Anti-Feminist Group Awarded Grant to Train Iraqi Women in DemocracyThink Halliburton in a Skirt
October 15, 2004
by Kourtney Stamps, NOW Communications Intern
In a twist on the usual Bush giveaways to conservative allies, the State Department has awarded the explicitly anti-feminist Independent Women's Forum (IWF) part of a $10 million grant to help train Iraqi women for the upcoming January elections.
On Sept. 27, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced the Iraqi Women's Democracy Initiative and named seven different organizations that will use this grant money. "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," said Powell.
The participation of the IWF has raised concern among progressive organizations because of the group's ultra-conservative bent. And unlike the other organizations involvedsuch as the Meridian International Center, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institutethe IWF is the only group with no experience in democracy promotion or international affairs.
The IWF has already denounced the Feminist Majority for criticizing IWF's involvement in the initiative. Michelle D. Bernard, senior fellow with the IWF, claimed, "IWF is part of a global community that seeks to be a voice in ending violence and discrimination against women and girls globally. Like it or not, we are here to stay."
However, Bernard's words are very different from the IWF's record. The group strongly opposed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), has worked to weaken gender equity in education programs, and criticized the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), in part because it would require participating governments to enforce laws assuring equal pay for equal work, maternity leave with pay and child care facilities for working mothers.
The IWF grew out of Women for Clarence Thomas, a group that supported the Supreme Court Justice against claims of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings. Today, the group claims its mission is to "combat the women-as-victim, pro-big government ideology of radical feminism." They have taken anti-feminist stances on a number of issues including affirmative action, welfare and Title IX. They have also spearheaded She Thinks, a campaign dedicated to opposing the rhetoric of "radical professors" and "traditional campus feminism" at colleges and universities throughout the U.S.
Among IWF's founding members are Lynne Cheney, former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney; Wendy Lee Gramm, former board member of Enron and wife of former Republican Senator Phil Gramm of Texas; Midge Decter, former co-chair (with Donald Rumsfeld) of the Committee for the Free World and one of the founders of the neo-conservative movement with her spouse, Norman Podhoretz; and Bush's Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.
"This is just another case of George W. Bush handing out money to his ideological buddies and campaign supporters," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "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."
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