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Independent Women's Forum

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The Independent Women's Forum (IWF; not to be confused with the International Women's Forum) is an anti-feminist organization predominantly funded by right-wing foundations, including the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the Koch brothers' Claude R. Lambe Foundation.[1] On its website, it describes its mission as being "to rebuild civil society by advancing economic liberty, personal responsibility, and political freedom. IWF builds support for a greater respect for limited government, equality under the law, property rights, free markets, strong families, and a powerful and effective national defense and foreign policy."[2] The Independent Women's Forum is an "associate" member of the State Policy Network, a web of right-wing “think tanks” in every state across the country.[3]

The IWF originally grew out of a group called "Women for Clarence Thomas," formed to support Clarence Thomas, then a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, against allegations of sexual harassment.[4][5] It has vocally opposed the Violence Against Women Act.

In an editorial, the New York Times called the IWF "a right-wing public policy group that provides pseudofeminist support for extreme positions that are in fact dangerous to women."[6]

From 2003-2008, IWF was affiliated with the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity.[7][8]

Koch Wiki

The Koch brothers -- David and Charles -- are the right-wing billionaire co-owners of Koch Industries. As two of the richest people in the world, they are key funders of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on the Kochs include: Koch Brothers, Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity, American Encore, and Freedom Partners.

Ties to the Koch Brothers

IWF has received funding from several sources with ties to the Koch brothers. The Koch family foundations donated $844,115 to IWF between 1998 and 2012, the most recent year for which records are available. DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund have contributed over $2.1 milliion to IWF since 2010.

Heather Higgins, the chair of IWF's board of directors, has attended at least one Koch network summit meeting. Former IWF president Nancy Pfotenhauer worked for Koch Industries and has attended multiple Koch network meetings. Pfotenhauer currently sits on the board of Americans for Prosperity, a key organization in the Kochs' political network.[9]


IWF Managing Director Suggests Gender Discrimination Is a Fairy Tale

In an opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune on August 8, 2016, managing director at IWF, Carrie Lukas implies that gender discrimination is a fairy tale,

"Obviously there was discrimination against women once upon a time, but the feminist movement has kind of clung to that. They've been allowed to get away with this idea that the sexes are interchangeable, but at the same time claim it's a legitimate idea that we need a woman to change things.”[10]

IWF Fellow Calls Gun Control "Sexist," 2013

Speaking at Senate hearings on gun control in February 2013, IWF senior fellow Gayle Trotter stated that gun control regulations were "sexist."

"Calling guns “the great equalizer,” Trotter said women need firearms to protect themselves against male attackers. “An assault weapon in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon,” Trotter said. “And the peace of mind she has…knowing she has a scary-looking gun gives her more courage when she’s fighting hardened violent criminals.”[11]

Trotter's testimony provoked strong reactions, with many critics citing research that suggests the presence of guns in the home often correlates with a greater likelihood that women and children will be injured or killed. A New York Times editorial wrote that it marked "an absurd low point" in the debate over gun violence in the U.S., adding that "[i]n domestic violence situations, the risk of homicide for women increased eightfold when the abuser had access to firearms, according to a study published in The American Journal of Public Health in 2003." The Times editors also noted that the IWF had opposed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994.[6] The Nation added Trotter's statement to its list of "Timeless Whoppers."[12] In Slate, feminist activists Amanda Marcotte wrote, "The conservative claim, made by Trotter, that guns are an "equalizer" is about as serious a misrepresentation as you can muster when it comes to violence against women. Most violence against women is perpetrated by men the victim knows in situations that are intimate or social, where guns aren't usually out."[5]

Trotter defended her testimony in an e-mail to the Daily Beast, writing, "I am an unapologetically liberty-loving, tyranny-hating, red-blooded, patriotic American woman, a lawyer who is proud to say that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are the founding charters of freedom and that government of the people, for the people and by the people is here to stay.”[11]

Opposition to Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), 2013

IWF has regularly opposed VAWA, including during a fight to reauthorize the Act in March 2013. "What concerns us most is VAWA includes no provisions for financial oversight, views violence more through an ideological lens than a practical one, erodes constitutional rights of the accused, and perpetuates the idea that society is hostile to women," Charlotte Hays of the Independent Women's Forum, said in a statement" at the time, according to the Washington Post.[13]

An article by Sally Patel in IWF's "scholarly" magazine, The Women's Quarterly, stated that "the battered women's movement has outlived its useful beginnings."[14]

Defense of Rush Limbaugh

IWF has repeatedly defended right-wing talk radio host Rush Limbaugh,[15][16] including supporting Limbaugh after his misogynist comments towards Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke on his show in 2012. A report by The Nation and the American Independent Institute found that Limbaugh donated about $273,000 to IWF in 2007, making him the group's largest donor that year. The report noted that in later years, "donors to the IWF began cloaking its contributions by running them through the right-wing’s biggest donor-advised fund, DonorsTrust," making it difficult to know how much Limbaugh may have donated since then.[17]

Efforts to Eradicate Teaching of Global Warming from Schools

In May, 2010 IWF started supporting a group called Balanced Education for Everyone whose goal is to stop the teaching of global warming in U.S. schools. The group calls global warming "junk science," and claims teaching it scares children unnecessarily. The group started its national effort at a meeting of the Mesa County, Colorado District 51 School Board, where it presented the board with a petition containing 600-700 signatures of people who want global warming instruction stopped. [18][19]


Founded by Rosalie Gaull (Ricky) Silberman in 1992, the IWF grew out of the ad hoc group, Women for Judge Thomas.

While claiming to challenge "radical feminists," IWF primarily targets mainstream feminists and feminist organizations, as exemplified by such figures as Hillary Rodham Clinton and such groups as the American Association of University Women.

IWF is a secular counterpart to Religious Right women's groups like Eagle Forum and Concerned Women for America, but these groups often work together. People for the American Way describe IWF as a group that "opposes affirmative action, gender equity programs like Title IX, and the Violence Against Women Act."[20]

IWF members include academic women who are paid to write papers that denigrate the idea of equity for girls and women in education. One of these papers,[1] by Judith Kleinfeld, a professor of psychology at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, has questioned an MIT study[21] on discrimination against women in MIT's science department, calling their findings "junk science."

IWF's website shows an expansive sphere of concerns, all viewed from right-wing perspectives.

IWF's head Michelle Bernard later became the head of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy. The Bernard Center's website lists no donors, no history and no contact information other than a PO box in Potomac, Maryland. Analysts from the Bernard Center have written about 'misguided' food and nutrition policy, and the need for more charter schools.

Feminist Majority Objects to IWF's State Department Grant, 2004

In October 2004 the Feminist Majority Foundation objected to the U.S. Department of State's decision to award part of a $10 million grant to IWF for "leadership training, democracy education and coalition building assistance" to women in Iraq. Then-president of the Feminist Majority Eleanor Smeal said that the IWF "represents a small group of right-wing wheeler-dealers inside the Beltway."[22] The funding was from the Iraqi Women's Democracy Initiative. In a press release, IWF "denounced" the Feminist Majority's objection, calling it a "radical feminist group," and stated its plan to work with the American Islamic Congress and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.[23]


According to data collected by Media Matters' Conservative Transparency Project, IWF received $16,009,294 in foundation grants between 1994 and 2012. The top ten overall contributors to IWF are:[1]

IWF has also received grants from Exxon Mobil ($50,000 between 2002 and 2006) and from the Joyce and Donald Rumsfeld Foundation ($31,500 between 2002 and 2010).

At the time of its resource sharing announcement with Americans for Prosperity in October 2003, IWF stated that "we had come through a difficult transition a few years ago and were really hitting our stride after getting a major, million-dollar grant."[7]

Core Financials


  • Total Revenue: $4,427,773
  • Total Expenses: $3,785,763
  • Net Assets: $862,496
  • In 2012, IWF listed its largest single expense as "Active engagement/mkt evaluation," on which it spend $2,983,197 in 2012.


  • Total Revenue: $826,254
  • Total Expenses: $601,823
  • Net Assets: $220,486


  • Total Revenue: $858,876
  • Total Expenses: $1,028,393
  • Net Assets: -$3,945
  • In 2010, IWF spent over $540,000 (more than 60% of its revenue for that year) on compensation and employee benefits.


  • Total Revenue: $4,263,640
  • Total Expenses: $4,374,313
  • Net Assets: $168,223



As of June 2014:[27]

Senior Fellows

Board of Directors

Leadership Circle

Directors Emeritae:

Contact Details

Independent Women's Forum
1726 M Street, NW
Tenth Floor
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202) 419-1820
Email: info At

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch Articles

External Articles


  1. 1.0 1.1 Media Matters, Independent Women's Forum, recipient profile, accessed July 9, 2014.
  2. "Our Mission", Independent Women's Forum, accessed February 2008.
  3. State Policy Network, Directory, State Policy Network, 2016.
  4. Institute for Policy Studies, Independent Women's Forum, organization profile, accessed July 10, 2014.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Amanda Marcotte, "Gayle Trotter's Ideas Will Not Keep Women Safe," Slate, January 30, 2013. Accessed July 10, 2014.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Editorial, "Dangerous Gun Myths," New York Times, February 2, 2013. Accessed July 10, 2014.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Independent Women's Forum, "IWF Announces Exciting New Partnership", Media Release, October 28, 2003. (This is a copy archived in the Internet Archive, accessed March 2008.
  8. Americans for Prosperity - research and background information, DeSmog Blog, accessed February 2013.
  9. Americans for Prosperity, Directors, organizational website, accessed June 23, 2014.
  10. Diana Sroka Rickert, Don't assume all women will cast a knee-jerk vote for Hillary Clinton, Chicago Tribune, August 8, 2016.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Caitlin Dickson, "Gayle Trotter: The Woman Who Called Gun Control Sexist," The Daily Beast, February 7, 2013. Accessed July 9, 2014.
  12. Timeless Whoppers: Gayle Trotter," The Nation, February 2013. Accessed July 10, 2014.
  13. Suzy Khimm, "The Violence Against Women Act: Out of the fire, into the sequester," Washington Post, March 1, 2013. Accessed July 9, 2014.
  14. Sally Patel, "It's Always His Fault: Femininist Ideology Dominates Perpetrator Programs", The Women's Quarterly, Independent Women's Forum, Summer 1997 - Number 12.
  15. Carrie Lukas, "Do the Facts Matter When the Subject is Rush Limbaugh?," Independent Women's Forum, October 2007. Accessed June 23, 2014.
  16. Charlotte Hays, "Feminist Icons: Censorship Now!," Independent Women's Forum, March 13, 2012. Accessed June 23, 2014.
  17. Eli Clifton, "Guess Which Women’s Group Rush Limbaugh Has Donated Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars to?," The Nation, June 12, 2014. Accessed June 23, 2014.
  18. Nancy Lofholm Push to teach "other side" of global warming heats up in Colorado's Mesa County Denver Post, May 26, 2010
  19. Emily Anderson Petitions target ‘political’ leanings of teachers Grand Junction, Colorado Daily Sentinel, May 26, 2010
  20. People for the American Way, "Fighting the Right: The Right-Wing Affiliations of Bush Administration Officials: Appendix - Right Wing Groups", undated, accessed March 2008.
  21. "A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT", Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1999.
  22. Feminist News, "State Department Funds Anti-Women's Rights Group To Train Iraqi Women," October 5, 2004. Accessed July 9, 2014.
  23. Independent Women's Forum, "IWF Assails Radical Feminist Group's Charge," press release, October 5, 2004. Accessed July 9, 2014.
  24. Independent Women's Forum, 2012 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, August 2, 2013. Accessed June 23, 2014.
  25. Independent Women's Forum, 2011 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, August 13, 2012. Accessed June 23, 2014.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Independent Women's Forum, 2010 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, May 6, 2011. Accessed June 23, 2014.
  27. Independent Women's Forum, About, organizational website, accessed June 23, 2014.