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With national diversity policies under focus, Iowa is about to lift the gender parity provision for governing bodies



Des Moines, Iowa – The only state in the union to formally require gender parity in state, county, and local decision-making bodies is Iowa. That will come to an end when Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa approves a measure that supports a nationwide repeal of laws that are discriminatory against women and people of color.

Advocates for civil rights are concerned that this tendency would result in less chances and more obstacles for different voices within American institutions. Proponents of the gender balance rule in Iowa worry that appointed governing bodies—which haven’t quite equaled with the mandate—will lose some of their representativeness.

Republicans said that it was long overdue to repeal the discriminatory law that puts a person’s gender ahead of their qualifications. A federal judge’s decision that there is insufficient proof the legislation is compensating for discrimination now, as it was when it was initially introduced in 1987, supported that viewpoint.

Republican-led legislatures around the country are attempting to undo provisions for historically oppressed populations, which they view as discriminatory. This has resulted in the breakdown of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives on college campuses, the passage of women’s “bills of rights” that define sex as binary, and the exclusion of transgender girls and women from female sports.

“If ever there was a time that this was a good idea, it is no longer now,” Iowa Republican Sen. Jason Schultz said of the mandate when he introduced the bill for a vote. “The world has changed, and it is time that men and women are selected on their qualifications and nothing else.”

The Iowa measure is awaiting Governor Reynolds’ approval after passing both the Senate and the House. As of right now, applicants for boards, commissions, and committees of any gender must wait three months to be considered under Iowa law. With the repeal, authorities would no longer be required to look for a suitable candidate in order to create gender parity in organizations like the Human Rights Commission or the medical licensing board.

Sen. Chris Cournoyer, a Republican from Iowa, supported the bill and expressed sadness over the idea that fewer women would be serving if the requirement weren’t there. Rather, the restriction inhibits the number of women who are qualified to serve, according to her.

“Women who have worked hard to earn their success should not have that success diminished by those that depend on a system that allows them to fall upward,” Cournoyer said.

Karen Kedrowski, a political scientist and the director of Iowa State University’s Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, argued that was a false dichotomy. She stated that making sure representative bodies don’t equate to selecting people who aren’t qualified for the job just because they meet the requirements.

The Carrie Chapman Catt Center began monitoring members of specific boards and commissions in every county and numerous cities as the law did not specify oversight for the mandate.
Women are more evenly distributed among gender-balanced bodies as of 2022 than they were ten years prior, according to Kedrowski. The proportion of women holding appointed jobs and chair positions is greater.

Speaking against the bill, Iowa Democrats cited the facts as evidence supporting the mandate for women’s advancements.

“Simply because progress has been made does not mean it’s not going to roll back,” Sen. Janice Weiner said to her colleagues, adding that public servants from different backgrounds each bring important perspectives that inform decisions.

When the law was approved more than thirty years ago, Iowa became the first state to require statewide boards and commissions. In 2012, the Legislature expanded the requirement to include all levels of government.

Laws in more than a dozen states encourage public servants to select members of statewide boards and commissions who fairly represent the gender distribution of the community they serve.
Court cases are increasingly focusing on that legislation. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling last year to abolish affirmative action in college admissions, legal challenges to diversity measures in general have been redoubled.

An Iowan was represented by Pacific Legal Foundation, a national law practice that specializes in government overreach, in the dispute concerning the judicial nominating panel, which suggests candidates to the governor for the state’s high courts. The gender balance requirement for that body was declared illegal by the federal judge.

According to senior attorney Joshua Thompson, these kinds of board and commission policies are “pretty prolific across the country.” Approximately two dozen states have laws that discriminate based on race or gender, according to their study on 20 professional licensing boards.

According to Thompson, their focus is on situations in which the government “treats people differently with respect to immutable characteristics,” regardless of gender or color, and they don’t look for proof that the treatment ends discrimination.

Additionally, the firm defended an Arkansan who claimed his rights were infringed by a race-based quota for the board that licenses social workers. According to Thompson, there are currently cases in Tennessee, Alabama, and Louisiana, and more are anticipated.

The National Women’s Law Center’s senior counsel, Rachel Smith, stated that despite the Supreme Court’s rulings last year being narrow in their reach, these challenges have “picked up steam.”
Smith stressed that, given the acknowledgment that the regulations were necessary when they were passed, the judge’s ruling in Iowa “does nicely underscore that gender-conscious laws can be constitutional.”

“While we’re seeing this rush across the country to throw the baby out with the bathwater, to get rid of all laws and programs that try to counter discrimination and increase diversity,” Smith said. “It’s important to remember that where there is discrimination — and we know that discrimination is still pervasive — that measures to ensure equal opportunities for women are still needed.”


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