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NATIONAL NEWS | winter 2009

A Women's Bill of Rights
San Francisco shows how an international treaty can help in the fight for gender equality and why the U.S. government should sign on

Ten years ago, when San Francisco's Public Works Department was asked to analyze the gender impact of its services, it responded that there was no gender impact. After all, everyone uses sidewalks and streetlights, not just women.

But after the analysis got under way, it quickly became clear that women were indeed affected differently than men by public works decisions. Here’s one simple example: When street lighting is inadequate, women are more vulnerable to sexual assault. The analysis led to a decision to space streetlights closer together.

None of seven San Francisco departments that underwent this sort of gender analysis would have undertaken it without the passage in 1998 of the city’s version of CEDAW, the U.N.’s international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. CEDAW is the ultimate women’s bill of rights, and its time has come.

Once a nation signs on to CEDAW, it commits to examining and identifying gender discrimination in every possible arena—education, health care, legal rights, work, culture, governance— then taking concrete actions to overcome it, including ending violence against women. To date, 185 countries—more than 90 percent of the members of the U.N. General Assembly—have signed on to CEDAW. The unsigned nations are Iran, Nauru, Palau, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan and Tonga—and one industrialized country, the United States.

Frustrated by lack of progress in signing onto CEDAW nationally, a coalition of feminist groups in San Francisco lobbied for the adoption of a model local version. Ten years later, CEDAW has begun to change the way things are done in the city.

In 2008, the city’s commission on the status of women began training personnel from the mayor’s budget office on how to apply a gender lens to their budgeting process for the upcoming fiscal year. “When policy-makers have a better understanding of how the budget impacts men and women differently, they are better prepared to make good decisions about how to allocate their money,” says Ann Lehman, the commission’s senior policy analyst.

“It is long past time for the U.S. to pass CEDAW,” says Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation (publisher of Ms.). “We are gearing up for a major push.”

Excerpted from the Winter 2009 issue of Ms. - join the ms. community at www.msmagazine.com.

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