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Women's History Month

Indiana University faculty scholars

EDITORS: March is Women's History Month. Indiana University is home to many faculty members whose work involves issues related to women's lives and history. Below is a sample of story ideas. You are encouraged to contact these faculty members directly, but please contact us if you need further assistance.

Photo by: Chris Meyer

Tracy L. Osborn, a Ph.D. candidate in political science, studies the effects of electing women to representative government positions, particularly legislatures, in the United States. She has found that women have the potential to work as a group in a legislative chamber to create and pass legislation that benefits women. However, women are legislators just as men are, and it is not always the case that women will support a single agenda to benefit women.

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Women have the potential to work as a group in a legislative chamber to create and pass legislation that benefits women. However, women are legislators just as men are, and it is not always the case that women will support a single agenda to benefit women, said Tracy L. Osborn, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Indiana University Bloomington. Osborn studies the effects of electing women to representative government positions, particularly legislatures, in the United States. Some people believe that women in elective office represent women's interests better than men. This is because they share experiences with other women as wives, mothers and caregivers, giving them insight into what legislation will benefit women's lives. Others, however, question whether women in legislatures produce changes in public policy that benefit women. Osborn examines these questions across the 50 state legislatures. In many cases, she said, women support working on issues, such as child protection laws, that deal with women's traditional social roles. They also promote legislation that deals directly with women's social, economic and physical well-being, such as domestic violence laws. However, their actions in the chamber, particularly their roll call votes, often show division among women over these issues. Many of these issues are divided into partisan alternatives in the legislative process, and since parties are strong influences on legislators' behavior, they can influence women's efforts on these issues that affect female constituents. Osborn finds that women in government have the potential to make a difference in the representation of women in the United States, but this potential must be considered in the context of the legislative process. Osborn can be reached at tosborn@indiana.edu.

An IU business professor identifies challenges faced by women entrepreneurs and the reasons for them in an upcoming book. IU's Elizabeth Gatewood, director of the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Jack M. Gill Chair of Entrepreneurship in the Kelley School of Business, joined scholars at Boston University, Harvard University, Babson College and the University of St. Thomas in examining women entrepreneurs and their hunt for growth capitol. In their upcoming book, Clearing the Hurdles: Women Building High Growth Businesses (Financial Times Prentice Hall), Gatewood and her co-authors review the personal and strategic factors and obstacles that women find associated with funding, growth and ultimate success. In addition, they offer practical, concrete strategies and solutions for every obstacle. "In our research, we found that the skills and organization-building processes for men and women are much the same," Gatewood said. "However, we found that the personal resources, the technical training and the management experiences that women brought to their enterprises differed from their male counterparts, as well as the attitudes and expectations about entrepreneurial success held by both women and society as a whole." Gatewood can be reached at 812-855-4248 or at gatewood@indiana.edu.

The adoption by multinational companies of proactive policies and programs that promote the professional development of women potentially may do more than benefit the company and its female employees and their families. Indiana University Bloomington professor Terry Morehead Dworkin said such practices may also lead to greater economic stability and lower rates of violence in the local society. Dworkin is the dean of the Office of Women's Affairs at IUB and the Jack R. Wentworth Professor of Business Law in the Kelley School of Business. A study conducted by Dworkin and University of Michigan business law professor Cindy Schipani looked at 144 countries and found a correlative relationship between low levels of gender inequity in the workforce and low levels of violence in resolving disputes. Many nations have passed legislation banning discrimination against women in the workplace, Dworkin said, but these laws are not always enforced. Cultural norms, religious customs or traditional business practices sometimes are more influential than the anti-discrimination laws. Multinational companies could influence this by granting social rights and by adopting policies on nondiscrimination, providing mentoring and training programs, and implementing child care and other family-friendly policies. Dworkin can be reached at 812-855-3840 and dworkint@indiana.edu.

Instead of always assuming that African women are disempowered by debilitating socio-cultural structures and institutions, researchers should first examine and understand the complexity of African cultures, particularly their capacity to simultaneously empower and disempower women, and more importantly, devise ways to use the empowering structures to bring about positive changes in women's lives, according to Obioma Nnaemeka, former director of the Women's Studies Program and professor of French, women's studies and African/African Diaspora studies at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. Nnaemeka's peace work in the Great Lakes region of Africa -- Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- has convinced her that a profound understanding of local socio-cultural institutions and gender relations will open up new terrain for understanding women in the region not only as victims of war but also as makers of peace. "We haven't tapped into the potential of women as makers of peace," she said. "The male-dominated peace efforts in Africa -- engineered and executed by presidents, ministers and their male surrogates -- are revealing in their inadequacy and inefficacy. We ignore the fact that in many African contexts, the authoritative voices of women in peace-building are culturally institutionalized and sanctioned." For example, knowing that cultural imperatives give more power to daughters of the clan than to wives of the clan will give clues as to which women are most vulnerable and must be evacuated first if a war or other conflict forces the setting of evacuation priorities. During Nnaemeka's research on women and oil protests in Nigeria, she saw women take over Exxon-Mobil platforms in protest. A Nigerian male employee of Exxon-Mobil was instructed by his white boss to chase away the protesters. He refused because, he said, "These women are over 40 years old, and I cannot push them around." Nnaemeka is involved with a variety of non-governmental organizations dealing with peace and conflict resolution, human rights and social justice, women's health, democratic participation and social change. She can be reached at nnaemeka@iupui.edu.

There is little question that female athletes have made great strides as a result of Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, said Martha McCarthy, Chancellor's Professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University Bloomington. From coeducational soccer teams for young children to varsity competition in universities, female athletes are gaining ground thanks to the landmark piece of legislation designed to eliminate gender discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funds. But Title IX has not been without controversy. Most recently, "critics hoped and supporters feared that major changes to Title IX would result from a review of the law that was commissioned by Secretary of Education Rod Paige in 2002 on the eve of the 30th anniversary of Title IX," McCarthy said. "After the Department of Education reviewed the committee's lengthy report in 2003, it decided that no significant changes in Title IX were warranted." Although the media continue to focus on Title IX's impact on athletics, she said, the legislation has a far broader purpose -- barring gender-based discrimination in admissions, sexist language in instructional materials, single-gender courses such as home economics and wood shop, and sexual harassment in federally assisted schools and universities. The threat of legal action has caused institutional practices to change without the imposition of sanctions. "The playing field may not yet be level, but its tilt is not as severe as before Title IX was enacted," she said. For more information on Title IX, contact McCarthy at 812-856-8384 or mccarthy@indiana.edu.

Title IX does not require athletics departments to eliminate men's sports, said Suzanne Eckes, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University Bloomington, and co-author of a Title IX report with Molly Chamberlin, formerly of the Indiana Education Policy Center at IU Bloomington. The Office for Civil Rights has interpreted Title IX as requiring athletics programs to satisfy only one aspect of the three-pronged criteria, Eckes said. Each program must show that the percentage of women involved in sports is proportional to the school's enrollment, that a history and continuing practice of program expansion is responsive to the developing interests and abilities of the underrepresented gender, or that the interests and the abilities of the members of that gender have been fully and effectively accommodated by the present program. Eckes said the proportionality standard has been the subject of much controversy as opponents allege it imposes a quota system resulting in the elimination of less popular men's sports such as wrestling or swimming. Schools could redistribute funding through a variety of other means to make room for additional women's sports, she said. Also, those responsible for evaluating and enforcing Title IX compliance should examine not only proportionality in participation, but also financial resource allocation and coaches' salaries to ensure that both genders are receiving adequate financial support, according to Eckes. On the whole, Indiana institutions are allocating scholarships according to Title IX guidelines. Under Title IX, the percentages of total athletic scholarship dollars given to male and female athletes should be within 1 percent or one scholarship of the total athletic participation rate for the institution. Although averages for all Indiana NCAA Division I institutions show that the state's institutions are fairly allocating scholarship money, as of 2001-02, three of the nine universities examined had disparities in scholarship allocation of 4 percent of more. "Unlike scholarships, Title IX does not make specific mention of amounts and proportions of resources that are allocated; however, in evaluating Title IX compliance, enforcers must consider the provision of supplies, travel and per diem allowance, and facilities," Eckes said. "Although female athletes make up 44 percent of all athletes in Indiana, only 34 percent of athletic operation expenses are allocated to female athletic teams." For more information, contact Eckes at 812-856- 8376 or seckes@indiana.edu.

Numerous studies have shown that women are underrepresented in the natural sciences at all levels of the academy, from undergraduate students through faculty. "While there are no simple solutions to this problem, improving the climate for women in the sciences can improve the retention factor at all levels," said Liese van Zee, assistant professor in the Department of Astronomy at Indiana University Bloomington. "To this end, Professor Caty Pilachowski and I have organized a series of monthly meetings for the female students, postdoctoral associates and faculty in the Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy departments. These meetings have several goals, including providing an informal social support network for women, as well as providing practical advice on topics such as finding a job, mentoring and research opportunities. For example, our February meeting focused on the choice of an academic career versus taking a job in industry or at a National Laboratory. By providing a welcoming environment and building ties between departments with related interests, we hope to improve the climate for women in science at IU." For more information, contact van Zee at 812-855-0274 or vanzee@astro.indiana.edu.

To encourage women who would like to pursue computer science-related careers in a field traditionally dominated by men, Indiana University Bloomington computer scientists Beth Plale and Suzanne Menzel helped organize the first-ever Central Indiana Celebration of Women in Computing last month at nearby McCormick's Creek State Park. The 24-hour conference, which included a slumber party, featured talks by industry and academic leaders. CICWIC drew about 100 faculty, staff and students from IU, Purdue University, Butler University, DePauw University and the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. It was sponsored by the IUB Computer Science Department, the IU School of Informatics, Microsoft Inc., Hewlett-Packard Inc., the Association for Computing Machinery's Committee on Women in Computing, and Crew Technical Services of Indianapolis. For more information about the Central Indiana Celebration of Women in Computing, visit http://www.cs.indiana.edu/cicwic. To speak with Plale or Menzel, contact Linda Barchet at 812-855-6486 or barchet@cs.indiana.edu.