San Diego County Administration Building
The San Diego County Administration Building. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

County supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved the development of an ordinance, based on a United Nations treaty, to eliminate discrimination against women.

As proposed by board Chairman Nathan Fletcher and Supervisor Nora Vargas, the county would follow the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, first adopted in 1979.

According to the county, CEDAW defines what constitutes discrimination and offers policies to end it. President Jimmy Carter signed CEDAW in July 1980, but it was not brought to the U.S. Senate for a vote. County officials said only the United States, Iran and Somalia have not ratified the CEDAW. However, several cities and counties, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have adopted ordinances that reflect its principles.

Supervisors directed Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer to select appropriate members of the county Office of Equity and Racial Justice, and other relevant departments, to work with the San Diego County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls to draft a county CEDAW ordinance for board adoption next March.

Robbins-Meyer and members of the commission, Office of Equity and Racial Justice and other departments will then develop a gender equity strategy for the ordinance.

Vargas said that while considerable progress has been made on women’s rights, there is more to be done.

“I could not be prouder of this moment today,” Vargas said, adding the board has an opportunity to advance in social policies that help women thrive.

Fletcher added that discrimination “in any form is unacceptable,” against women and girls, especially those of color.

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said the county is overdue for such an anti-discrimination ordinance, and added she was glad county staffers would work with the women’s commission.

Lawson-Remer said that while she previously worked with the United Nations and World Bank, CEDAW was always a template for organizations’ policies, and that societies and countries that treat women equally are more prosperous.

Lawson-Remer added that as a person who identifies as non-binary, she was glad the county will work to include transgender people in its studies.

Supervisor Jim Desmond when he first learned there was a U.N. connection with the proposed ordinance, there were some reservations. Desmond said the ordinance is “a good thing,” but wondered how the county would enforce the ordinance on a countywide basis.

Vargas responded that she hoped the ordinance would be countywide, but staffers first have to figure out how to handle accountability and any related challenges by gathering data.

Desmond also asked if the county had conducted its own workforce assessments to see if there are discriminatory practices. Robbins-Meyer said the county’s Human Resources department has investigated claims of discrimination.

“We should have no discrimination anywhere,” Desmond said. “If we do this, we need to clean our own house first.”

Supervisor Joel Anderson suggested that any new anti-discrimination policy should include pay equity.

Anderson said that while serving in the state Legislature, he noticed that women working there were underpaid, and pushed for substantial salary increases.

“Even when you think you have it taken care of, it’s surprising how far off base we can be,” he added.

During a public hearing, supervisors heard from people both for and against the ordinance. County resident Kristin Vent harshly criticized supervisors for proposing it.

“I’m a woman. I’ve never been discriminated against in my entire life,” Vent said. “What are you doing and how are you guys sleeping with yourself every night?”

“When the time is right, you will all be removed,” she told the board.

Leah Goodwin, chairwoman of the county women and girls’ commission, said the ordinance is needed “so that we can make a difference, for everybody, because the playing field is not balanced.”

“This will help us look at gender equity, to make sure the doors are open to serve on boards,” Goodwin said.

She added that Vent is a “rare woman” to have never faced any discrimination.

At times during Tuesday’s meeting, several people sitting in the gallery — some of them opponents of the county’s COVID-19 policies — were disruptive.

Fletcher banged the gavel more than once, asking them not to interrupt others speaking. At one point, he asked two people to leave the chamber and adjourned the meeting for several minutes shortly before 11 a.m.

Last week, supervisors voted 3-1 in favor of a policy change intended to curtail hate speech and inappropriate conduct during county meetings, following a contentious session Nov. 2, in which some members of the public used racist and threatening language.

City News Service contributed to this article.