League of Women Voters Supports New Women’s Rights Bill

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League of Women Voters logoThe members of League of Women Voters of Hawai‘i County, or Big Island League, have been active in addressing quality of life issues for the people of Hawai’I since the Leagues establishment in 1965.

While the organization began nationally as one focused on gaining women the right to vote almost a century ago, it has evolved into bipartisan educational institution to study and understand legislation and how it will impact people.

Former President Donna Oba, explained that members study quality of life issues and inform people so they can make the best political choices in shaping their future.

Recently, members voted to include anyone over the age of 16 to join, and participate in, the organization. All people, regardless of sex, gender or citizenship status are included (Oba 2016).

Margaret Drake, former secretary and co-president, explained that the studies they conduct and their hosting of political forums and fair debates are critical in educating people about issues and political candidates.

Drake has participated in studies on immigration, education, and public-private partnerships in government for the Big Island. Rosemarie Muller, a board director, has run the consensus study and report concerning Big Island agriculture (Muller and Drake 2016).


The chair of the league leads in investigating issues such as voter education access, sunshine laws or transparency in government, campaign financing and community development, the trafficking of methamphetamine and the passage of laws that seek treatment for drug abusers rather than their criminalization.

Critical issues for the Big Island include corruption in government and the development of farmers markets and the roads critical to get goods to market.

Voter turnout is in part very low due to geography and access to voting. In part due to LWV’s advocacy, Hawaii’s Office of Elections began providing online registration to address this obstacle.

Currently the 50 to 60 member chapter is focusing on the state and city adoption of the 1979 United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

LWV’s leaders are working to get resolution No. 568-16 passed on a county level and many members provided testimony that contributed to its successful passage through the state council on O‘ahu and city Council for Honolulu.


The bill was introduced by council member Valerie T. Poindexter and is going to the Hawai‘i County Council for a vote on Sept. 7, 2016.

Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979, CEDAW became international treaty in 1981 when the governments of 20 countries succeeded in its ratification.

It is the only human rights treaty focused on women’s rights and of 194 recognized nations worldwide, only seven have failed to ratify the treaty and thereby failed to go on record as promoting basic human rights for women (County of Hawai‘i 2016).

Of the seven, the United States is one, although the senate did ratify a similar UN treaty on eradicating racism in 1994.

While the Global Women’s Rights Committee meets three times a year to assess the global status of women, the United States does not have a seat at the table (Simpson 2002).


Where nations have failed to ratify the international women’s rights bill, the “Cities for the CEDAW Campaign” seeks to protect the rights of women and girls by passing ordinances that establishes the principles of the convention in cities and towns across the United States. Where adopted as local law the bill has proven effective in addressing the barriers that reduce the quality of life and equity of opportunities for women and girls (County of Hawaii 2016).

With the leadership of Women League of Voters, the State of Hawaii and the city and county of Honolulu have become the most recent government entities to join the cities campaign and be one of the 15 cities of America to adopt CEDAW.

Big Island leadership is now urging the County Council of Hawai‘i to affirm the tenets and principles of the convention. They have called on the Hawai‘i State Commission on the Status of Women and the County of Hawai‘i Committee on the Status of Women to perform an analysis on gender equality in Hawai‘i County that will include examination of race, disability, immigration status and gender or sexual orientation.

The resolution was transmitted to Mayor William P. Kenoi, state and county of Hawai‘i commissions on the status of women and all county departments and agencies.

The Bill of Rights sets out an agenda for action by cities and countries to guarantee the enjoyment of rights. Areas of concentration include civil rights, legal status, human reproduction and the impact of cultural factors on gender relations.

For example, the bill states that the “role of women in procreation should not be the basis fo discrimination” and views “maternity as a social function.” Therefore men should fully share the responsibility for child rearing and it is society’s obligation to offer social services by way of adequate child care facilities that allow women to participate fully in work and public life.

It proclaims maternity protection and child care as essential rights for women and families (County of Hawaii 2016). The need for quality child care and early childhood development facilities are greatly needed on the Big Island.

Many women take low paying jobs because they are unable to get the support needed to become educated or to take higher demand, higher paying jobs for lack of child care. CEDAW is critical in taking steps towards a better future for women, children, and their families.

The last time there was a movement to ratify the bill on a national level in 1994, Jane E. Smith Ed. D., CEO of Business and Professional Women testified before the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Smith explained that “failure to ratify the treaty affects our ability to promote basic human rights” and recounted for the senate that nationally women and girls suffered sexual harassment in the workplace and school; one third of women murdered annually are murdered by a current or former partner; women earned only 73 cents for every dollar men earned; one in eight women lacked health insurance; and twenty states had waiting lists for child care.

In addition, women are excluded from medical research, in effect, denying women the right to the best health care possible (Simpson 2002).

In 20 years, these conditions have not changed for the women, children and their families on the Big Island. Domestic violence, low pay, lack of child care facilities, and access to quality education continue to be critical issues.

San Francisco was the first city to adopt an ordinance reflecting the principles of CEDAW in 1998 and since then, has developed new initiatives on domestic violence homicide and human trafficking (Yarlagadda 2016).

If the County of Hawa‘ii adopts the resolution, it then commits the local government to improving the status of women and girls by changing laws and policies to provide safer environments and opportunities for girls, women and their families.

Ordinances require three key components that include a gender analysis of city departments and operations, the establishment of an oversight body to monitor the development and implementation of ordinances, and funding to support the implementation of the principles of CEDAW.

The League of Women Voters encourages people of Hawai‘i to provide testimony prior to the County Council voting on whether to adopt the resolution.

Direct written testimony to the County Council of Big Island.

The vote takes place today, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016.

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