Anti-feminists for Iraqi Women

"I am pleased to announce that, as part of the Department of State's Iraqi Women's Democracy Initiative, we are awarding $10 million in grants to several U.S.-based non-governmental organizations to train Iraqi women in the skills and practices of democratic public life…These grants will…mobilize women across the land to build a secure, prosperous and democratic Iraq." – Secretary of State Colin Powell, Sept. 27, 2004

The State Department announced this week that the Independent Women's Forum is one of the recipients of $10 million in grants to "train Iraqi women in the skills and practices of democratic public life."

Which leaves me wondering: Train women in the skills to do what, exactly? The Forum, started by supporters of Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court to oppose "radical" feminism, and an early beneficiary of Richard Mellon Scaife's deep pockets, has a record of using its own skills and practices to oppose women's progress in the United States. If you think I'm exaggerating about how atrocious the IWF's anti-feminist record is, consider the following:

  • The Forum actually lobbied against the Violence Against Women Act, deriding "wishful thinking about the power of the federal government to curb violence against intimate partners."

  • The IWF also disputes the existence of a wage gap between men and women and opposes efforts to strengthen enforcement of the Equal Pay Act. In a statement charmingly titled "The Mothers Day Gift We Don't Want," their president explained that any disparity in income results from the fact that women choose to have children.

  • An IWF-sponsored study criticized women's studies curricula at 30 universities, and the study's author, Christine Stolba, claimed on Fox's O'Reilly Factor that women could learn more about gender politics by reading Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" than reading any of the many important books on the various syllabi.

  • The group is nourished by a steady diet of contributions from some of the most conservative family endowments in the country, including the Olin, Bradley, Scaife, and Randolph foundations.

  • The IWF's board of directors is an all-star lineup of anti-feminism, including the vice president's wife, Lynne Cheney; Clinton-hunter Midge Decter; former Enron board member and wife of former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, Wendy Lee Gramm; and National Review columnist and television personality, Kate O'Bierne.

Why conservatives think it's just fine to minimize the danger of domestic violence, punish women for having children, or ignore critical thinking about gender issues, I'm not sure – but those are topics for another discussion. What I do know is that Iraqi women – who should rightly expect that a responsibility of any new democratic government is to keep them safe, might find the statements and actions of the IWF less than reassuring. What signal does it send that a group like the IWF has been entrusted with the task of supervising an Iraqi women's leadership program?

Upon learning of the award, the Forum issued a press release, which read, in part: "IWF appreciates the great vote of confidence this State Department grant represents," said Heather R. Higgins, chairman of IWF's Board of Directors. "Even more, we are gratified that we will again have the privilege of walking the walk as we did with our 9/11 Infant Care Project, trying to make lives better by putting into action the ideas we espouse, using both our heads and our hearts."

IWF, with its partners, will implement a 12-month Women Leaders Program and Democracy Network Information and Coordination Center to provide Iraqi women with education on democracy and political advocacy and build networks of Iraqi women activists with a common agenda. The Center will be a key source of information and educational materials on democracy, campaigning, and governance for a variety of Iraqi democracy and women's rights advocacy organizations.

A key source of information and educational materials? The Independent Women's Forum supports weakening Title IX, which protects equal education opportunities, charging that insistence on women's athletic opportunities "wreaks havoc on men's sports teams." They argue against more opportunities for women in the military, and even opposed the integration of Virginia Military Institute.

So just what does the Independent Women's Forum plan to teach Iraqi women? Media training in how to disparage quaint concepts like equal pay, or calling on government to ignore complaints about violence against women? Or, perhaps they'll sponsor a seminar in "How to Raise Money from Anti-Women Sources to Attack Every Current Initiative to Benefit Women."

Next time you hear George W. Bush boast about what his administration is doing for the women of Iraq, think how they grateful they ought to be for this latest American import.

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