A young girl marches with her family at the San Diego Women's March in downtown San Diego.
A young girl marches with her family at the San Diego Women’s March in downtown San Diego in 2018. Photo by Chris Stone

Last Tuesday, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors held a public meeting to discuss and vote on an ordinance to promote gender justice, consistent with the principles enshrined in the 1979 United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women — CEDAW for short.

The supervisors voted to approve the first reading of the ordinance and recommended passage of the ordinance after the second reading on May 10. The ordinance is expected to go into effect in mid-June.

San Diego will be the latest in a long line of cities and counties across the United States — from Miami to Pittsburgh to Irvine to San Francisco. Indeed, over the past decade, a grassroots “Cities for CEDAW” movement has coalesced around these measures. This has resulted in significant and concrete gains for local residents. 

We are members of the team of gender justice advocates who have worked on San Diego’s CEDAW ordinance. In crafting this measure, we have consulted with local and national experts on a range of relevant social justice and human rights issues. We have also sought input from San Diego residents, arranging two public forums focused exclusively on the measure.

We greatly appreciate many of the suggestions offered at these forums and have used them to shape the final draft. However, some of the public comments at the forums and last week’s board meeting have raised issues that, we believe, require clarification. We submit this op-ed in an effort to dispel several of the most persistent myths surrounding the ordinance. 

Myth No. 1: The CEDAW ordinance changes existing U.S. law by “redefining women.” The Office of County Counsel has confirmed that the ordinance is consistent with existing U.S. law, which protects the rights of all individuals who may be subject to gender discrimination, including cisgender, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.

The ordinance could not have been submitted to the board without County Counsel’s legal clearance. Also, the text of the ordinance makes clear that the ordinance must be interpreted in a manner that is consistent with applicable law.

Myth No. 2: Due to its inclusivity, this ordinance discriminates against cisgender women. Despite assertions to the contrary, the ordinance does not state or otherwise indicate that any community member’s rights will be construed so as to threaten the rights of any other community member.

Gender justice is not a zero sum game. In fact, research has shown that people of all genders — including cisgender men — benefit when societies move closer to gender equality. The ordinance is emphatically inclusive, seeking to promote the safety and well-being of all women, girls and minoritized genders; indeed, this is its core purpose. 

Myth No. 3: The ordinance constitutes improper ratification of CEDAW. Local CEDAW ordinances do not purport to ratify the treaty itself — they are measures that reflect the key principles underlying CEDAW while responding to local needs and considerations. Under the Constitution, the United States can only become party to an international treaty once the President signs it and the Senate ratifies it by a two-thirds vote.

The U.S. played an integral part in CEDAW’s drafting, and President Carter signed the treaty a few months after its finalization. However, the treaty has never been brought before the full Senate for a vote. Therefore, the United States remains one of only six nations not party to the treaty — along with Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Palau and Tonga. 

Myth No. 4: San Diego does not need a gender justice measure because numerous county departments have achieved gender parity. Although certain county departments have made laudable strides in improving diversity, there is much more work to be done to achieve gender justice throughout San Diego. According to Census Bureau statistics, women are 14% more likely to live in poverty than men, and the poverty rate for single-mother families is over twice the rate for the general population. These are just two of many indicators demonstrating areas for improvement in the county.

California’s CEDAW resolution underscored the “need to strengthen effective … local mechanisms, institutions, and procedures” and “effectively carry out strategies and measures to eliminate discrimination.” San Diego’s ordinance seeks to meet this need.

The CEDAW ordinance sets forth a framework to promote gender justice for all San Diegans. It will enable the County to apply a data-driven approach to identify, analyze and remove discriminatory barriers.

We hope that this op-ed provides clarity and invite community members to do their own reading on the myriad benefits of local CEDAW measures.

Parisa Ijadi-Maghsoodi is the CEDAW committee chair for the San Diego County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. Mary Hansel is an advisory committee member with Cities for CEDAW.