Yesterday CNN published a piece called “5 Things Women Couldn’t do in the 1960’s“, which makes it seem almost quaint that women in that era were denied things like an Ivy League education, their own credit cards, and the birth control pill. What the article doesn’t mention is that extreme forms of gender inequality persist in the United States today.
Whether it’s shocking rates of gender-based violence, lower pay for equal work, or being forced out of the workplace due to pregnancy or family caregiving, women have a long way to go.
The UN treaty known as CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, pronounced “see-daw”) is a promising method for pursuing gender equality in cities and towns across America. A new campaign, 100 Cities for CEDAW, is working to support at least 100 cities and towns across the country to implement CEDAW in local ordinances by the end of 2015.
These CEDAW city ordinances would provide the structure, language, and funding for gender audits and proven programs to promote equality for women and girls, driven by each unique local jurisdiction. While the United States has yet to ratify CEDAW, US towns and cities don’t need to wait for the federal government to take action to protect and empower women and girls.
Local implementation of CEDAW will help address longstanding inequalities that plague women and hold back families and communities. We can look to Minnesota for examples of what a CEDAW ordinance might accomplish. On August 1, 2014, Minnesota’s Women’s Economic Security Act went into effect. (http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/08/04/minnesota-passed-massive-economic-security-law-women/). The Act provides a host of benefits including raising the minimum wage, allowing people to use their paid sick leave when dealing with stalking or domestic violence, and requiring big employers seeking large state contracts to have an “equal pay certificate” proving they don’t short-change women on payday.
This past June, the US Mayors’ Convention endorsed the 100 Cities for CEDAW campaign, and 8 cities have already signed on.
There is no magic wand that will grant equality to women. CEDAW will not do away with discrimination and prejudice in one fell swoop. Still, CEDAW is a powerful tool to improve equality in towns and cities across the nation. And, while we’ve come a long way since the 1960s, women still need all the tools we can get.
For more information about 100 Cities for CEDAW, or to join with others in your community or organization to achieve equality and gender justice, please see http://www.citiesforcedaw.org.
Amy Agigian, PhD, is Founding Director of the Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights (CWHHR) at Suffolk University in Boston, where she is also Associate Professor of Sociology. Educated at the University of California and Brandeis University in Women’s Studies and Sociology, her work centers on gender, reproductive and social justice. She is proud that the CWHHR is a Principal organizer of the Civil Society wing of the Cities for CEDAW campaign.