Roosta: Will San Jose champion gender equality, or turn its back against women?
A thousands-strong Women's March kicked off with multiple rallying cries as the crowd held up signs, cheered, and stormed downtown San Jose in 2020. File photo.

San Jose made history on Dec. 19, 2017 as the first city in Santa  Clara County that unanimously approved an ordinance recognizing the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), also known as the Women’s Bill of Rights.

Following the successful passage of the CEDAW ordinance, San Jose once again demonstrated leadership in recognizing the importance of gender equality across all city departments by allocating $50,000 for an independent gender-based analysis, which is a precursor to the full implementation of CEDAW.

A gender-based study is a crucial part of CEDAW implementation, as it will identify and highlight gender gaps within city departments, policies and programs, and will provide a blueprint for achieving an equitable society free of gender-based discrimination.

While San Jose and other cities in the United States have made progress, we have witnessed drastic attacks on women’s rights in recent years. In 2021 and 2022, extreme anti-abortion laws in some states have restricted women’s access to safe and legal abortions. The constitutional protections for reproductive rights under the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade is under attack, and all the personal and social progress made in the past few decades is at risk.

At this crucial and historic time, it is more vital than ever before to protect and promote women’s rights, and CEDAW is a powerful tool to protect, promote and empower women. But CEDAW is not only a tool to advance women! By advancing women socially, culturally and economically, CEDAW leads to economic growth, progress, peace and prosperity for all.

It is well documented that where CEDAW has been fully implemented, there is more economic prosperity for the society and less violence against women. In fact, the passage of the CEDAW ordinance in San Francisco led to 44 months without any domestic violence homicides between 2011 and 2014.

CEDAW is a powerful tool for a humane and prosperous society in which everyone at the intersection of gender, race, class, immigration status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, sexual identity and disability thrives regardless of any of these differences. We need CEDAW so women’s basic rights will not be compromised by the political climate in the federal government.

Despite the passage of San Jose’s CEDAW ordinance in 2017, we continue to lack funding to conduct comprehensive gender studies of all city departments by an independent researcher. So far only one department, the police department, has been audited, and the city’s plan to use the same template used for the police department to conduct the audit of other departments internally is a flawed plan with inherent conflict of interest. A self-audit may lead to inaccurate and unreliable results, which defeats the purpose.

In order to fully protect and advance women and girls in San Jose, we need full CEDAW implementation, and a full implementation requires adequate funding for independent gender-based study and an oversight body to coordinate and monitor progress.

When San Francisco passed its ordinance, it formed a CEDAW task force with 11 members who had full authority and responsibility to carry out the local implementation of CEDAW. The San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women and the CEDAW task force coordinated and monitored the gender-based analysis and full implementation of CEDAW.

San Jose lacks a commission on the status of women or a CEDAW task force to oversee the entire process. If the city is serious about implementing CEDAW, an oversight body is vital to a successful and meaningful implementation.

According to San Jose, there are budgetary concerns that prevent the city from conducting gender-based analysis across all departments. Funding and budgetary concerns have always been at the core of the city’s decisions—and even in the good times when the economy has been thriving, budgetary decisions have always been made based on the city’s priorities.

So the question we ask is: is gender equality and the human rights of women a priority for San Jose? Will Mayor Sam Liccardo and City Manager Jennifer Maguire make women and girls their priority and allocate funding and resources to ensure local implementation of a Women’s Bill of Rights?

Will San Jose lead gender equality and live up to the reputation of being a pioneer in technology and progressive social and economic agenda? There is a very powerful CEDAW movement spreading across U.S. cities, counties and states. We hope San Jose will be a pioneer and a champion in this movement.

Taraneh Roosta is a longtime women’s rights activist, founder and chair of the Silicon Valley CEDAW Task Force and the founder and president of the nonprofit Voices of Women for Change.

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