Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland talks sustainability, highlights women and gender-related issues and inequality

Julia Rentsch

Former director-general of the World Health Organization, medical doctor and former prime minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland, spoke on health, climate change and the environment Wednesdya in the Lory Student Center. (Photo by: Megan Fischer)
Former director-general of the World Health Organization, medical doctor and former prime minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland, spoke on health, climate change and the environment Wednesday in the Lory Student Center. (Photo by: Megan Fischer)

Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and renowned leader in global sustainable development, spoke to a crowd of hundreds Wednesday night in the Lory Student Center Grand Ballroom on the topics of sustainability, health and addressing climate change.

Brundtland’s speech was timely, given the approach of International Women’s Day, which takes place March 8. In addition to holding the distinction of being the first female Prime Minister of Norway, Brundtland considers the advocacy for the rights of women to be essential to solving numerous problems of the world, including environmental degradation.

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“Health, education, human rights, equality, a safe environment are all intrinsically interlinked, and they must all be incorporated into our efforts for sustainable development,” Brundtland said. “Investing in people’s capabilities, women as well as men, through health, education, job creation and other social services must be an integral part of any sound and sustainable development.”  

The speech also marked the official launch of a Colorado State University initiative entitled the Women and Gender Collaborative, which will be led by Cori Wong and aims to move the university closer to creating an ideal community for gender inclusiveness. 

“Discrimination against women has been… one of our crucial missions. We see it as a major weakness in the global society of today. So it is fitting that your women initiative came today,” Brundtland said. “Countries and companies with higher levels of gender equality indeed have faster growth and better performance. Many are not aware of this, so I am telling it everywhere,” she said to general laughter and applause.

Rising global inequality was also a topic Brundtland focused on; though quality of life is rising in many parts of the world, and some areas are experiencing unprecedented levels of prosperity, the gap is widening between the rich and the poor, she said.

“I believe we need to put inequality at the heart of the agenda,” Brundtland said. “The richest one percent globally are now as wealthy as the remaining 99 percent. You know these numbers from other debates about what it looks in this country, too.” 

Brundtland appeared optimistic about future improvements to global and environmental health made by young people, and stressed that all citizens must do their part to incite change.

“I think as young people, through social media, are accessing knowledge and reality, issues affecting their future lives and security, the basis can be built for more effective popular pressure, and in that for progressive and consolidated action,” Brundtland said. “This is necessary, and it is happening.”

She stressed the involvement of the U.S. in particular as a leader in the global struggle for better futures for the world’s people.

“Nothing moves fast enough, or strongly enough, if the USA is not one of the driving forces,” Brundtland said. 

Many positive responses came from students who were in the audience.

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“In general, I thought the talk was really interesting,” said Jacob Kimiecik, a senior economics major and Director of the Student Sustainability Center. “Something I thought was really unique about her rhetoric was that she was really down to earth and everything she said about the fields of study she talked about was right; these are things that you don’t really hear from politicians, at least in this country, because they think it will hurt their voter base.”

Katie Quinn, a sophomore ecosystem science and sustainability major, said the talk gave her a positive outlook towards the world’s abilities to solve sustainability problems in the future.

“I thought it was just amazing how well she connected public health and the environment,” she said. “I loved everything about it.”

Collegian Reporter Julia Rentsch can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter at @julia_rentsch.