Democrat Sen. Janet Petersen talked at length about gender inequality during floor debate on Tuesday regarding female genital mutilation. In the end, she along with every other member of the Iowa Senate, voted in support of the legislation.

“This bill is a cultural issue,” she said. “It impacts refugees and immigrants who have grown up and been around a difficult culture. It’s very punitive and I believe that the best way to prevent this from happening to young girls and young women is through education. I imagine if any of us moved to another country where circumcision was against the law we would want to know about it. Things that are cultural norms in one country are not cultural norms in another country.”

Republican Sen. Amy Sinclair, who floor managed the bill, questioned if Petersen’s amendment was germane to the bill. Sen. Charles Schneider ruled it was not.

“Wow, that was certainly an interesting ruling,” Petersen said.

Then the gender inequality lecture began.

“This bill has to do with gender inequality and that can take many forms,” Petersen said.

She said gender inequality is in Iowa’s tax code.

“There’s gender inequality in our tax code, taxing Iowa women and girls every month for the products they must purchase when they get their periods,” she said.

“We have no monthly tax for men and their penis.”

Then she talked about gender inequality in schools, which do not ensure every girl has access to tampons and pads so they can be allowed to go to school while menstruating. She said not all girls have financial means to purchase those products. A bill filed by Democrat Sen. Zach Wahls addressed that issue, she said, but it was killed by a subcommittee chair.

Gender inequality exists in the work force, Petersen said, as there is not equal pay for equal work. There’s not paid time off to have a baby. There aren’t always pregnancy accommodations or lactation accommodations.

The legislature has allowed for gender inequality, Petersen said. Thousands of Iowa women have been banned from seeing Iowa’s best qualified professionals for reproductive care.

There’s gender inequality in Iowa with rural hospitals closing labor and delivery departments in record numbers, she said. In privatized Medicaid reimbursements when hospitals lose money for following standard of care for a healthy mom and baby to stay at the hospital.

And there’s gender inequality in the law when laws are passed to keep a woman from determining what is best for her own body.

“Forty Iowa women had to have their uterus amputated in less than the last two years,” Petersen said. “I bet if 40 men had to have their reproductive organ amputated this place would come to a screeching halt.”

Gender inequality persists in sexual harassment and discrimination cases in the work place.

“We as a state have a long way to go to reach gender equality,” Petersen said. “Today it appears the only gender inequality piece of legislation that we may actually see this session is this bill. And it has absolutely no educational component for the people who may be sent to prison because of it.

“I plan to support this piece of legislation even though I disagree with how it’s being addressed.”

Petersen closed by saying she’s willing to work with Republican Senate leaders (Sen. Jack Whitver and Schneider) if they’d like to put together a leadership bill to address these issues.

Sen. Sinclair wrapped up comments by addressing Petersen’s prior comments, noting this bill certainly does fight gender inequality.

“Removal of their clitoris from their body against their will,” Sinclair said. “This bill matters and it matters more than a tax on tampons.”

Jacob Hall

Author: Jacob Hall