Statement submitted by Women’s Intercultural Network to the Sixty-Fifth Session of Commission on the Status of Women March 15-26, 2021

Since the Fourth World Conference’s adoption of the Beijing Declaration and
Platform for Action (BPfA) in 1995, Women’s Intercultural Network has been at the
forefront working locally and globally to achieve gender equality and the
empowerment of all women and girls. Ensuring women’s full and effective
participation in decision making in public life and eliminating violence against
women are integral to our organizational mission.
Women’s Intercultural Network built the first state policy mechanism to
implement the BPfA, known globally as the California Women’s Agenda, then brought
that mechanism global through US Women Connect and Global Calling Circles –
connecting women from the USA, Uganda, Iran, Afghanistan, Japan and around the
world – with the US policy mechanism for the BPFA. Our leadership on the Cities for
CEDAW Campaign has taken the United Nations Women’s Treaty – The Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – to the
grassroots of America with 70 cities currently engaged. Local adoption of CEDAW
advances the equality of women and girls at the grassroots and provides a local
mechanism to advance progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated inequality. In the United States women
represent the most economically impacted. According to United States Census Bureau
data, of the 38.1 million people living in poverty in 2018, 56 per cent – or 21.4 million
– were women. The coronavirus pandemic has put women and families at an increased
risk of falling into poverty, as they face greater economic insecurity, due in large part
to unprecedented unemployment that has disproportionately affected women. Women
are falling further behind men in the recovery and are 5.8 million jobs below
pre-COVID employment levels. Further the burden of unpaid care has increased and
continues to fall disproportionately on women.
Gaps in wages, healthcare, childcare, and lack of access to paid family leave
impede women’s participation in decision making and public life. The Human Rights
Council (2018) published a report on extreme poverty and human rights in the United
States, revealing inadequate social protections and social services, and noting the
gendered nature of poverty, racism, disability and demonization of poverty or healthcare.
Institutionalized racism and disability further limits individuals in their rise out
of poverty. The Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and beyond has
revealed the urgency to address systemic and institutional racism that adversely
impact health outcomes for people of color and limit their full and equal participation
in public life. Even to the extent of exposing greater voter restrictions in communities
of color.
Access to healthcare, safety, personal agency, and autonomy are foundational to
gender equality and women and girls’ full participation in public life. Thus, Women’s
Intercultural Network deeply disapproves of the recent United States regressive
policies on women’s human rights. From the “global gag rule” to a domestic gag rule,
defunding United Nations Population Fund, the threat of vetoing a UN Security
Council resolution on women, peace, and security because it mentioned survivors’
sexual and reproductive health and rights, to the establishment of the Commission on
Unalienable Rights that appears to directly threaten sexual and reproductiv e health
and rights, to the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity initiative that
completely disregards the need women and girls access health care, the United States
is increasingly hostile to advancing gender equality and women’s human rights to the
extent that the Administration has looked to garner support at international forums
from other anti-choice governments to push back on the global consensus around
sexual and reproductive health and rights. The recently released USAID Gender 2020
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Policy is regressive and harmful in its failure to acknowledge human rights of all
persons regardless of sex, citizenship, or gender identity. The policy narrowly defines
sexual relations as occurring strictly in the context of marriage – a definition out of
step with reality. Among the dangers of this policy are its impact on women and girls’
access to contraception. Without agency, access, and ability to control one’s
reproduction, women cannot fully participate in public life.
The aforementioned curtailing of women’s human rights stands in direct
opposition to the BPfA and undermines progress on the Sustainable Development
Goals. In the US, the current patchwork of healthcare coverage across states leaves
many women and girls uninsured and creates an environment in which women die at
higher rates than they do in comparably wealthy countries from preventable maternal
and gynecological cancer-related deaths. Human Rights Watch documented
(29 November 2018) how Alabama’s failure to expand Medicaid eligibility, along
with a mix of other policies and practices, has led to a high rate of preventable cervical
cancer deaths that disproportionately impacts black women in the state. Alabama,
along with Texas, has the lowest Medicaid eligibility levels in the nation and is
seeking a waiver to make eligibility even more difficult. Maternal mortality rates are
higher for women of color.
As pertains to violence against women, according to the World Health
Organization, violence against women is a major public health problem and a
violation of women’s human rights. It is rooted in and perpetuates gender inequalities.
Additionally, the National Institutes of Health – United States National Library of
Medicine cited alarming trends in United States domestic violence during the
COVID-19 pandemic. Women and girls face violence and harassment in public spaces
and online, too. #MeToo helped expose the endemic abuses that women face in the
workplace. 2020 should see the start of the structural reforms needed to end violence
and harassment at work for them, and all workers, on a global scale. To this end the
2019 International Labor Organization Convention on Violence and Harassment at
Work is an important step.
The United States Department of the Interior noted on 11 September 2019 that
the Violence Against Women Act and the Tribal Law and Order Act have brought
attention to the high rate of violence in Indian Country and the gaps in identifying
crime trends in Indian Country. Federal studies have shown that in portions of the
country with large Native American populations, Native women are killed at a rate
10 times higher than the national average, yet, reauthorization has stalled.
Solutions to violence against women must include individualized support and
systemic interventions that center survivors and ensure environments are safe and
supportive. It is also important to invest in efforts to shift culture within every
institution to internalize a deep commitment to promote healthy relationships and
respect for individual dignity across gender and identity and reject toxic masculinity.
When identifying barriers that limit women’s full and equal participation, it is
essential to recognize the harm women face in health effects and during extreme
weather events, which also exacerbate existing gender inequities.
The Women’s Intercultural Network has been charting a roadmap to engage
women and girls and bring the global compacts of the BPfA and Sustainable
Development Goal 5 to local communities collaborating with other partners to
spearhead a national Cities for CEDAW campaign supporting grassroots activists to
spur local governments to pass ordinances that employ CEDAW principles to advance
equity. The campaign allows local officials, women’s and human rights groups to
shape their own community needs in order to improve women’s economic
opportunities, increase girls’ participation in STEM, and combat human trafficking
and violence against women. As the United States remains the only industrialized
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nation not to ratify CEDAW, Cities for CEDAW is a vital mechanism to bring this UN
Global Compact to local communities to transform women and girls’ lives.
San Francisco, the first city to adopt a local CEDAW ordinance in 1998, has
centered women’s human rights and achieved results through gender analysis and
equity audits across services, budgets, employment, and agencies. The San Francisco
Department of the Status of Women in collaboration with local police and the District
Attorney’s Office has set our to retool the process of managing human trafficking to
accurately identify survivors and prioritize their support over victim criminalization.
The CEDAW framework is instrumental in advancing the BPfA. It provides
local governments in partnership with civil society organizations the tools to build a
sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and
girls by dismantling barriers, centering the voices of those most marginalized, and
addressing violence that impedes progress.
The Women’s Intercultural Network encourages states, non-governmental
organizations, and the public and private sectors to fund and apply the gender-focused
evaluation, practices, and metrics outlined in CEDAW to bring this global framework
to local communities to advance women and girls’ equity