Johnson County officials stress gender equality


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The fight for gender equality has been a long one, and though Johnson County has taken steps toward facing the issue, a number of officials said the road ahead comes with a number of challenges.

During a Thursday morning meeting, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors were presented with a certificate on behalf of the national women’s equality group Vision 2020 and the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics.

This certificate recognized the gender balance on the county’s boards and commissions as part of the Gender Balance Project started by the Catt Center.

Johnson and Van Buren Counties were the only two counties in Iowa that achieved gender equality by 2012, said Florine Swanson, the National Legacy Circle Chair for the American Association of University Women.

Since 1987, Iowa law has required gender balance on state boards and commissions, and this law was extended to counties and cities in 2009, before taking effect in 2012.

According to Iowa Code 69.16A (1) no one shall be appointed to any board if that appointment would cause the number of members of the board to be greater than one-half plus one of the membership of the board if the group is composed of an odd number of members. If there is an even number, it must not be more than one-half of one gender.

Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan said all of the county’s boards and commissions have adhered to this law.

In fact, he said, they went above the law by extending this gender balance to boards and commissions established by the Board of Supervisors, a stipulation that wasn’t required in the law.

Despite the strides that Johnson County has taken in achieving gender equality, Sullivan, said work remains.

“We could use more female elected officials, and we could use more females at the department-head level,” he said. “We’ve got a ways to go.”

Supervisor Chairwoman Janelle Rettig said the process of balancing gender in the county was a difficult one, and it will continue to be difficult.

“It’s an ongoing struggle,” Rettig said. “If you don’t try, you will never get there.”

Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said the county has worked on gender equality for nearly 13 years.

Though he said this law is headed in the right direction, it is only the first step.

“Government is to be represented by the people,” he said. “Sometimes, it takes a piece of legislation to kick-start that.”

Swanson, who presented the certificate to the board at the meeting, said achieving gender equality in Iowa is a more difficult process than she would’ve hoped. Although often focused on gender equality for women, she said, she wants to make sure men receive similar treatment.

“We’re about equity, not just making sure women are represented,” Swanson said.

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