Iowa Commission Focuses on Issues Facing Women Statewide

Lynda Waddington

A group of Iowans focused on addressing challenges facing women statewide understands abortion in the context of many other reproductive health and kitchen table issues.

Wednesday afternoon a small but mighty group gathered in Marion, Iowa, to
begin statewide discussions on the plight of women, the challenges
facing organizations that serve women and the legislative targets and
goals that will soon be developed by the Iowa Commission on the Status
of Women.

The meeting, organized and hosted by the state agency, marked the
first time in roughly 30 years that public hearings were held outside
of the state’s centralized metro area. Next week the Commission will
continue public hearings in the cities of Urbandale and Storm Lake.

What may come as a surprise to those who have not sat in on such
meetings is that abortion – that hot-button issue that seems to emerge
during each election season – was not a topic of discussion. Those who
attended the meetings – representatives from the Iowa Department of Corrections, the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, the Iowa Policy Project, Five Giant Steps, the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence
among others – were instead fixated on the kitchen table issues that
adversely affect women in Iowa. This is not to say that women’s health,
including reproductive health, was not a concern among those in
attendance. It was just that this group of women and one man,
Commissioner Tom Carnahan of Davenport, understand that reproductive
health is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to women’s issues.

Robin Robinson, project manager for Five Giant Steps,
provided the Commission with information related to early childhood
development that was specific to Linn County. This project, which was
born from the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber’s and the Cedar Rapids
Community Foundation’s Fifteen in 5 initiative, focuses on the area’s youngest residents.

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"[Five Giant Steps] is an information conduit and we are responding
to current needs, such as in relation to the flood recovery efforts in
this area," Robinson said.

Robinson presented the Commission members and other meeting
participants with printed documents outlining the current state of
child care programs in Cedar Rapids and Palo following the June floods.
The 2008 floods, according to those documents, affected local licensed
and registered child care settings that serve a total of 1,547
children. Of that total amount, 32 percent are child care settings that
had major flood damage and have subsequently closed. To date, it is
uncertain if these providers will re-open and again service the
community. An additional 16 percent also suffered major damage, have
not yet restarted operations, but plan to be operational at some point
this fall.

Flooding also impacted services being offered by the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, which serves Cedar, Iowa, Johnson and Washington counties, as well as the Cedar Rapids-based Waypoint Services,
according to Kristie Fortmann-Doser, DVIP executive director. The most
pressing need this organization has going into the 2008 legislative
session, however, is monetary.

"Since 2002 nine dual – domestic violence and sexual assault –
programs have closed or been forced to merge with other programs in
state because of lack of funding," Fortmann-Doser said. "During a time
when DVIP has seen a nearly 100 percent increase in services in the
four county area we serve, the program has lost roughly $140,000 in
funding from the state. These monies in the past have been offset
through the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, but it is our understand
that offset will no longer be available."

Without the offset and while facing further federal and state
funding cuts, the program is facing a potential 41 percent funding loss.

The Commission was also given a glimpse into Iowa wage equity from Beth Pearson of the Iowa Policy Project. Despite women comprising nearly half of the state’s workforce, according to Pearson, disparities persist between the genders.

"For instance, although women in Iowa are more likely than men to
receive a post-secondary education, they are also more likely to be in
poverty and to earn a lower wage than male peers," Pearson said, citing
her organization’s recent study on women and the economy.

She recommended the Commission look at policies that would provide paid family leave for women in the workforce.

One of the problems outlined by many in attendance is that women
seeking services in Iowa (as well as many women incarcerated in Iowa)
have dual barriers. For instance, not only may a woman be a victim of
sexual violence, but she might also be a substance abuser. A woman who
is earning less and trying to work her way out of poverty might be
hampered by problems associated with finding and affording quality
child care or transportation to a higher paying job. In this way, many
of the issues surrounding the betterment of women as a whole are
multifaceted and don’t lend themselves to single solutions.

The Iowa Commission on the Status of Women will continue to host the public hearings and then will develop their legislative priorities for the 2008 session.

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