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Beyond the Wage Gap: CEDAW and Gender Equality

Updated: Apr 17, 2018

By Sarah Chamberlain

When people think of gender inequality in the United States, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the wage gap. After all, it’s quantifiable and, therefore, easy to prove. However, discrimination can be found in all shapes and sizes - thus, it requires a comprehensive approach modeled off of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979 and instituted in 1981, CEDAW has so far been ratified by 189 states.

For the annual New York City for CEDAW Day of Action on June 28th, dozens of organizations marched across the Brooklyn Bridge and gathered on the steps of City Hall. They had two main objectives. First, they demanded that the United States government ratify CEDAW. According to Lopa Banerjee, the chief of the UN Civil Society Section, “CEDAW is the most comprehensive framework to protect women from the many dangers in our world today - it defines what constitutes discrimination and it sets an agenda of action that governments can follow. This is why it’s also known as the “Women’s Bill of Rights”.” As the only Western nation to not ratify this convention, the US is lagging far behind. With a presidential administration that has put access to many essential services, such as shelter, healthcare, and education, on the chopping block, it is crucial that states and local governments do their part to ensure the protection of human rights. This is why NYC for CEDAW - and the +200 organizations that support them - are asking the mayor to adopt a similar framework that emphasizes sustainability and inclusion.

NYC for CEDAW explains their objectives on their Facebook page: “We look to pass a local ordinance in NYC, which honors and reflects the obligations outlined in The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to properly support and fund programming to positively benefit women in all five boroughs. The City Council and the Mayor’s Office have a shared vision to evolve the Commission on Gender Equity. We recommend passing a bill which links the Commission on Gender Equity to the CEDAW framework and which appropriates the necessary fiscal and personnel resources to make manifest what is already a crucial underpinning of our widely lauded and publicized Safe Cities Agreement with UN Women.” With its three-pronged approach, including gender analysis, an oversight body, and funding, the passage of this ordinance would be critical in addressing gender discrimination at a local level.

Letitia James, a public advocate for New York City, listed some of the different possible forms of gender discrimination that women, particularly already marginalized women, face:

  • Lack of access to safe and affordable housing

  • Lack of access to affordable healthcare

  • Lack of access to affordable education and/or childcare

  • Lack of safety from domestic violence and/or sexual assault

  • Lack of STEM opportunities in education

  • Lack of transparency and salary histories in the workplace

Addressing these problems on both national and local levels would help bring us closer to achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly the fifth (Gender Equality). The ratification and implementation of CEDAW are important because it is a truly intersectional framework for ending discrimination. Lopa Banerjee hit the nail on the head when she said that it strives for equality ‘de jure’ and equality ‘de facto’.

Again, while the wage gap is what people most often cite as an example of gender inequality, discrimination is present in countless forms. For more information on how individuals and organizations can get involved in the campaign against gender-based discrimination, visit or email

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