The Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) is a conservative women’s think tank that wades into a variety of issues, from budget and taxation to “culture” to health care. It seeks to “expand the conservative coalition, both by increasing the number of women who understand and value the benefits of limited government, personal liberty, and free markets, and by countering those who seek to ever-expand government in the name of protecting women.” IWF’s free-market, limited-government perspective often sets itself at odds with prominent women’s advocacy groups like the National Organization for Women. For example, as Congress tackles legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act to address the fact that women earn less than 80 percent of what men earn for the same job, IWF categorically denies that a gender wage gap even exists.
According to political science professor Ronnee Schreiber, IWF was founded in 1992 by a group of women who had originally coalesced in support of Supreme Court candidate Clarence Thomas, a conservative George W. Bush nominee who had been accused of sexual harassment. Its founders sought to establish a place for politically conservative women that, in contrast to the already extant Concerned Women for America, did not see abortion as their foremost concern.
IWF sneers at modern iterations of feminism that seek to compensate for de facto inequalities, instead typically espousing “equity feminism,” which limits its agenda to purely legal equality and sees contemporary feminism as hostile to men and to the idea that there may be inborn differences between the sexes. For IWF, this means rejecting “special government protection or support” for women, which it understands to be predicated upon a view of women as a “victim-class.”
An illustrative example of how equity feminism and hostility to government expansion intersect to inform the priorities of IWF can be found in the organization’s opposition to the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which set up funding for efforts to combat domestic abuse and aid victims of violence. IWF’s website, which has said that “the battered women's movement has outlived its useful beginnings,” argued that VAWA’s passage would “do nothing to protect women from crime” but instead “perpetuate false information, waste money and urge vulnerable women to mistrust all men.” In an amicus brief filed in support of a challenge to a provision of the law allowing victims to sue their abusers in federal court, IWF went so far as to say that the law was “harmful to the victims it purports to help.”
Despite the “Independent” in its name, IWF typically aligns with Republicans, and has strong ties to right-wing infrastructure. Managing Director Carrie Lukas used to work for the Cato Institute and is currently a senior fellow at the Goldwater Institute. Lynne Cheney is a director emerita, as is Nancy Pfotenhauer, who was the president and CEO of Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, once worked for Koch Industries, and served as a senior policy adviser to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign. Sally Pipes, another director emerita, is president and CEO of the right-wing Pacific Research Institute. George W. Bush reportedly sought suggestions from IWF on women suited to serve in his administration.