In late September, the US State Department announced the names of organizations who would share $10 million in grants to "train Iraqi women in the skills and practices of democratic public life."1 Among the recipients is the Independent Women's Forum (IWF), an anti-feminist group based in Washington, DC. Critics contend that the group lacks any experience in international exchange or democracy-promotion activities and has strong ties with the Bush administration.
The Independent Women's Forum (IWF) was founded in 1992 by a number of prominent right-wing women, according to its own website the organization seeks "to combat the women-as-victim, pro-big-government ideology of radical feminism."2 It grew out of Women for Clarence Thomas, a group that supported the Supreme Court Justice against sexual harassment accusations that emerged during his confirmation hearings. The founders included Lynne Cheney, the vice president's wife; Labor Secretary Elaine Chao; Kate O'Beirne, Washington editor of the right-wing "National Review" and a former senior vice president at the Heritage Foundation; and Wendy Lee Gramm, a former Enron board member and wife of former Texas Senator and Republican presidential candidate Phil Gramm.
The group is suspiciously well-connected with the Bush administration, for example, the Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, who announced the grant at the press briefing, has also served on IWF's board of advisers.
Secretary of State Colin Powell explained the grant in a memo by saying, "Each organization will work with Iraqi partners on the ground to prepare women to compete in Iraq's January 2005 elections, encourage women to vote, train women in media and business skills, and establish resource centers for networking and counseling."3 According to the IWF website, the group 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 IWF has worked tirelessly over the years to oppose progress on women's issues in the United States. For instance, the organization was a vocal opponent of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a bill to launch and fund programs to address domestic violence and sexual assault, referring to it as "wishful thinking about the power of the federal government to curb violence against intimate partners."4 Despite the group's vocal opposition to VAWA, the Bush administration appointed the IWF President Nancy Mitchell Pfotenhauer to the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women.
The group disputes the existence of a "wage gap" between men and women or the existence of the "glass ceiling." The IWF also opposes Title IX, which has worked to end discrimination against women and girls in education and school sports. In addition, they oppose the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Despite their opposition to CEDAW, in March 2002, IWF President Nancy Mitchell Pfotenhauer and an IWF Senior Fellow represented the United States as delegates to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Many groups have criticized the choice of the Independent Women's Forum for the Iraqi project. Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, commented, "Talk about an inside deal - the IWF represents a small group of right-wing, wheeler-dealers inside the Washington beltway."5 Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), said, "This is just another case of George W. Bush handing out money to his ideological buddies and campaign supporters… If the United States really wants to educate Iraqi women about issues as important as democracy and civil rights, the IWF is an embarrassing place to start."6
- Ann Lewis, "Anti-Feminists for Iraqi Women," Alternet, 14 October 2004. Accessed 27 October 2004.
- About IWF, Independent Women's Forum. Accessed 27 October 2004.
- U.S. Department of State, "Grants To Support Democratization Training for Iraqi Women: Statement by Secretary Colin L. Powell," 27 September 2004. Accessed 28 October 2004.
- Ann Lewis, "Anti-feminists for Iraqi Women."
- Jim Lobe, "POLITICS: ANTI-FEMINIST GROUP TO TRAIN IRAQI WOMEN IN POLITICS," IPS-Inter Press Service, 5 October 2004. Accessed on Lexis-Nexis, 27 October 2004.
- K. Stamps, "Anti-Feminist Group Awarded Grant to Train Iraqi Women in Democracy," National Organization for Women website. Accessed 27 October 2004.