D.C. City Council Pushes Forward Local CEDAW Initiative

By Stephanie Moore, a Spring 2015 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

While we celebrate Women’s History Month in March, we are reminded that the United States is one of only seven countries that still hasn’t ratified the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This international treaty affirms fundamental principles of human rights and equality for women around the world, yet – nearly 35 years after it was signed by President Carter – the U.S. Senate has failed to ratify it.

Absent action in the Senate, elected officials in cities like Washington, D.C., have taken it upon themselves to introduce local CEDAW ordinances. D.C. Councilmember David Grosso co-introduced a CEDAW ordinance on March 3 with unanimous council support. Councilmember Grosso highlighted the need to protect women and girls from physical harm, unfair treatment, and structural violence.

As an amendment to the 1999 Office of Human Rights Establishment Act, the District’s CEDAW initiative requires gender analyses within all District government agencies, as well as an annual report by the Office of Human Rights (OHR) with recommendations to advance gender equity. The bill also requires the OHR to make training in human rights with a gender perspective available for all agencies. The next step is a hearing in the Council Judiciary Committee and then once adopted, it will go to the Mayor for her signature. The bill will take effect after a 30-day congressional review period.

With International Women’s Day just around the corner on March 8, this resolution is a great start and a strong step forward in advancing gender equity and equality for women in D.C., whose local push for women’s rights also aligns with the 2015 Cities for CEDAW campaign. By the end of the year, the campaign aims to sign on 100 mayors from across the country to implement local versions of CEDAW. Louisville, Ky., and San Francisco, Calif., are carrying out local CEDAW initiatives, while New York City has indicated its intentions to pass a CEDAW ordinance.

D.C. for CEDAW has gained support from local and national women’s and human rights organizations. June Zeitlin, director of human rights policy at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, was very pleased that 50 national organizations participating in The Leadership Conference’s CEDAW Task Force supported the DC for CEDAW initiative. D.C’s initiative is just the start of a year-long campaign advancing women’s economic, political, cultural, and social equality at the local level.