Mapping CEDAW toward greater rights for women: One City at a Time

Mapping CEDAW toward greater rights for women: One City at a Time

(WNN) Long Beach, California, UNITED STATES, AMERICAS: “We cannot wait any longer,” is something millions of women are saying now throughout the United States. 

We do know this: when inertia in the U.S. Senate causes Senators to ignore for decades the call to vote for a treaty like CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women), women’s rights for equality and justice have gone unheard.

“…the Treaty has never come before the full Senate for a vote,” outlined Amnesty International in 2009.

The landmark treaty known as CEDAW began at the United Nations in 1979 as a critically needed international agreement. Why was it critically needed? As the only human rights treaty focusing on women’s rights it has worked diligently to provide a universal definition of discrimination against women.

Passed at the UN to keep those who would discriminate on the basis of sex to no longer claim that “no clear definition of discrimination against women exists,” CEDAW calls for action to eliminate discrimination against women in many areas for women including politics, law, employment, education and health care.

It’s important to know that ratification of the treaty is not an easy accomplishment.

“Ratification of the Treaty requires the support of 2/3 of the US Senate, or 67 votes,” continued Amnesty International.

“The Treaty for the Rights of Women is a tool that women around the world are using effectively to bring about change in their conditions. In nations that have ratified the treaty, CEDAW has proved invaluable in opposing the effects of discrimination, which include violence, poverty, lack of legal protections, along with the denial of inheritance, property rights, and access to credit,” added Amnesty.

Now the tide on finally giving women their fully deserved human rights within the U.S. is changing, and actually improving.

“These days…it seems the fight for women’s equality is heating up,” agreed CNN reporter Jessica Ravitz in a recent April 16, 2015 story called, “The new women warriors: Reviving the fight for equal rights.”

The pathway to CEDAW within the United States in its work to protect women has included numerous road blocks. In early 1980, one year after CEDAW made its debut at the UN, the U.S. Carter administration signed the treaty guaranteeing gender equity within its first year. It was then submitted to the U.S. Senate in November 1980 for ratification.

But no ratification came

Today the seven nations who have refused to be part of this important treaty include a group that also holds a heavy international and domestic burden for denial of women’s rights as human rights. They surprisingly include the United States, along with Iran, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and two small Pacific Island nations, Palau and Tonga.

It was in 1994 the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee was urged by President Clinton’s administration to hold hearings on CEDAW and recommended it to be ratified. But U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, a leading conservative and longtime CEDAW opponent at the time, prevented a critical vote in the Senate that would enable it to pass.

President George W. Bush also blocked progress in ratifying the treaty. Initially looking favorably on the ratification, the President later changed his position. In 2002, although the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 12-7 to approve the treaty, it was never sent to the full Senate for advice and consent for ratification.

Since 2010, the Obama administration has strongly supported the ratification of CEDAW; and identified CEDAW as one of its top multilateral treaties identified as a priority for the Senate.

Although the ratification of the treaty grew closer to 100 percent in 2014, the treaty still did not reach its goal. It had reached a majority of the world’s nations, 187 countries out of 194 countries, with hopes that women everywhere could benefit by its provisions.

Unbelievably up to our present time in 2015 the U.S. Senate has yet to ratify CEDAW

Without ratification women inside the U.S. are left to face discrimination in all its forms without the ability to report on any of these conditions in their region or at the UN.

It is inexcusable that the U.S. claims to be a leading proponent of international women’s rights, yet it has continued in its refusal to ratify the treaty of CEDAW.

But what is the basis of U.S. opposition to this treaty for the rights of women? Why has the U.S. not ratified CEDAW?

Opposition and barriers to the ratification come from conservative groups, including the religious right and Christian fundamentalists, who are concerned that CEDAW will challenge what they call “family traditions.” These groups also say that CEDAW will work against family law, which includes laws covering marriage, divorce, adoption, child support and more in the U.S.

Arguments made against CEDAW by those who oppose the treaty, like the Concerned Women for America (CWA), oppose it based on ideas that are actually counter to other ‘faith-based’ groups inside the U.S. Their arguments include that CEDAW will:

1) Negate family law and undermine traditional family values by redefining the family;
2) Force the U.S. to pay men and women the same for “work of equal value” thus going against our free-market system;
3) Ensure access to abortion services and contraception;
4) Create a possible ‘back door’ for the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) for women.

graffiti image of women solidarity
A woman graffiti artist activist paints repeating images of women holding hands together in solidarity. Image: WNN

“CEDAW would limit American women’s freedom,” outlines CWA.

“Ratifying CEDAW would subject American women to the supervision of a U.N. committee, thereby infringing on our liberty,” they continue.

The arguments have not stopped the momentum though

Religious conservatism has not won out on the expansion of CEDAW in the U.S.

Making headway in cities throughout the U.S., the Cities for CEDAW campaign is now working to “make the global local” by harnessing the power of cities and promoting the adoption of CEDAW in municipalities that can create a framework for improving the status of women.

Despite the fact that the United States has not yet ratified the treaty, over a hundred civil society organizations inside the U.S. now support the ratification of CEDAW. In the absence of moving forward, women and gender equality activists have now embarked on a powerful and creative initiative to push the treaty forward city by city.

In 1998 the U.S. City of San Francisco, California became the first municipality in the world to adopt a local breakthrough ordinance, CEDAW, that reflected the principles of a UN treaty. It was then the San Francisco CEDAW Ordinance focused on preventing discrimination and ensuring gender equality in both the public and private government spheres. This Ordinance covers issues of health care, employment, economic development, education and violence against women and girls.

From there the ‘CEDAW Action Plan‘ was approved on February 1, 2003 by the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women, made up of seven commissioners hand picked by the major of the City of San Francisco for a four-year renewable term.

In following the ‘CEDAW Vision’ the City of San Francisco now supports: “The local implementation of the United Nations Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) will result in women and girls fully exercising their human rights including an adequate standard of living, education, bodily integrity and health; while acknowledging the multiple identities of women and girls including race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexuality, nationality, age, family status and immigration status.”

“Full implementation of CEDAW would ensure dignity and respect for women and girls in both public and private spaces; and end systemic forms of discrimination and violence towards women and girls in the United States,” continued the CEDAW Vision Plan. From there the Plan moved swiftly toward the implementation of CEDAW into the County of San Francisco.

“The overall vision is that, ultimately, everything that happens to San Francisco women and girls will be interpreted and acted upon using the CEDAW conceptual framework, analysis and language,” outlined the City as the CEDAW treaty was brought into action.

Using the concept of “human rights for all women” the implementation of the Plan now includes:

Gender analysis – This tool analyzes workforce, services, and the city budget in order to integrate gender considerations into the daily operations of local agencies, and to institutionalize new ways of thinking about equitable distribution of government resources. The report includes other demographic characteristics linked to gender such as race, disability, immigration status, and sexual orientation.

Oversight body – Crucial to the implementation of programming and policies is having community and government leaders oversee the implementation of action plans.

Funding – Municipalities should allocate between $0.10 and $0.25 per woman resident to implement program and policy reforms as outlined by CEDAW.

The focus for the Plan also includes:

Equal access to employment San Francisco launched the Gender Equality Principles Initiative to build a more productive workplace, for both women and men, by implementing seven gender equality principles, based on the Calvert Women’s Principles, ranging from employment and compensation to supply chain practices. These principles were later adopted by the U.N. Global Compact as the “Women’s Empowerment Principles” in 2010.

Preventing violence against women (VAW) is another positive outcome of this ordinance. Freedom from violence is a human right and a keystone of CEDAW. The San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women funds non-profit organizations that provide direct services to victims of violence against women including crisis intervention, legal services, case management, traditional housing, and prevention education.

The Justice and Courage Project for the Domestic Violence Policy Reform in San Francisco as part of CEDAW is also continuing to work to reach these goals:

1) Promote a victim-centered response by law enforcement agencies,
2) Expand the cultural competence of first responders and community service providers to immigrant victims,
3) Advocate a systemic approach to stop domestic violence including the use of new technologies.

And there’s more good news. The San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking has also brought together community-based organizations and government agencies in the work to eliminate modern slavery as the City’s Family Violence Council works against child abuse, domestic violence, and elder abuse.

Stakeholders including elected officials, the media, business, youth organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), faith communities, and women leaders have also joined the campaign for Cities for CEDAW. They are also engaging cities across the United States to join in.

Free from the pressures, stress and polarization of getting national U.S. legislators in the Senate to agree to ratifying CEDAW at the national level, Cities for CEDAW has made the process of implementing the treaty now truly possible; especially as Cities for CEDAW are building and reaching their goals across jurisdictions.

Signatures for Cities for CEDAW
Government and civil organizations representatives, groups and individuals sign on to support Cities for CEDAW after a campaign event. Image: WNN

Remarkably as a result of these goals, CEDAW in San Francisco has eliminated domestic homicides for a record 44 months in a row (2010-2013).

This year the Cities for CEDAW campaign will culminate in the U.S. National Mayor’s Conference in San Francisco in June 2015. Currently more than 250 U.S. mayors have supported a CEDAW resolution for their city. Along with this cities such as Los Angeles, Berkeley, and Portland have also passed CEDAW ordinances.

The long-term goal though is to ensure that CEDAW, at the local level, is integrated into the UN sustainable development agenda through UN Habitat III.

This strategy is different from previous efforts focused on ratification of CEDAW by the U.S. Senate. In contrast this campaign is about implementing CEDAW at the municipal level from the bottom up to engage and mobilize grassroots action for the ratification of CEDAW.

In September 1995 thirty thousand activists, along with seventeen thousand participants, joined together in Beijing, China for the opening ceremonies of the Fourth World Conference on Women.

“They were remarkably diverse, coming from around the globe, but they had a single purpose in mind: gender equality and the empowerment of all women, everywhere,” says UN Women, the United Nations organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.

“By the time the conference closed, it had produced the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights,” added UN Women.

It was in 1995 that Women’s Intercultural Network (WIN), based in San Francisco with consultative status at the UN, brought the Beijing Platform for Action for the first time to the State of California for implementation with California Women’s Agenda (CAWA), where a network of over 600 organizations in California began working on the Beijing Platform for Action at the “grassroots.”

Women’s Intercultural Network and the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women have now taken the lead with the national push for Cities for CEDAW.

This mobilization of civic engagement for Mayoral action in 2015 should create conditions under which the U.S. senate will ratify CEDAW.

By engaging cities throughout the United States the Cities for CEDAW campaign hopes to increase awareness that a strong support for CEDAW implementation is a tool for achieving gender equity.

This includes women’s political participation and representation in income, earnings, access to healthcare throughout the life cycle, and in public and personal safety.

The three key reasons that the Cities for CEDAW campaign has focused strategically on cities are:

1. Urban areas boast the highest concentration of human and financial capital in the U.S.
2. Cities have the ability to initiate rapid change–even when the national government cannot respond. Municipal policies can promote growth, prosperity, and jobs.
3. The Cities for CEDAW Campaign can serve as the framework for defining a U.S. Women’s Agenda in the post-Millennium Development Goals era.

Today U.S. women are increasingly assuming greater leadership roles at municipality levels. Eighteen percent of the 1,341 mayors of U.S. cities, with populations over 30,000, are now women.

Worldwide the trend for women’s leadership at decision making tables is even more striking.

The People’s Republic of China, for example, has 500 women mayors and vice-mayors. The campaign and history of CEDAW has now been captured by words that describe the heart of this expanding national ideal: “Welcome to the Movement to End Discrimination in Your City.”

Embracing global conventions and treaties when governments fail to do so, Cities for CEDAW is a grassroots movement that exists to hold government accountable; and to act according to the will and demand of the constituencies they represent: the people!


As a strong ‘HeforShe‘ advocate Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti outlines the City of Los Angeles’ commitment to Cities for CEDAW campaign and events as Los Angeles jumps in fully to work toward women’s rights and equality with CEDAW. This video is a production of Women’s Intercultural Network in partnership with the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women.


To volunteer or get your own local city municipality to jump in with the Cities for CEDAW campaign LINK HERE

Peace activist and WNN special reporter on Iran, U.S. based Elahe Amani has kept a strong pulse on human rights for all women since her early days of activism in Iran in the early 1970s. Today she works with immigrant women who are part of South Asian, Iranian and the Middle Eastern ethnic communities in Southern California to help them build peace at home and in society. In 1995 Elahe was an active organizer and delegate at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. At present she is the co-chair of Global-Circles for San Francisco based Women Intercultural Network (WIN), a global women’s organization with consultative status at the United Nations. Working with grassroot circles in Uganda, Japan and Afghanistan, as well as a leadership role in the dynamic CEDAW for Cities campaign, Elahe has also lectured through the Women’s Studies Department and is also on the advisory board of The Women Center at CSU – California State University in Long Beach, California.

Human rights and social justice journalist Lys Anzia is the founder and executive editor of international award-winning WNN – Women News Network. In addition to WNN her written and copyediting work can be seen in The Guardian Development Network, Thomson Reuters Trustlaw, AlertNet, Vital Voices, The Nobel Women’s Initiative, and many other publications. As an ongoing advocate for global women, Anzia has also spoken on the topic of human rights activism and media, as well as organizing other UN panel events through the United Nations NGO Committee for the Commission on the Status of Women in New York City.

Recognized by UNESCO for ‘Professional Journalistic Standards and Code of Ethics” WNN began as a solo project. Today it brings news stories on women from 5+ global regions to the attention of international ‘change-makers’ including over 600 NGO affiliates and United Nations agencies.


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