Locals adopt U.N. gender equality rules
In the mid-1980s, Fulton County, Ga., Commissioner Nancy Boxill became the first woman to hold that office in the county. Today, she is spearheading a gender equality initiative, “gender budgeting,” which is reviewing budget decisions to ensure departments spend money to provide services that suit men and women equally.
Gender budgeting incorporates the principles of the United Nation’s Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). While CEDAW has been ratified in more than 180 countries since its adoption in 1979, the United States has not approved it. But, two U.S. local governments, Fulton County and San Francisco, have implemented programs based on the convention’s tenents.
Fulton County, which is home to Atlanta, began its gender budgeting program in 2007, forming an internal taskforce and training more than 100 employees in five departments to review county services and employment practices for gender equality. Boxill drew heavily from the CEDAW program experiences of local governments in other countries to design the county’s program. For example, Vienna, Austria, officials conducted a gender budgeting study on the city’s parks, which generally included a lot of open space. The study concluded that boys — who generally like to run while playing — need more space, while girls tend to cluster together in one place. So, the city installed platforms where girls could gather.
So far, Fulton County’s gender equality taskforce has found that more women than men are using the county’s art and health services programs. “We have to review our program to make sure that we are serving the health care of men of Fulton County on the same level [as] women,” Boxill says.
Boxill and the task force members have been training with officials from San Francisco, which turned CEDAW’s guidelines into an ordinance for the city and San Francisco County in 1998, says Ann Lehman, senior policy analyst for San Francisco’s Department on the Status of Women, which oversees policy issues involving women and girls. “For 10 years, we’ve been working on basically getting San Francisco’s departments to look at their employment, services and budgets through a gender lens,” Lehman says.
San Francisco’s CEDAW ordinance has resulted in several citywide initiatives to improve gender equality, including laws allowing city workers to telecommute, work flexible hours and take parental leave to care for their children or older relatives, according to a report from the locally based Women’s Institute for Leadership Development for Human Rights. Several city departments also have changed policies to assure equality. “[Gender budgeting is] not necessarily about saying that [differences in services provided to men and women] are bad or good. It’s just making people look at them and look at the reasons [behind them],” Lehman says.
Boxill hopes to double the number of county departments trained in gender budgeting by the end of the year, and, if the county’s program is successful, she plans to work with the Washington-based National Association of Counties to spread CEDAW’s ideas nationwide. “That would be our goal, to get it right in Fulton and share it with other counties,” she says.