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close this bookBringing Equality Home - Implementing the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (UNIFEM, 1998, 45 p.)
close this folderIII. NATIONAL LAWS
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View the documentUnited States: San Francisco
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United States: San Francisco

In April 1998, by unanimous vote, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance to implement the CEDAW principles within the city. The ordinance endorses the principles of the Convention, and creates the framework for integrating them into city governance. A San Francisco CEDAW task force is created to oversee implementation, and gender analyses are initiated in the areas of city employment, funding allocation, and service delivery. Action plans will respond to the discrimination identified in these studies. In addition, human rights training will be conducted in all city departments. The city Government has allocated $100,000 in its 1999 budget to fund the first stage of implementation.

Successful passage of the ordinance followed 18 months of intensive political organising, led by the Women's Institute for Leadership Development for Human Rights (WILD).

WILD was recently formed to promote women's human rights in the United States. The challenge, as the group understood it, was to convince women activists that the sort of human rights framework that is provided by CEDAW could really help advance their work. According to WILD, human rights are generally understood to be an international concern, with no relation to women's struggles at the national level. WILD felt that the CEDAW could provide a broader, more integrated perspective that seemed to be missing from American women's advocacy. One of the main values of CEDAW, for WILD, is that it embodies the understanding that "the full spectrum of human rights - civil, political, economic, social and cultural - are inalienable, indivisible and universal". According to WILD: "While criticising human rights abuses abroad, the United States has systematically fallen short of producing these same rights within its own borders. Although the U.S. Government has acknowledged that everyone must have civil and political rights, it has continued to deny that economic, social and cultural rights are fundamental human rights."

The idea of trying to pass a law in San Francisco was developed at a CEDAW training workshop, hosted by WILD in October 1996, along with the San Francisco Women's Foundation, Amnesty International USA, and the Center for Women's Global Leadership. At the end of the workshop's second day, the 24 participants had become convinced that CEDAW was a useful tool, and they also realised that together they had the political resources to organise a drive to pass a city ordinance.

The workshop group set up an ad hoc task force. Regular CEDAW training was scheduled, to prepare women who would join the task force, and members of the initial workshop were trained as facilitators. An initial meeting was set up with the San Francisco Commissioner on the Status of Women, who agreed to support the general concept of a CEDAW implementation ordinance. Discussions were also held with the President of the San Francisco Board of Examiners, who was convinced to act as an advocate for the project with the Board.

The focal point for the campaign was a public hearing, which was held to convince both the city Government and the people of San Francisco that implementing the Convention would make a difference to women's lives. Members of the Board of Supervisors were invited to be panellists at the hearing. They listened to over 2 hours of testimony from women, in the form of personal accounts and policy arguments, about violence against women, economic injustice, and inadequate health care. The members of the Board made a commitment at the end of that hearing to take action. The next day the Board passed a resolution calling for national ratification of CEDAW and stating that the city would begin the process of implementing the Convention locally.

A small working group, composed of representatives from WILD, the Commission on the Status of Women, and the Board of Supervisors, immediately began drafting an implementation ordinance. Discussions continued with the city Government.

The CEDAW ordinance was taken to the Board of Supervisors for a first vote in March 1998. Support was now quite solid for the ordinance, with the supervisors sensing that failing to vote for it might be damaging to them politically. The ordinance was quickly and unanimously passed into law. By their campaign to pass the ordinance the women's NGOs intend to improve conditions for women in San Francisco, but they also hope to have a broader impact on the state of women's human rights in the United States, where the U.S. Government has failed to ratify CEDAW. According to Krishanthi Dharmaraj, of WILD, "This legislation sends a strong message to the U.S. Government that women and girls expect their rights not only to be acknowledged but also enforced. San Francisco may be the first city, but it will not be the last.

Several cities have already contacted WILD about passing similar laws in their own communities." Advocacy work is currently being done to prepare for the passage of a CEDAW implementation law at the State level in California. If passed, this law would set a standard for the rest of the country.