Wednesday, January 8, 2020
Prof. Mary Hansel of UC Irvine School of Law sends this post from the students in the International Justice Clinic.
Is it Time for Local Governments to Engage with CEDAW’s Substantive Guidance — and Is Such Guidance Relevant to the Current Gender Equity Discourse?
Previous posts on the Human Rights at Home Blog have reported successes in passing U.S. local resolutions and ordinances affirming and upholding “the principles underlying” the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). These measures have brought about remarkable strides in gender equity and helped promote human rights awareness at the local level. But what about the detailed substance of the treaty — beyond its foundational principles? In crafting gender equity policies and programs, could local governments benefit from more robust engagement with CEDAW’s substantive guidance? Does such engagement have the potential to enhance gender equity for local residents?
In thinking through these questions, a threshold matter is whether the substance of CEDAW is even relevant to gender equity initiatives in the #MeToo zeitgeist. Indeed, the plain text of the treaty drafted four decades ago, may seem inapposite to today’s gender discourse. The rich substance of CEDAW, however, is found in the interpretive statements and jurisprudence issued by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the UN body of experts on the treaty.
The Committee maintains the treaty’s relevance by continuously applying its standards to novel challenges in light of developing norms. The Committee explained this process in General Recommendation No. 25, as follows:
The Convention is a dynamic instrument. Since the adoption of the Convention in 1979, the Committee, as well as other actors at the national and international levels, have contributed through progressive thinking to the clarification and understanding of the substantive content of the Convention's articles and the specific nature of discrimination against women and the instruments for combating such discrimination.
Accordingly, the Committee keeps pace with evolving notions of gender equity. For example, the Committee has addressed the following array of timely issues:
- Intersectionality as fundamental to gender equity. The Committee prioritizes intersectionality as “a basic concept for understanding the scope of the general obligations” and calls upon governments to “legally recognize such intersecting forms of discrimination and their compounded negative impact on the women concerned and prohibit them.” (General Recommendation No. 28.)
- Challenges facing the LGBTQIA+ communities. The Committee acknowledges the "intersecting forms of discrimination faced by lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women and intersex persons" and lays out the specific issue areas requiring governmental support, including harmful stereotypes, school bullying, hate crimes and employment discrimination. (Concluding observations, DEDAW/C/MUS//CO/8,12 November 2018; General Recommendation No. 36)
- Protections for migrant women, including trafficking survivors. The Committee condemns the mistreatment of female migrant workers, asylum seekers and trafficking survivors, emphasizing governmental roles in protecting these marginalized groups from harm and providing support services. (General Recommendation No. 26; General Recommendation No. 32.)
- Sexual assault and harassment. The Committee has called for zero-tolerance policies in addressing gender-based violence in the public and private spheres, as well as governmental reporting “on sexual harassment, and on measures to protect women from sexual harassment and other forms of violence of coercion in the workplace.” (General Recommendation No. 19; X and Y v. Georgia, CEDAW/C/61/D/24/2009, 13 July 2015.)
- Access to comprehensive healthcare, including reproductive care. Under CEDAW, governments are urged to implement strategies to promote women’s health, including “interventions aimed at both the prevention and treatment of diseases and conditions affecting women, as well as . . . ensur[ing] universal access for all women to a full range of high-quality and affordable health care, including sexual and reproductive health services.” (General Recommendation No. 24.)
- De facto equality in education and work settings. The Committee has underscored governmental “obligations to ensure the universal right to high-quality education and to create an enabling environment that allows girls and women to become agents of change,” as well as the need for income equality, paid parental leave and other measures to ensure equitable working conditions. (General Recommendation No. 31; General Recommendation No. 13; Concluding observations, CEDAW/C/AUS/CO/8, 20 July 2018.)
- The gender dimensions of climate change. Recognizing that climate change particularly impacts women and girls and tends to exacerbate gender inequalities, the Committee recommends the inclusion of gender equity initiatives in environmental policies and programs. (General Recommendation No. 37.)
- Online safety challenges. The Committee addresses gender issues arising from the ubiquity of the Internet and social media, including cyberbullying, digital privacy violations and the proliferation of harmful stereotypes. (General Recommendation No. 36; General Recommendation No. 35.)
The Committee’s treatment of such topical issues demonstrates the continued relevance of the treaty for current gender equity initiatives. Accordingly, local governments may wish to consider the extensive guidance offered by the Committee. Might the next step in local CEDAW implementation involve greater engagement with the treaty’s detailed substance, in addition to its underlying principles?
Research by Kelsey Goldman, Cheyenne Hunt-Majer and Correy Miller, students of the International Justice Clinic, UC Irvine School of Law, supervised by Profs. David Kaye and Mary Hansel.