Op Ed: It’s Time for a Gender Equality Ordinance in Palo Alto

Today is International Women’s Day.

According to the United Nations, this day presents “a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women, who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their … communities.”

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights” and is aligned with the notion that “2020 is a pivotal year for advancing gender equality … [taking] stock of progress made for women’s rights since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action” 25 years ago, and acknowledges the “global consensus … that despite some progress, real change has been agonizingly slow for the majority of women and girls.”

As we enter a new decade, we call upon the city of Palo Alto to find that renewed sense of purpose, energy and timeliness to continue the unfinished work of advancing gender equality in our community and to adopt a CEDAW ordinance. That is, a United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Palo Alto, its City Council and staff have long been forward-looking, progressive and innovative leaders who aren’t afraid to push the envelope on a multitude of issues ranging from utilities to climate change. And gender equality is no exception. Here are just some of many examples of that leadership as it relates to gender equality:

  • In 2002, the council adopted a resolution supporting ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (“CEDAW”).
  •  In 2019, the city adopted a paid parental leave policy, which provides six weeks of full time paid leave to employees of all genders.
  • Nationally, only 13 percent of law enforcement officers are women—while here in Palo Alto, 31 percent of the Palo Alto Police Department are women.
  • Palo Alto has regularly elected women mayors, as early as 1967 with Mayor Frances Dias and most recently in 2018 with Mayor Liz Kniss, for a total of 12 women mayors.
  • Nearly half the current council members are women.

The city has a lot to be proud of in terms of gender equality. While we commend all of the progress that the city has made on the issue to date, we must also acknowledge that there is still more work to be done. Gender equality is not just a global, national or state issue—it’s also local. Cities like ours can, should and must do their part to address the inequalities that continue to exist in our society and public institutions.

While we have no doubt that the current council and staff are quietly working behind the scenes on initiatives that will directly and indirectly benefit women and advance the cause of gender parity—there is one very visible initiative that we encourage the council and staff to make additional progress on in 2020.

That is the adoption of a CEDAW ordinance.

While the city has previously supported the ratification of CEDAW, the U.S. remains just one of six countries that have not yet ratified the U.N. resolution. In the absence of action by the U.S. Senate, a number of American cities and counties, including San Francisco (2000), Berkeley (2012), Pittsburgh (2017), San Jose (2017), and Santa Clara County (2017) have adopted CEDAW ordinances.

A CEDAW ordinance is flexible and adaptable enough to meet the special “Palo Alto process.” These ordinances typically consist of: (1) incorporating the principles of CEDAW into the municipal code, (2) authorizing and funding a gender analysis of city operations to determine where and how gender inequalities exist in the city and (3) designating a gender equality task force to conduct, oversee, and/or study the results of the gender analysis and to recommend specific policy or operational changes.

The ordinance itself is just the beginning. The gender analysis and the ensuing recommendations and reform that come out of it are the real task at hand, and is what will make a comprehensive, meaningful, and lasting impact.

The city began considering a CEDAW ordinance when its Human Relations Commission unanimously recommended one in February 2018. After dropping it from the agenda four times, the council finally took up the HRC proposal on Oct. 1, 2018.

At the time, the council enthusiastically expressed its support for the initiative. Cory Wolbach, then-council member and liaison to the HRC, thanked the many Palo Alto women, like Helen Young, who have been working to advance gender equality in Palo Alto for decades, and said “it’s time [the council] listened and acted. We’ve kicked this down the road … the time for a gender equity ordinance is now.”

Then-council member and former Mayor Karen Holman concurred with Wolbach’s sentiment, saying, “I’m glad this is in front of us. ...We have not made swift progress on the gender equity issue. I hope with this … we act in a more expedient manner.”

The council unanimously directed its Policy and Services Committee and staff to work on a CEDAW ordinance. It has been 17 months since then—and over two years since the Human Relations Commission’s initial recommendation—and the Policy and Services Committee has yet to consider a CEDAW ordinance, rescheduling consideration twice with no 2020 date set.

“Policy and Services Committee and staff … should work expeditiously. Additional needless delay is intolerable … it's time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” Wolbach said back in 2018.

We couldn’t agree more. And the following groups agree with us:

  • League of Women Voters of Palo Alto
  • Woman’s Club of Palo Alto
  • Santa Clara County Democratic Party
  • American Association of University Women Palo Alto Branch
  • Enough is Enough Voter Project
  • United Nations Association-USA Midpeninsula Chapter
  • Women's International League for Peace and Freedom-Peninsula/Palo Alto Branch

We don’t believe the city is intentionally delaying action on a CEDAW ordinance. We are thankful for how busy and diligently our council and staff are working on a range of other important issues on behalf of our community, like housing, transportation, climate change and grade-crossing.

We believe in our council and staff and their ability to also pass a CEDAW ordinance this year. It would be particularly meaningful if the city could do so in time for the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 26, 2020, or Sept. 5, 2020, the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Women’s Conference where Hillary Rodham Clinton uttered those famous words, “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”

So today, on International Women’s Day, we and our partner groups say with one voice:  It’s time for Palo Alto to pass a CEDAW ordinance.

The authors are Palo Alto residents and community leaders. Paula Collins is the President of the Woman’s Club of Palo Alto. Michele Dauber is co-chair of the Santa Clara County Democratic Party CEDAW Task Force and chair of the Enough is Enough Voter Project. Terry Godfrey is the President of the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto. Steven Lee is a Palo Alto Human Relations Commissioner. The views expressed above have been endorsed by the organizations and individuals listed above, but not by the city of Palo Alto, City Council or Human Relations Commission. 


  1. CEDAW? what the hell is CEDAW, like we should know what every left wing acronym is. I under stand NOW. If your going to write an article about CEDAW or any other nonsensical acronym please explain it at the beginning of the argument so we know what your mad about.
    Now how about getting me a beer and a bag of chips HONEY, they about to start the NASCAR race and I want to see the NAPA car run.

  2. > Op Ed: It’s Time for a Gender Equality Ordinance in Palo Alto

    Right on!

    And the first candidate for some gender equity bullying needs to be Christine Blasey Ford’s employer, Palo Alto University.

    Last time we checked, Palo Alto U’s student body was 19 percent male, and 81 percent other genders.

    The Palo Alto city authorities need to ensure that Palo Alto U’s football team receives every nickel of Title 9 funding it is entitled to.

  3. The article cites NO complaints or examples of discriminatory behavior in Palo Alto. In fact, just the opposite. Nevertheless, the authors demand:
    – authorizing and funding a gender analysis of city operations to determine where and how gender inequalities exist in the city.
    – designating a gender equality task force to conduct, oversee, and/or study the results of the gender analysis and to recommend specific policy or operational changes.

    Why should the public fund a mythical Snark hunt when there are urgent and pressing matters affecting all Palo Alto residents? Shouldn’t the authors urge replacing one of our female US senators with a male to achieve ‘gender equality’?

  4. This is a demand for equality of results.

    In other words: “…to each according to their need.”

    But the Constitution requires equal opportunity. After that, it’s up to the individual.

    Equal results has been tried over and over, with the same result every time: abject failure, followed by a dictatorship.

    Either these gals are stupid, or that’s what they want.

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