BY MURAL YILMAZ
I am an international graduate student from Turkey writing my doctoral dissertation on China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, a Muslim minority community long living in what is now Western China, as internal colonialism for my PhD in Political Science.
I joined the UC Gender Equity Research Team that recently completed a two-year Gender Study of Cincinnati City Government in April 2017 as a research assistant for Professor of Political Science Anne Sisson Runyan, who was embarking on co-leading the study. Because I remained with the project for its entirety, I wanted to share some of my perspectives as a participant in it and as an international student, since the study was animated by the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the failure of the US to ratify it, and the work of national and local organizations to have it observed in cities and other localities across the US anyway.
As part of my research assistant responsibilities, I regularly provided administrative support, including managing the Dropbox account in which research materials were assembled, arranging for the purchase and use of textual analysis software, and assisting at research team meetings, while also assisting with research and the formatting of reports and presentations produced over the life of the project.
My responsibilities in the project helped me to learn more about Cincinnati, which as an international student I hadn’t previously known. As part of my research, I compared City of Cincinnati employee demographics, budgets, and strategic priorities with those of similar-sized cities, such as Pittsburgh and Cleveland. This helped me understand how local governments operate differently depending on the city and state. One of the things I was surprised by was just how different local budgets can be from one another! For example, Cincinnati has a budget for its Health Department, albeit very small in comparison to Police and Fire, whereas Pittsburgh has no local allocation for Health, relying completely on state funding. This gave me insight into how decentralized and non-standard local governance is in the US.
I also learned how interdisciplinary research teams are formed to study a complex entity. We had a diverse research team methodologically (both quantitative and qualitative) but also by gender, race, sexuality, and national origin. What was important about wide expertise is that through it, we discovered both broad patterns as well as department-level specifics. Through quantitative methods, we gained a sense of how the city operates broadly in terms of gender, race, and sexual equity and access. Once we had documented these patterns, we went in-depth with deep dives into four particular city departments. These deep dives were part of the qualitative research process. It gave the research team the chance to get more familiar with policies and practices within these departments. The mixed-method approach was useful in highlighting broad issues to make city-wide recommendations, as well as leading us to specific recommendations for four different departments.
Given that the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is the preeminent international agreement to promote women’s rights, when I learned that the US was not a signatory to CEDAW, I was surprised since most of the countries in the world have signed on to it, including my own. I believed that this was an insurmountable problem for women in the US until I became part of this project. To make my point, I want to compare what I have seen in Turkey and the US.
In Turkey, the CEDAW treaty requirements are not known by most people, despite Turkey’s ratification of it. Politicians and the public don’t discuss CEDAW despite the requirements of it for annual reporting by member-state signatories on their progress to the UN CEDAW Committee and the opportunity for local and national organizations to present their own reports to the committee on the progress or not in meeting CEDAW goals by their nation-states. There are a few Turkish academics conducting research on CEDAW, but this is not well publicized, and there have been retreats from women’s rights under the current government despite remaining a CEDAW signatory.
In learning about the Cities for CEDAW campaign in the US, which attempts to redress the failure of the federal government to ratify CEDAW by getting US cities (and even counties and states) to observe it and out of which our study emerged, I found that the more grassroots and local approach to gaining support for observance of CEDAW principles can be advantageous for American women. Rather than the top-down process in Turkey that has often kept local populations in the dark about its formal international human rights commitments, a city-by-city effort to observe CEDAW from the bottom-up has provided opportunities for political participation by local actors and more public debates that are missing in the international arena. I believe this will give CEDAW a more solid grounding in the US in practice, rather than serving only symbolically (and invisibly) as is too often the case in other countries like mine. Perhaps too such local action could lead to US ratification and thus international as well as local pressure to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women!
It was a great pleasure to work with the diverse expertise of the faculty and other student members who made up the Gender Equity Research Team. Not only did I learn how to research as part of an academic team, but I also appreciated the opportunity to work on a project that benefits the Cincinnati community through expanding equity and inclusion.