEST Historical Publication Celebrating Momentum and Milestones: A WEDO History of Women’s Organizing Toward a Healthy and Peaceful Planet.

In 1979, Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Brownie Ledbetter and other extraordinary women leaders incorporated Women USA; in the early 1990s, out of that convening and in the interest of particularly influencing the upcoming Earth Summit, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) emerged. WEDO was legally established in 1991 by former U.S. Congresswoman Bella Abzug (1920-1998) and feminist activist and journalist Mim Kelber (1922-2004). Its visionary founding committee included Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai of Kenya, Thais Corral of Brazil and Vandana Shiva of India. Click here to learn more about WEDO’s pioneers.

Since its inception, WEDO has been considered a trailblazer in organizing women for international conferences and actions. In 1991, WEDO organized the World Women’s Congress for a Healthy Planet, bringing together more than 1,500 women from 83 countries to work jointly on a strategy for the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), more commonly known as the Earth Summit, held in early 1992.

The result was Women’s Action Agenda 21, an outline for a healthy and peaceful planet that was the basis for integrating gender equality issues in the official UNCED final documents, Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration. This was an amazing feat that quickly positioned WEDO as a leader for promoting international women’s rights – particularly on environmental issues.

Since then, WEDO has built on that experience by mobilizing women’s participation to advance women’s perspectives at the UN and other fora. Throughout the 1990s, WEDO played a key role in ensuring that gender was included in the outcomes of major UN conferences. In the 2000s, WEDO elaborated thematic expertise in areas such as water, corporate accountability and women’s political participation.

Today, still focused on and nurturing the interlinkages between women’s rights and leadership, sustainable development and good global governance, WEDO recognizes that policy commitments alone are not enough to improve women’s daily lives. WEDO is working to support national governments to turn ‘words into action,’ collaborating more deeply with Southern partners on implementing global policy gains at the national level and holding governments accountable to their commitments on women’s rights.

In 2006, WEDO was recognized with the Champion of the Earth award by UNEP, citing WEDO as “a champion in the field of women’s economic, social and gender rights and a beacon for the empowerment of women across the environmental and development debate.”

In 2010, WEDO was recognized by the National Council for Research on Women for its transformative advocacy work on gender and climate change.