Administration Chooses
Anti-Feminist Group
to Train Iraqi Women

WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct 5 (OneWorld) The State Department has awarded an explicitly anti-feminist  U.S. group part of a US$10 million grant to train Iraqi women in political participation and democracy.

The group, the Washington-based Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), will help implement the administration’s “Iraqi Women’s Democracy Initiative."

The participation of the IWF, which has escorted Iraqi women selected by the State Department around power and media centers around Washington, is the most controversial.

The organization was founded in 1991 by a number of prominent right-wing Republican women to act as a counterpoint to what they called the “radical feminism” of the National Organization for Women (NOW), a grassroots group with about 500,000 subscribing members nationwide.

Among the founders were Lynne Cheney, the spouse of Vice President Dick Cheney and former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities; 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 Midge Decter, the former co-chair with Donald Rumsfeld of the Committee for the Free World and one of the founders of neo-conservatism along with her spouse, former “Commentary” editor, Norman Podhoretz.

"Talk about an inside deal, the IWF represents a small group of right-wing wheeler-dealers inside the (Washington) beltway,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

The IWF, which, according to its mission statement was “established to combat the women-as-victim, pro-big-government ideology of radical feminism,” has taken a number of controversial positions over the years in pursuit of that goal.

It has strongly opposed the UN Convention for the Elimination Against Women (CEDAW) in part on the grounds it would permit mandate governments to enforce laws guaranteeing equal pay for equal work. “This is ‘comparable worth,’ a system of government wage setting Americans have rightly rejected as inefficient and antithetical to free market principles,” the IWF has argued.
(and who, pray tell, are these 'Americans?'

It has also objected to CEDAW’s requirements that governments guarantee “maternity leave with pay" and child care facilities as well as its suggestions for minimum quotas to ensure women are represented at all levels in governments. Ironically, the Bush administration adopted this suggestion for Iraq in the interim law approved by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) that is supposed to guide elections currently scheduled for January.

The IWF has also opposed affirmative action and federal programs designed to prevent sexual discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal government funding. The Bush administration appointed IWF’s president, Nancy Mitchell Pfotenhauer, to the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women despite the fact the group opposed the Violence Against Women Act.

The IWF has also been accused of partisanship for its staunch defense of the Republican Party positions and its attacks on prominent Democrats. Last May, for example, it issued a statement assailing Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry for demanding Pentagon chief Rumsfeld steps down to take responsibility for the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal, insisting Kerry was using it “to raise money.”

Several weeks earlier, it launched an aborted petition drive to condemn “the bitter political grandstanding” by Democratic members of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission who were accused of “working for Sen. John Kerry,” instead of “all Americans.”

IWF staff, meanwhile, consists primarily of former Republican activists with extensive government and lobbying experience but little or no experience in democracy promotion, international affairs, or the Middle East.

Announcing the grant last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell said each of the grantees “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.”


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Coutributed by: Carolyn Fitz-Gibbon