CEDAW on the Local Level

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What you can do in your own communities to implement international law

Woman awaits bus

Ensuring women’s safety in public transport is one of the key challenges across the globe – Woman awaits bus, Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro, by Adam Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0

By Francesca Petrucci – “Bringing the global local”. That was the theme the side event held Monday, 9 July 2018 in conjunction with the 2018 High Level Political Forum held within the Church Center building to the United Nations entitled “Integrating the women’s human rights framework with the SDGs in cities”.

“Passing CEDAW is inextricable to achieving the SDGs”, said Krishanti Dharmaraj, a representative from the Center for Women’s Global Leadership.

CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and ratified by over 183 states. CEDAW outlines “what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination”, according to UN.org.

The US is among the six other countries including Iran, Somalia and Sudan that have yet to ratify the convention. The political right in the US believes adopting the treaty would violate American sovereignty because nothing disrupts good democracy like giving rights to half of the population.

President James Carter did sign the convention in 1980 which sent it to the Senate where it still sits in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Even countries that have ratified the treaty witness large standing inequality as proper implementation has been hard and slow, according to Rosemary Chikwendu, an attendee and violence mediator in her home country of Nigeria.

The experience of San Francisco

San Francisco, the place of hipster pizza, skinny jeans, avocado toasts and annoying millennials is also home to the very first city to incorporate an international treaty into local law.

“We first had to look at the gaps and make them rights, for example, if you’re going to eliminate poverty, you must include that everyone has a right to an adequate standard of living”, Dharmaraj said.

Dharmaraj outlined the three necessary components to San Francisco’s success story. First, was “getting ready”. This involved identifying the issues, the coordinators, influencers and government officials necessary to enact policy and of course accruing the necessary financial resources.

The next step entitled ‘forward” required the organization of groups and people. The coalition of WILD, Amnesty International, and the Women’s Foundation of California worked in tandem with San Francisco’s Commission on the Status of Women (COSW) to pass the ordinance.

The final step entitled “implement” was when policy became reality. The coalition defined its “non-negotiables” or things that they would not budge on. This included a gender analysis from the city, financial support and an entire task force dedicated to the implementation process.

CEDAW ordinance no. 128-98 passed in 1998.

Task forces, gender reports, highler female employment, wheelchair accessible sidewalks, more street lights and much more blossomed from the local implementation of CEDAW.

Programmes to promote gender equality

City implementation of gendered policy has taken shape throughout the world, according to Lizzette Soria, a panellist at the event and specialist in the Ending Violence Against Women Section of UN Women.

Soria discussed the Global Flagship Programme Initiative(FPI) to reduce sexual harassment and violence against women and girls in public spaces.

According to a 2014 UN report, “90 percent of women and girls experienced some form of violence when accessing public transport, including on buses, waiting at bus stops, walking to and from bus stops, or in taxis”.

Over 30 countries are part of the FPI which collects data on harassment and works to achieve SDG 5 and SDG 11, provide women a greater sense of safety in public spaces including public transport and increase autonomous mobility of women and girls.

Unfortunately, banning women from entering public space past 6pm is not a viable solution to the sexual violence problem.

Soria highlighted many programs which aim to increase safety like the “Meri Seif Bus” in Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, a bus which transports only school age girls and provides advocacy sessions on how to identify sexual harassment and how to report it, according to Soria.

Soria sees this as only a short term solution. Separating girls and boys is not a sustainable solution. Social norms and attitudes of men and boys must change in order to ensure an end to harassment and violence.

Could your city implement some of CEDAW?

  • Incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;
  • Establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and
  • Ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.