Since 1987, Iowa has required that all state boards and commissions be gender-balanced: There must be an equal number of women and men on each board. In 2009, the state passed a new law requiring gender balance on all county and city boards and commissions established by the state’s Iowa Code. Boards were given until January 1, 2012, to begin implementation of the law. AAUW members in Iowa have been a part of this fight for women’s representation from the start. One branch in particular is taking exemplary steps to make it happen.
The AAUW Clarion (IA) Branch recently formed the Wright County Women’s Coalition, led by Florine Swanson and Diane Edwards. The group was designed to encourage boards and activists in the community to work together for gender equity. The coalition, which includes a representative from every town in the county, works to raise awareness about the new law among women in the community and current board members. Last summer, the coalition joined with the Friends of the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women and the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politicsat Iowa State University to look into the actual enforcement of the law. The coalition funded an intern to research the status of the law at the county and state levels to see which areas were meeting the standards and which were not.
The coalition’s findings show that progress is being made, but there is still work to be done. Every county in Iowa has at least one board that’s balanced, and two counties are already 100 percent balanced. While the majority of boards continue to be dominated by men, some boards tend to be the opposite: Library boards, for example, are mostly made up of women.
Statewide, government-level gender balance might seem like a big endeavor to take on, but the amazing AAUW members in Iowa have some wisdom to share on their growing successes. Swanson recommends getting to know your boards and commissions. Building good relationships is invaluable — that way boards can be partners, not adversaries. It’s also helpful to put gender equity in perspective for them: If members think about how talented their own wives, daughters, and sisters are, promoting more women on boards seems natural. At the city level, the city manager is your best connection because she or he can make recommendations to the councils and keep you informed about what appointments are coming up. You can find more advice about working with local boards here.
The Wright County Women’s Coalition has worked to advocate for and implement the new law, with visible results. Last April, Des Moines City Councilman Skip Moore was inspired by AAUW’s efforts and proposed that all city boards and commissions be gender-balanced — even ones that aren’t required by the Iowa Code to be balanced.
AAUW members fight for these and other equity issues every day. Let us know in the comments what work your branch has been doing. Or e-mail us your story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Dani Nispel.