The Global in the Local: A CEDAW-Inspired Gender Study of Cincinnati City Government

BY ANNE SISSON RUNYAN We might think that research on Cincinnati is just about the local. However, a two-year gender study of the City of Cincinnati Government recently completed by the UC Gender Equity Research Team, an ad hoc group of faculty and graduate students from Political Science and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies I co-led with Dr. Amy Lind, grew out of the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the efforts of the Cities for CEDAW national campaign to get at least 100 US cities to observe that UN human rights treaty ratified by most countries in the world with the notable exception of the US.

To enable this research that has resulted in a host of recommendations for the City to undertake to improve gender and race equity and inclusion in employment and services overall and in the cases of select departments, political action had to precede it. I and a few other faculty members were a part of the Cincinnati4CEDAW coalition of community organizations mobilized to join the Cities for CEDAW effort through the work of students in a UC Planning course taught by Dr. Jan Fritz in 2014. The coalition successfully gained the support of City of Cincinnati Council members to first pass a resolution in 2015 in support of making Cincinnati a CEDAW City (the seventh in the nation) and then to pass two ordinances in May 2017 creating a mayoral-appointed City of Cincinnati Gender Equality Task Force and authorizing a gender study to be conducted by the UC Gender Equity Research Team (leaders of which presented at the Council meeting when ordinances were passed) to determine how it could improve gender and race equity and inclusion in the spirit of CEDAW. The research team successfully recommended that Drs. Fritz and Jennifer Malat of A&S and The Cincinnati Project serve on the task force, and the research was funded by the City and a host of community organizations and units at UC, ranging from the Provost’s Office and the Taft Research Center to the Departments of Political Science and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies to the School of Planning.

The first phase of the study led by Dr. Jack Mewhirter and me included a demographic, budgetary, and salary study of City departments and employees and an online survey of employees on their perceptions of equity and inclusion in City employment and services in departments determined to be either predominantly male or female or gender-balanced with portfolios connected to the major CEDAW themes of economic, health, and safety equity (Economic & Community Development, Planning, Health, Police, and Fire). A preliminary report based this phase was presented at a public forum and to City Council in Fall 2018 and later at The Cincinnati Project 2019 symposium.  In its second phase led by myself and Drs. Rebecca Sanders, Kim Conger, Laura Jenkins, Rina Williams, and Michelle McGowan, interviews with department leaders and textual and policy analysis of department materials were conducted to determine shortfalls and best practices in observing equity and inclusion in terms of gender, race, and sexuality in four of the five selected departments (Police, Health, Planning, and Economic & Community Development). Current and former graduate students Murat Yilmaz, Julie Marzec, Danielle McLaughlin, Ayesha Anwar, Arial Barat, Erin Chandler, Anwar Mhajne, and Crystal Whetstone as well as students in Dr. McGowan’s Feminist Methodologies course were also instrumental in completing one or both phases of the research.

The final results of the research have been presented to the City of Cincinnati Gender Equality Task Force, which will convey the study findings and recommendations along with its own to City Council in Spring 2020. The study’s preliminary results in its first phase have already led to political action by the City, such as ceasing to ask previous salary histories of prospective employees that tend to low-ball the salaries of women and people of color and ensuring more diversity on City boards and commissions going forward. These best practices have also been adopted by the Hamilton County Commissioners as a result of similar recommendations made by the Hamilton County Commission on Women and Girls, formed by County Commissioners  soon after the City Gender Equality Task Force was authorized and arising from the grassroots organizing of several individuals and groups also connected to the CEDAW4Cincinnati coalition. Among the recommendations of both bodies is to ensure that they remain permanent and synergistic entities to monitor and encourage further best practices with respect to equity and inclusion at both levels of government.

The final reports of the research team and task force and ongoing results will also be conveyed to Cities for CEDAW (which holds NGO status with the UN and is a part of the UN Commission on the Status of Women annual meetings where our report will also be presented) and appear on their website to serve as a further model for how US cites can better and continuously observe CEDAW principles.

So the global is indeed in the local, and we as UC faculty and student researchers can make a difference globally and nationally as well as locally with our research right here in Cincinnati!  

The Global in the Local: A CEDAW-Inspired Gender Study of Cincinnati City Government

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