International Women's Day is celebrated today, one of the United Nations' days designated to a global issue. Although not well-known, it seeks to highlight the many roles that women play around the world and to bring awareness to current issues affecting women. The terrible reports this year of discrimination against women in Afghanistan prompted us to focus on the Conventions and Agencies responsible for overseeing discrimination against women.
Despite the tremendous strides through the United Nations and other international agencies to eliminate discrimination against women, women in many countries still experience discrimination in many forms. In 1979 the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the UN General Assembly, and is often described as an international bill of rights for women. The Convention defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination. To date, 162 countries have ratified CEDAW, and very unfortunately, the U.S. is not one of them.
By recognizing the Convention, States commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all its forms, including:
• To establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination, and
• To ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons organizations or enterprises.
The Convention provides the basis for realizing equality between men and women through ensuring women's equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life including the right to vote and to stand for election as well as education and employment. States agree to take all appropriate measures, including legislation and temporary special measures, so that women can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Convention is the only human rights treaty which affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and family relations. Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. They are also committed to submit national reports to a Committee which monitors the implementation of the Convention as well as to the Commission on the Status of Women.
The Commission on the Status of Women was one of the first bodies established by the UN Economic and Social Council. Set up in 1946, it monitors the situation of women and promotes their rights in all societies around the world. In case of urgent problems, the Commission can press for immediate international action to prevent or alleviate violations of women's rights.
The United Nations initial work in this area was vital to the formation of local Commissions in the United States. President Kennedy established a Commission on the Status of Women in 1961, led by Eleanor Roosevelt and Esther Peterson, to "review the progress of women toward full partnership with men in the national life of the country and to make recommendations for constructive action." This Commission now gives a national voice to over two hundred and seventy Commissions formed in local communities around the country and to the millions of women served by these organizations. State and county Commissions began to organize, and California formed its own Commission in 1965. California's Commission develops recommendations in state policy, serves as an information center on women's education and employment needs, gives technical and consultative assistance to organizations, and informs the Legislature on women's issues.
Yet the real work to improve women's lives occurs at the local level. In the Bay Area, nearly every county has established a Commission on the Status of Women. San Francisco, for example, was the first city in the country to enact a local ordinance patterned on the CEDAW principles in April 1998. This ordinance requires the City to ensure the protection of human rights and establishes a Task Force to assist in its implementation. This model legislation establishes a precedent which will assist nationaland local commissions in furthering the work begun at the United Nations.
Establishing the CEDAW principles locally sends a strong message to the community and assists legislators in monitoring local policies and practices. The Marin Women's Commission received the Board of Supervisor's support of the CEDAW
Resolution in the fall of 1997, laying the groundwork for women-friendly policies in Marin. Since 1974, the Marin Women's Commission has been instrumental in establishing programs which help Marin women and their families, such as the creation of the Family Law Center, a legal service center for low-income women and families; and initiating the Marin Co. Employee Workforce and Salary Analysis, an ongoing study identifying gender distribution and wage parity of County employees.
Now in its 25th year, the continuing efforts of the Marin Women's Commission assures that the principles of the United Nations CEDAW will continue to guide its agenda of a safe, equal and prosperous community for Marin's women and girls. In recognition of the efforts of the many women who have worked for women's rights, the Commission initiated the signing of the Resolution to Commend the 150th Anniversary of the Women's Rights Movement in 1998. The Marin Women's Commission also partners with the AAUW and YWCA-Marin to honor local women at the yearly Marin Women's Hall of Fame, taking place this year on Thursday, March 18th.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the Marin Women's Commission invites the community to a celebration luncheon on April 29th at the Embassy Suites Hotel to honor Women of Wisdom, Passion and Vision. Come and learn more about the local efforts which make a world of difference.
Kimberly Weichel, a Tiburon resident, is president of the United Nations Association in Marin and president of Weichel & Associates, an international consulting firm dedicated to providing links with the global community.
Cecilia Zamora, a San Anselmo resident, is the 1999 Vice Chair of the Marin Women's Commission. She chairs the Women in Leadership and Women's Economic Resources Committees.