City Council Condemns Discrimination Against Women

By Edith Bell

Pittsburgh City Council passed an ordinance on December 6th endorsing the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and creating a Gender Equity Commission.  Success of the ordinance can be directly related to a post-agenda hearing on November 15.

CEDAW was adopted by the UN in 1980, but never ratified by the US Congress, the only developed country not to sign. Iran, Somalia and two Pacific Island nations are the only other non-signatories. Since 2014 fifty cities have made it a local issue. Last year the Pittsburgh branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) initiated the move to have our city join the “Cities for CEDAW.” Working in coalition with New Voices Pittsburgh, Women and Girls Foundation, Zonta Club , members of the Social Work Department. of the University of Pittsburgh, and the Women’s Law Project, we approached councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, who sponsored the ordinance . We now have the support and endorsement of 30 local organizations.

On November 15 a brief press conference preceded the post agenda presentation for City Council members . Unfortunately only councilwoman Debra Gross was present throughout the whole procedure. Councilwoman Darlene Harris attended part of the presentations. None of the other members of Council were present at any time.

The first presenter, Marcia Bandes of WILPF, Chair of the Coalition for CEDAW, spoke about the history of CEDAW. She argued that women’s rights are human rights and that Pittsburgh, as a Human Rights City, needed to adopt CEDAW, and budget the money to finance it. She mentioned that the Mayor’s Conference supports it.

The CEDAW ordinance provides a framework for a gender analysis, and the Gender Equity Commission will provide the mechanism to connect and coordinate efforts to address gender equity issues, said Sara Goodkind, who teaches at the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work. One of the most striking benefits of the City of San Francisco’s implementation of CEDAW was four years without a single domestic violence homicide

Blayre Holmes, the Program Manager of the Women and Girls Foundation, and Kathi Elliot , Executive Director of Gwen’s Girls, spoke of poverty : 77% of households headed by females live in poverty; 55% of black girls live in poverty, 15% of white girls

Shril Regan , President/CEO of the Women’s Center and Shelter, and Jessie Ramey, Director of the Women’s Institute at Chatham University, were the other presenters.  Araceli Campos,of the City of Los Angeles Commission on the Status of Women joined by speaker phone and told of her commission’s experiences working towards gender equity through the implementation of CEDAW.

During the public comments period that followed, 30 people expressed their support , stressing the effects of this ordinance on public transit (more women depend on public transportation) , housing, (all landlords of affordable housing in Pittsburgh are women), public works, street lighting, recreation and, of course, equal pay for equal work.

There were over 50 people in the audience. The proceedings were videotaped, so that the absent Council Members would be able to inform themselves.

Darlene Harris, Deb Gross, and Theresa Kail-Smith joined Natalia Rudiak in sponsoring our CEDAW Ordinance, which has now become part of city law.


In the photo from left to right are Marcia B. (Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF)), Jordan H., (University of Pittsburgh), Lee F. (Zonta Club), Martha R (LWVGP), Judy R (Women’s Law Project), Edith B (WILPF) and taking the picture is Joyce Rothermel (Thomas Merton Center). 

Edith Bell is a member of Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF)


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