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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Weichel

It’s Time to Adopt CEDAW Locally and Nationally

CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, is a landmark international agreement that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for girls and women around the world. Known informally as the Women’s Rights Treaty, it is the most comprehensive international agreement on eliminating discrimination against women and addresses the economic, political and social rights of women and girls. CEDAW was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly.

CEDAW calls for equal education, equal employment and training opportunities, while promoting non-discrimination and availability of social benefits including social security, health care, maternity benefits, and child care. It addresses critical areas of concern including gender based violence, sex trafficking and domestic abuse. Since every country is different, CEDAW provides a blueprint for the government to overcome the remaining barriers to discrimination. It defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.

Sadly the United States has not ratified CEDAW, along with Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Palau and Tonga, and is the only democratic, industrialized country not to have done so. CEDAW has been ratified by 187 out of 193 UN member states, most recently South Sudan in April 2015. President Jimmy Carter signed CEDAW in 1980, but the treaty has never been brought to the Senate floor for a vote where it requires a 2/3 majority vote to ratify. This despite Obama Administration efforts to testify in support of CEDAW as well as many organizations, including the CEDAW Task Force with which I am involved, have worked for decades to encourage the Senate to bring it to a floor vote.

The treaty provides for monitoring and oversight by a CEDAW Committee, composed of independent experts in gender equality elected by countries that have ratified the treaty. Each ratifying country is required to do a baseline report one year following ratification and then reports every four years to the CEDAW Committee. NGOs can also submit shadow reports to the Committee. The government presents its report to the Committee, and then issues recommendations for additional steps the country should consider in further implementing CEDAW.

Given that CEDAW has not been implemented nationally, there has been a movement to implement it at the local, city level. In 1998, San Francisco, with the leadership of the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women and the Women’s Intercultural Network, pioneered the idea of using CEDAW to advance the status of women locally. They pursued this by securing passage of a binding ordinance integrating CEDAW into city and county governance.

Soon after, Los Angeles also passed CEDAW legislation. In San Francisco, CEDAW has made a measurable difference in public safety, budgetary allocations and employment. And in November 2014, Louisville Kentucky passed a nonbinding CEDAW resolution. What these new laws offer at the municipal level is a set of principles embodied in CEDAW, building on the experiences of the 187 UN member states that have ratified CEDAW.

While we continue to urge the U.S. Senate to ratify CEDAW, we believe it is also important to build support locally and begin to implement its provisions by passing CEDAW ordinances in as many cities, towns and counties as possible and securing the endorsement of mayors and other elected officials. This effort will help to raise awareness of the many issues covered by CEDAW as well as build a constituency of public and local elected officials.

We launched the Cities for CEDAW initiative in March 2014 at the meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York. At the 2015 CSW meeting the concept of local, municipal support for this global human rights initiative was further developed with the support of the U.S. National Committee for UN WOMEN, the United Nations Association of the USA, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights as well as a growing number of human rights and women’s rights organizations. Today, almost 200 US civil society organizations support the ratification of the treaty.

We have an active DC Cities for CEDAW team of people to encourage the DC City Council to adopt CEDAW locally. So far it has been unanimously introduced as an amendment to the 1999 DC Human Rights Act. We are working on a public outreach educational campaign to ensure it is brought for a public hearing in the spring of 2016.

The Cities for CEDAW Campaign has defined the following goals:

· To improve the lives of millions of women and girls;

· To educate the U.S. public on the importance and relevance of CEDAW

· To recognize CEDAW’s principles in communities across the United States

· To build critical support at the grassroots for eventual U.S. ratification;

A successful local CEDAW campaign should seek a binding ordinance that includes at a minimum the three elements below:

  • Gender analysis of city operations (workforce, programs, budget) Gender analysis examines government policies, programs, and services to ensure that they are nondiscriminatory and serve all communities of women and girls

  • An oversight body to monitor the implementation of a local CEDAW ordinance

  • Funding to support the implementation of the principles of CEDAW

The purpose of the Cities for CEDAW campaign is to create a framework for improving the status of women and girls locally. The campaign, which uses the motto “Bring global local”, encourages action in the form of preventive and forward-thinking efforts to ensure that city resources, policies, and actions do not intentionally or unintentionally discriminate against women and girls from any community. The campaign involves mobilizing multiple stakeholders including elected officials, the media, business, youth, NGOs, faith communities, and men and women leaders.

There are many concrete benefits of adopting CEDAW, and below are 10 achievements in San Francisco that are positive examples for other cities:

1. 44 Months Without Domestic Violence Homicide – Cross-agency approach to domestic violence response led to a record 44 months without a single domestic violence homicide.

2. Gender Equality Principles Initiative – Seven gender equality principles ranging from employment and compensation to supply chain practices support more productive workplaces for both women and men.

3. Developed Proper Police Codes – Collaboration between the Department on the Status of Women, the Police Department, 911 response team, Office of the City Attorney, and other agencies to adopt new codes for stalking, child abuse, and elder abuse.

4. Expanded Language Access – Trained 150 emergency personnel in basic Chinese and Spanish phrases for responding to domestic violence and partnered with local foundations to provide phones to access 170 different languages at crime scenes.

5. Family Violence Council – Addresses family violence across the lifespan by bringing together advocates working against child abuse, domestic violence, and proposes policy reforms to improve the criminal justice, social service, and community-based programs.

6. San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking – A coalition of community-based organizations and government agencies to eliminate modern slavery.

7. Mayor’s Task Force on Human Trafficking – A holistic effort, staffed by the Department on the Status of Women, with participation from law enforcement, public health, child welfare, the school district and community-based organizations that work with trafficking survivors.

8. Gender Analysis of City Agencies – Government agencies examined their policies, programs, and services to ensure that they are non-discriminatory and fully serve all communities of women and girls. Nine city agencies have undergone such analysis.

9. Violence Against Women Prevention and Intervention Grants Program – The Department on the Status of Women distributes grants totaling $3 million to 24 community-based organizations.

10. Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance –Working parents and caregivers have the right to request a flexible or predictable work schedule without fear of retaliation.

We’re hoping that with an increasing number of cities and counties that adopt CEDAW locally it will put pressure on the Congress to ratify it nationally.

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