San Diego’s CEDAW Ordinance: the value of national support, legislation overview, and the importance of focusing on poverty and intersectionality

Parisa Ijadi-Maghsoodi

In May 2022, San Diego County adopted an ordinance reflecting the principles underlying The United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

The Value of National Support

Leading up to the adoption of this historic legislation, our County benefited tremendously from insightful, impactful, and timely support from individuals and entities across the nation, particularly the Women’s Intercultural Network (WIN) and the Cities for CEDAW Campaign (C4C). As Chair of the San Diego County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls’ CEDAW Committee, this national network was vital to our Commission’s effective CEDAW advocacy.

As soon as our Board approved the drafting of an ordinance, a national network of CEDAW experts – including from WIN and C4C – sprung to action to assist our Commission’s CEDAW work. These dedicated CEDAW advocates provided insight during our drafting phase, submitted formal public comment to strengthen our ordinance, and wrote and called in to encourage our Board of Supervisors to vote to adopt our ordinance. This network also participated in our public forums, which we organized to obtain community input on our draft language to ensure our ordinance represented the needs of all women and girls in our region.

CEDAW representatives – from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles – volunteered their time to share their experiences working on and implementing similar legislation. In fact, C4C Advisory Committee member Mary Hansel joined Pittsburgh Gender Equity Commissioner Judy Hale to volunteer time to serve as a panelist at our public forums. This helped us educate our community about the value of CEDAW legislation, and the importance of effective implementation. C4C also worked relentlessly to support our ordinance through CEDAW-based education, including Mary Hansel who dedicated countless hours to educate the community through a local op-ed on behalf of C4C.

Legislation Overview

Our CEDAW ordinance contains six sections. The Local Principles of CEDAW section addresses seven areas: economic development; the criminal legal system; political and civic engagement; healthcare; gender-based violence and harassment; housing and homelessness; and transportation, library services, parks and recreation, and environmental health services. The Local Implementation of the CEDAW section delineates the implementation plan, including the intersectional gender analyses, and the intersectional gender equity action plans. After the baseline intersectional gender equity analysis is completed, each County department, office, program, board, commission, and other operational unit will develop an intersectional gender action plan. Simultaneously to the development of the unit-specific plans, the County will also develop a five-year Countywide intersectional gender equity plan.

The Importance of Focusing on Poverty and Intersectionality

As a Commissioner, a Vice-Chair, and the CEDAW Committee Chair, I am proud of the progress that will be made as this important legislation is implemented. As a poverty law and civil rights attorney, I am particularly proud that our ordinance centers women in poverty and mandates an intersectional discrimination approach. Through my work representing low-income individuals and nonprofit organizations that serve low-income individuals, I know first-hand how poverty disproportionately adversely impacts women. From my role as an adjunct law professor teaching USD Law’s Poverty Law course, I am also acutely aware of the history and legislative intent underlying the programs and services intended to serve low-income women.

In San Diego – and globally – women are significantly more likely to live in poverty than men. Women are also more likely to live in extreme poverty than men. Single parent households with children headed by women are more likely to live in poverty than married couple families. Minoritized women-headed households with children are more likely to live poverty than white women-headed households with children. A majority – 80% according to one report – of women in jails are mothers, and the majority of these mothers were the primary caregivers for their children. Having children is the single greatest predictor of whether someone will face eviction, especially minoritized women who continue to be paid significantly less than white women. 

Given the vital role policy plays in poverty alleviation, it is imperative that CEDAW ordinances center poverty. In drafting the ordinance, I worked to center poverty, which was consistent with our CEDAW advocacy which drew attention to Census Bureau data illustrating the level of poverty – and extreme poverty – experienced by women and girls in our region. I am proud that our CEDAW ordinance explicitly includes the administration of public benefits, because of the impact public benefits have on minoritized women with children living in poverty. Once implemented, our ordinance will allow us to identify, analyze, and eliminate discriminatory barriers in all services and programs, including the administration of public benefits. As a result, our ordinance will address – and remedy – the discriminatory effects experienced by the most socioeconomically disadvantaged women in our County.

It is also of utmost importance that CEDAW ordinances mandate an intersectional discrimination approach. This is necessary to ensure that this work mitigates – rather than perpetuates – discrimination. I am proud of the language in our ordinance that makes clear how each gender equity analysis will be conducted – and each plan will be developed – through an intersectional framework. I am also proud that our ordinance contains a clause that specifically addresses intersectionality. That clause states “Multiple forms of discrimination compound to disadvantage and oppress women, including race, ethnicity, immigration status, disability, familial status, and age.”

Through this poverty-focused and intersectional approach, our ordinance envisions and sets forth a framework to ensure that everyone is free from gender discrimination of any kind. In implementing our ordinance, our County will apply an evidence-based, data-driven approach to identify, analyze, and remove discriminatory barriers. This will serve to assert and advance the rights of all San Diegans, particularly women in poverty and minoritized women.  

Conclusion

In summary, our County benefitted tremendously from the support of a national network of CEDAW advocates, particularly WIN and C4C. Their support, efforts, and expertise throughout this process was invaluable. This CEDAW network continues to provide support as San Diego County enters its implementation phase. Thank you WIN and C4C for improving the lives of women and girls in San Diego County.   

Parisa Ijadi-Maghsoodi is a Commissioner and Vice-Chair of the San Diego County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. Since 2019, she has chaired the Commission’s CEDAW Committee and is a founding member of the statewide CEDAW Challenge Team. A graduate of University of Michigan, University of California Davis School of Law, and the Racial Justice Institute, Parisa has represented low-income, minoritized families and individuals in civil rights and poverty law cases across California since 2010. In addition to practicing law full-time, she serves as an adjunct law professor at USD Law, where she teaches the law school’s Poverty Law course.

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