Iowa City Stories

April 1, 2010

Women’s Rights in Iowa City

Women are still fighting for their rights even now, in the 21st century. In Iowa City, the biggest issue is sexual violence. Another big issue in women’s rights is abortion.

“I think a lot of people would say, ‘I have everything I need. I have all my rights. I’m not discriminated against,’” said 21 year-old Jill Kacere. Kacere has been involved with the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, a University of Iowa women’s rights group, since she was a freshman.

“We [women] have most of the rights that we need,” said Kacere, “but that doesn’t mean that we’re living in a society that is completely fair.”

The United States is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. This United Nations convention is meant to protect women’s rights. Having women’s rights as an idea in our culture is important, said Kacere. The United States is an example to the rest of the world.

There are only eight countries in the world that have not signed the convention. These countries include Iran, Sudan, and Somalia.

Sexual Violence in Iowa City

Karen Siler, 43, is the Johnson County Services Coordinator at the Rape Victim Advocacy Program. She says rape is effected by how a society views gender rights. Society still thinks it is the fault of the victim when an act of sexual violence is committed against them, she said despairingly.

“Maybe they were taking a risk,” said Siler, “but they have a right to drink and a right to dress like they want.”

Kacere agreed that women should not be blamed for the acts committed against them just because they happen to dress a certain way.

“I hate that,” Kacere said, “Because it’s like, if you got raped, then obviously you didn’t follow these rules and therefore it’s your fault.” She disagrees with education that targets what a woman’s actions as being wrong. It’s not about the risky behavior, because that doesn’t address the root of the problem.

According to Siler, the Rape Victim Advocacy Program focuses on teaching people how to notice others and how to respond. For example, if someone is putting someone who is drunk and passes out into a car, check to see if it is someone they know. Find their friends.

Groups are another big way in which people can protect themselves and others. “It’s just common sense,” said 20 year-old Katie Nicklaus.

Nicklaus recalled her days in Girl Scout camp. Even councilors weren’t supposed to walk alone, she said. “If you would fall and twist your ankle, you need someone to limp you home,” she said.

Sexual violence is a huge concern for women, especially in Iowa City. “I do think that sexual violence is ridiculously out of control,” said Kacere, “especially in this community.”

Citizens are not alone on the streets at night. When you walk around the college bar scene, there is usually law enforcement present. Siler noted that police and hospitals are doing all of the right things, but “things can always be better.”

The only way to stop violence, including sexual violence, is for people to make the choice to not be violent. “All violence is a choice,” said Siler, “Even if its self-defense, it’s a choice. You have options.”

A policy that is attempting to make things better is the 21-ordinance. Siler personally supports the ordinance in hopes that it will lessen the atmosphere of violence.

Siler declined to take a stance on whether or not the 21-ordinance would have any effect on sexual assaults in Iowa City. What she is hoping it will do is create less violence.

“If it lessens the amount of people all in one place stirring things up, I’m all for it,” she said.


Abortion in regards to the health care bill was a topic of discussion last Monday at the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance meeting. The group talked about abortion as a right not yet realized.

“I think women’s rights typically mean women’s choice,” Said Kacere.

The group hoped for abortion to be destigmatized. One group member compared it to how many religions are treating premarital sex. Religion still believes it’s wrong, but people don’t stigmatize it anymore.

“If you are really religious, that’s wonderful, live your life by that,” said Kacere. But, religion should not be brought into the argument about abortion because of the separation of church and state.

Many people still decline to make a big statement about the health care bill passed last week because they are unsure of what it entails. One thing that Kacere and the Alliance know is abortion rights were taken out. has a summary for the bill on their site. It points out that no federal funds will be used to fund abortions.

Kacere disagrees, saying that the choice of abortion should be available for everyone. “You can think that abortion is cruel and wrong,” she said, “but when it comes to you, then don’t do it.”

The CBS summary of the bill makes exceptions for “rape, incest, or the health of the mother,” but Kacere doesn’t think a women’s reasoning should be a consideration. It’s all a matter of choice.

“You can do what you want because it’s your body,” said Kacere, “and whether I agree with your reasoning or not, is irrelevant.”

The abortion argument tends to be about a belief or a right. “I think it’s neither,” said Nicklaus. “It is a medical procedure” Abortion should be treated like any other medical procedure.
The health care debate has not disappeared with the passing of the health care bill, and the debate will surely rage on.


One basic right that has still to be realized is equal pay. According to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations site, women made 77 cents for every dollar a man made in 2007. Women who are in a minority group, tend to make less.

“I don’t think the fight for women’s rights will ever be over,” said Kacere.

Kacere urges women to educate themselves and get involved.

“Things might be a problem,” she said, “but you have to look at where it starts.” Don’t just tell women not to do something, ask why it is happening.


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