By Amy J. Katz
Amy J. Katz is a co-owner of Baker & Daboll, LLC, an executive coaching firm headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is also founder and president of Daughters in Charge, an online business designed exclusively for women working in their family’s business. A social psychologist, Amy has focused her career on organization development in a wide range of settings, with a particular interest in the opportunities and challenges leaders experience. She is a past president of The Isaac M. Wise Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio.
I recently attended a wedding held at the URJ Kutz Camp in Warwick, New York, an unusual place for a wedding, but a perfect setting for celebrating the wedding of this particular couple. The bride and groom are bright, thoughtful, and compassionate young lawyers, committed to upholding and protecting the rights of all who live in the United States. The maid of honor, also a lawyer, gave a stirring toast: “With these two, injustice doesn’t stand a chance!”
Injustice doesn’t stand a chance with people like June Zeitlin, either. June is the Director for Human Rights Policy for The Leadership Conference, “the nation’s premier civil and human rights coalition.” Her talk on Women in America: How Far We Have Come, Yet How Far We Have to Go was sobering at times, but also inspiring. Through their determination to influence legislation, June and others like her have helped to shift our cultural bias for “blaming the victim” to a far deeper understanding of the impact of gender-based violence in all its forms. June’s recounting of how the Anita Hill hearings, the murder of Nicole Simpson, and the more recent attention drawn to that Stanford swimmer’s rape of an unconscious young woman reawakened my rage at those events, but also gave me hope that injustice will gradually come to light.
I found June’s description of The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) the most compelling part of her talk. CEDAW is an international treaty, adopted by the UN; countries that ratify it agree to report abuses, and also to identify areas for improvement. It is an organizing tool for collecting data, essential because as June noted, “numbers lead to policies.”
There was a collective gasp as those of us listening heard the stunning fact that the US is one of only six countries that has not ratified the treaty. Despite this, with the leadership of key leaders and informed, passionate citizens, fifteen cities are implementing their own versions of CEDAW, and change is happening at the local level.
I was struck by June’s observation that it’s time to focus now-beyond our own experiences of sexism, and even beyond the women’s issues that we may already be supporting, such as reproductive rights. She is clear that supporting CEDAW will have direct effects on two vital issues: women’s economic security and workplace policies which support families.
To use a word that is now almost a cliché, I found June’s talk “disruptive”. She laid a path for action that could truly move the dial on women’s rights. So now I’m struggling with a question: will I take action to promote CEDAW, or will I leave it to people like June to act for me?
June’s talk sparked a familiar inner dialogue about my own willingness to stand against injustice. I expect that I will continue to reflect upon her call to action throughout the upcoming High Holidays-making them a bit more uncomfortable, but perhaps more meaningful.