HUMAN RIGHTS POLICY PAPER, CALIFORNIA WOMEN’S AGENDA, 2005
BY Julianne Cartwright Traylor, Founding Member and Past President,
Board of Directors, Human Rights Advocates, CAWA Human Rights Chair
Senior Advisor and Resource Specialist, Billie Heller, Founding Member and Chair,
National Committee on the United Nations Convention on the
Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
See Previous Reports: 1996 and Beijing +5, 2000
Human Rights in California remains a cross-cutting issue that affects all of the 12 Critical Areas of Concern as defined in the 1995 Beijing Platform of Action. All of these issue areas, including human rights, provide the foundation and framework for a broad policy agenda that -- if implemented -- would improve the human rights of women and the girl child, and society as a whole. Thus, while this update mainly focuses on CEDAW, it should be read bearing in mind the specific human rights discussed in the other Task Force Updates in this report.
At the Beijing Conference, three strategic objectives for action concerning human rights were identified including Strategic Objective I.1 whose goals are to "promote and protect the human rights of women, through the full implementation of all human rights instruments, especially the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)."
Furthermore, the U.S. Government made a commitment to ratify CEDAW as its top priority among the human rights treaties which were awaiting the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. However, now in May 2005, the U.S. is still the only western industrialized countries which has not ratified CEDAW. Somalia and Sudan (Africa), several Pacific Island countries (Brunei Darussalam, Cook Islands, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and Tonga), Iran, Oman and Qater (West Asia/Middle East) have also not ratified Cedaw. All Latin America/Caribbean countries have ratified CEDAW bringing the total number of ratifications / accessions to 180 (as of March 18, 2005 when Monaco ratified the treaty).
It is interesting to note that while the US still has not ratified CEDAW, in its plans for Iraq Relief and Reconstruction, it anticipates that in the quarter of April, May and June of 2005, that USAID will "...[c]onduct human rights trainings for civil society representatives throughout Iraq in support of the process to draft the constitution. Included in the human rights training will be a focus on women's rights issues as delineated in the Convention to Eliminate (sic.) All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)." (italics added for emphasis: see Appendix 1: SECTOR: Security and Law Enforcement of Section 2207 Report on Iraq Relief and Reconstruction at www.state.gov/m/rm/rls/2207/apr2005/html/44194.htm). Thus, while this is a plan to benefit women in Iraq, it is not a plan to benefit women in the US and is not restated as a commitment for the US Government as evidenced in it report to the UN on August 30, 2004, entitled "Advancing the Rights of Women: An Overview of Significant Progress Made by the U.S. in the 10 Years Since the Beijing Conference on Women" (see www.state.govv/p/io/rls/othr/35882.htm).
While the US has not ratified CEDAW, other individuals, non-governmental organization representatives and countries continue to make use of the treaty to improve the lives of women and girls around the world. In 1999, the UN Commission on the Status of Women had adopted an Optional Protocol to CEDAW which contains two procedures, a communications procedure which provides for individual women or groups of women to submit claims of violations of the rights contained in CEDAW to the CEDAW Committee, and the other, an inquiry procedure which enables the CEDAW Committee itself to initiate inquiries into situations of grave or systemic violations of women's rights.
Since our last report, the Optional Protocol came into force (December 22, 2000). As of January 2005, 71 countries have become states parties to the CEDAW Optional Protocol. Furthermore, the CEDAW Committee adopted its first decision on a communication submitted to it by Equality Now and Casa Amiga, in association with the Mexican Committee for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights, regarding the abduction, rape and murder of women in the Ciudad Juarez area of Chihuahua, Mexico. In brief, it said that the facts alleged and presented in their communications "...constitute grave and systematic violations of the provisions..." of CEDAW, as well as General Recommendation No. 19 of the CEDAW Committee and the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. (See Report on Mexico produced by CEDAW, UN Document CEDAW/C/2005/OP.8/MEXICO, which can be found on the web site of the UN Division for the Advancement of Women, www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/protocol/dec-views.htm).
In summary, participants at our February 2000 Call to Action Conference selected ratification and implementation of CEDAW as one of their priority actions. Thus, we in the CAWA Human Rights Task Force continue to make the local, state-wide and national ratification of CEDAW a priority of our work in partnership and collaboration with the many non-governmental organizations, individuals, and networks with which we work throughout California and nationally.
ACTIONS AND ACHIEVEMENTS
California continues to take major steps toward implementing the Beijing Platform for Action. The California State Legislature has twice passed resolutions urging the US Senate to act favorably on CEDAW, and was the third State in the US to pass such a resolution.
In addition to "Resolution Projects" throughout California and the groundbreaking work which was done in the City and County of San Francisco to become the first ever US city to implement the principles of an international human rights treaty which were mentioned in our last report, the Berkeley City Council unanimously adopted a second CEDAW ratification resolution which included directing the City Manager to prepare a resolution by which the Council will adopt the operative articles of CEDAW into the Berkeley Municipal Code. Task Force Member Rita Maran, Commissioner, City of Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, was one of the leaders of this team.
Since our last report, the Los Angeles CEDAW activists achieved a unanimous vote by the LA City Council for a local CEDAW implementation ordinance which included a budget allotment, and approved the LA City Commission on the Status of Women as the oversight body. However, months later, the then Mayor proposed a "consolidation" of not only the Women's Commission, but four additional commissions as well, into a new entity with greatly reduced budgets for all. The CEDAW Program suffered the greatest budget cuts with a two-thirds staff reduction in their newly voted funding for CEDAW implementation.
Resolutions Projects have led local NGOs and individuals to form coalitions facilitating work and education on CEDAW as well as other Platform for Action issues of concern. These networks are a valuable by-product of the Resolutions Projects.
On the state level, former Assemblywoman Hannabeth Jackson introduced AB 358 (www.leginfo.ca.gov), a bill for statewide implementation of the provisions of CEDAW. It passed both houses of the California State Legislature and went to Governor Schwarzenegger's desk for signature, but he vetoed it stating that is was "...duplicative of existing policy and unnecessary". Because of term limits, Assemblywoman Jackson is "termed out", but hopefully her bill will be re-introduced at a later time.
On the national level, once again as in 1994, we were victorious in having the Senate Foreign Relations Committee holding a hearing on US ratification of CEDAW on June 13, 2002, AND on July 30, 2002 by a vote of 12-7, it voted in favor of recommending US ratification of CEDAW to the full Senate. However, as in 1994, the Congress adjourned for Fall elections before a vote by the full Senate.
Members of the California US Congressional delegation continue to exercise a leadership role on behalf of CEDAW at the national level. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), one of only two women serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, continues to exercise a leadership role in advocating for the US ratification of CEDAW In addition, Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) has once again (February 2, 2005) introduced the CEDAW Resolution into the House. House Resolution 67 (H.Res.67) now has 81 co-sponsors and it urges the Senate to give its advice and consent to the ratification of CEDAW.
At the United Nations women from California participated in the deliberations of the 2005 Session (its 49th) of the Commission on the Status of Women. The major portion of its agenda was to conduct a 10 year review of progress made since the Beijing Conference in 1995. They helped to fight back an attempt by the US to re-open negotiations on the major documents of Beijing - its Declaration and Platform for Action. After much debate, negotiations and pressure from thousands of women leaders and government delegates, the body passed a Declaration which reaffirmed the commitments made in Beijing. (See, e.g., information at www.beijingandbeyond.org).
Although the recalcitrant chair of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Republican Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) is gone now, there is still a long-held aversion to ratify any international treaty which many consider as potentially superseding U.S. law.
A basic obstacle continues to be with the US conception of what are human rights, especially when it comes to discussing and implementing economic, social and cultural rights. When the US Government participates in deliberations of UN human rights bodies, such as the UN Commission on Human Rights, it consistently opposes any attempts to implement these rights and even questions the existence of such rights - always qualifying notion of the word "rights'" between quotation marks to question their existence and validity. (See, e.g., discussions at the 2005 session on agenda items such as economic, social and cultural rights, www.humanrights-usa.net/2005/0415Item10L.24.htm).
Other obstacles include the lack of enough public education, the abundance of misinformation, and the hesitancy to ratify CEDAW stemming from unfounded fears and myths associated with the implementation of CEDAW in the US, including unfounded allegations of CEDAW 1) giving too much power to the international community with the provisions of CEDAW superseding U.S. federal and state law; 2) defining "discrimination" too broadly leading to frivolous lawsuits; 3) destroying the traditional family structure in the U.S.; 4) usurping the "proper" role of parents in child rearing; supporting abortion and its promotion of access to family planning: 6) promoting equal pay for unequal work; and 7) diluting moral persuasion on the international level concerning human rights treaty ratification.
Since the 1995 Beijing Conference, there has been a growing conservative political climate throughout the state and in the country as evidenced in the wake of passage of propositions such as Prop. 209 (against affirmative action) and the encroachment of human rights domestically and internationally in the name of the "war on terror."
Lessons learned include the fact that while advocacy should continue to be done on the national level to ratify CEDAW, there is value in continuing to advocate for CEDAW ratification on the local, county and state levels. Both strategies should be used in order to implement the provisions of an international human rights treaty such as CEDAW. More community outreach, education and training, and networking need to be done concerning CEDAW ratification.
As human rights activists, we must continually educate ourselves about the arguments that opponents to US ratification of human rights treaties such as CEDAW make; become articulate enough to counter the myths that surround the strategy of opposing these treaties.
We must reach out to moderates with the strengths of our arguments in favor of US ratification of human rights treaties, showing how ratification will improve the lives of all, women, men and children. All of these efforts will help to promote, protect and fulfill the human rights of women and girls.
As mentioned above, we saw the value of networking and coalition building in the defeat of the attempt of the US government representatives to turn back the clock to re-negotiate pre-Beijing issues at the UN Commission on the Status of Women's meetings earlier this year..
We must be vigilant to the national trend of budget cutting and be prepared to protect the existence of state, county and city commissions on the status of women.
* Begin to strategize about the 2006 and 2008 Elections - all candidates (local, state and national) must respond on their support/opposition to CEDAW.
* Continue to work to create state and local versions of CEDAW in California
* Write letters (or FAX or e-mail) to Congressional legislators for hearings and ratification of CEDAW
* Support specific legislation mentioned in the other Task Force Reports in this 2005 update
* Write and seek placement of op-ed pieces which highlight how CEDAW affects the lives of all women and girls
* Educate others: Plan a media blitz, including use of e-mail and internet, to connect to others
* Register new voters
* Advocate for new hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and for Representative
Lynn Woolsey's bill, H.Res. 67.
Examples of some useful resources and web sites:
Newsletter with information on CEDAW-related activities as well as a fact sheet which is updated periodically on which countries have ratified CEDAW, a Q and A section on the Convention, and the Legislative History of CEDAW in the US, a partial listing of US NGOs and VIPs who support US ratification, etc., see National Committee on U.N./CEDAW (contact Billie Heller at the above e-mail address).
CEDAW -related issues at the UN - see www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw.
CEDAW - contact information, information and updated manual for advocacy and links to other organizations: web site of The Working Group on Ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which is a group of over 190 national non-governmental organizations engaged in outreach and education to achieve U.S. ratification of the Treaty for the Rights of Women - www.womenstreaty.org.
Women's Environment and Development Organization, Beijing Betrayed: Women Worldwide Report that Governments Have Failed to Turn the Platform into Action , March 2005. WEDO's web site is www.wedo.org.
City and County of San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, www.sfgov.org/dosw.
Los Angeles Commission on the Status of Women, www.lacity.org/csw.
CA Commission on the Status of Women's 2005 Legislative Agenda, see www.women.ca.gov - click on Legislative Update on the homepage.
US Depart of State and human rights - www.state.gov/g/drl/hr
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Last updated on January 19, 2006 by Molly Klett