Prairie Village advances UN-backed effort to combat bias against women, though some on council object

Prairie Village’s city council will consider a series of steps to identify and eliminate potential discrimination against women after the governing body on Monday approved a measure directing city staff to draw up a resolution supporting the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

CEDAW is a measure approved by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979 that outlines a framework for governments to review their policies and practices through the lens of possible discrimination based on sex and gender.

Gail James, a retired University of Kansas professor, approached the city earlier this year about the idea of Prairie Village adopting a resolution aimed at having the city implement the principles of CEDAW at the local level.

The city of Kansas City, Mo, adopted a resolution in support of CEDAW a few years ago. It currently is the only city in the metro area to have taken the step, though James said her group has been in talks with the cities of Overland Park and Parkville, Mo., about the idea as well. At present, no municipalities in the state of Kansas have passed a CEDAW resolution.

Councilman Ted Odell said he was supportive of equal rights, but was concerned about the framing of the CEDAW initiative. “When I read a couple things in here, I also don’t want this to be a war against the white man, if you will,” he said.

The council’s 6-3 vote on Monday directed city staff to prepare a resolution for adopting the CEDAW framework, which would come up for a formal vote at a future meeting. Among the steps likely to be recommended would be a gender bias study, which James said could be conducted by a team at a local university and may cost around $20,000. That study would look at things like Prairie Village’s staffing levels by sex and salaries paid to men and women. It would also examine issues related to the health, safety and well-being of women and girls in the community.

Councilman Ron Nelson was among the members of the governing body to voice support for the idea, saying that conducting a review of the city’s practices in staffing could reveal inequities that city leaders hadn’t realized existed.

“It is time to do away with implicit bias,” he said.

But some members of the council expressed concerns with the way the initiative was being framed.

Councilman Ted Odell balked at some of the language used in James’s presentation, including a bullet point that read, “The economic gap between men and women continues, with women earning only 79¢ for every dollar a white man makes.”

“I have two beautiful daughters, one’s going to college and one’s graduating from college, and a wife. And so I’m extremely supportive of equal rights for men and women on all levels,” Odell said. “When I read a couple things in here, I also don’t want this to be a war against the white man, if you will.”

Councilman Andrew Wang said he objected to the idea that the city would undertake an effort to identify potential discrimination based on sex, and not on other categories, like disability or race.

Wang, Odell and Dan Runion voted against the measure directing staff to draft a resolution. Councilman Terrence Gallagher was participating in the meeting by phone, and abstained from voting.