The most important women’s rights law no one has ever heard of

It’s the most important women’s rights law that hardly anyone has ever heard of.

The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women aims to end discrimination in employment, salary and equality within the law. Advocates have tried to pass “CEDAW” laws in the Bay Area, California and nationwide with only minimal success.

The failure in the United States to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution is shameful. The country is one of only seven United Nations members that has not ratified the 1979 U.N. CEDAW treaty, joining the likes of repressive countries such as Iran, Somalia and Sudan. Senate Republicans have blocked the effort since Jimmy Carter was president.

But locally, after a 24-year effort, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors last week voted unanimously to become only the fourth county in the state to adopt a full CEDAW ordinance, following San Francisco (1998), Los Angeles (2021) and San Diego (2022). The cities of Berkeley, Los Angeles and San Jose also have CEDAW ordinances.

So should the California Legislature, where Assemblymember Lori Wilson, D-Suisun City, has introduced legislation that would require all state agencies to conduct evaluations of their departments to ensure that they do not discriminate against women through the allocation of funding and the delivery of services.

Santa Clara County supervisors symbolically urged Congress to ratify the treaty in 1999 and 2004. But it wasn’t until 2017 that the board adopted a task force identifying how the county could go about furthering gender equality through implementation of a CEDAW ordinance. Santa Clara University School of Law’s International Human Rights Clinic played a significant role working with county Counsel James Williams, county staff and dozens of local advocacy groups to create the ordinance.

CEDAW principles acknowledge that extensive discrimination against women continues to exist. The goal is to end any form of discrimination against women by completing a comprehensive gender-based analysis of county departments, agencies and services. The county can’t hope to end gender discrimination unless it has the information needed to make data-driven, gender-based decisions.

The ordinance calls for a five-year implementation plan that is divided into three phases: developing an operational framework, conducting a baseline gender assessment, and creating a gender-equity action plan.

After the baseline analysis is completed, the county will begin work to ensure gender equity in budgetary allocations, contracting, employment and the provision of services to county residents.

The county hopes the ordinance can serve as a model that will inspire the private sector to follow suit.

The danger is that the ordinance feels good on paper but sits on a shelf while other priorities take center stage. It will take a sustained commitment by county officials to end discrimination against women that has existed for decades.

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