It has been a privilege to cover women’s issues for Fearless and for the Business Record in 2023. As I typed “women’s issues” just now, I cringed. Women’s issues aren’t just women’s issues. They affect everyone. They have significant implications for everyone – and for the economy.

As I looked back at stories from 2023, headlines related to health care and child care dominated Fearless. It’s likely those topics will also be dominant conversations after the Iowa Legislature gavels in on Jan. 8.

What would you like to see Fearless cover in 2024? Our goal is to help empower Iowa women and girls to succeed in work and life. We want to truly represent all corners of the state. Please send me an email with story ideas or guest column pitches:  

Here are the top 12 most impactful Fearless news stories of 2023. (This list does not include columns or individual profiles of women.)

  1. How would potential changes to Iowa’s abortion laws affect your life, in the workplace and beyond?

    Published July 17, 2023

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    In July, most abortions in Iowa were illegal briefly before a judge blocked the ban. The law that went into effect, commonly referred to as a “heartbeat” law, would ban most abortions after cardiac activity is detectable in an embryo. That activity typically occurs around six weeks of gestation – about the time a woman realizes her period is late. The Iowa Supreme Court is on track to decide the law’s fate. Fearless will be watching for a court decision.

  2. The Beacon expands its mission of assisting women to those who’ve just been arrested:

    Published Nov. 13, 2023

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    The Beacon, a nonprofit headquartered in the Sherman Hill neighborhood in Des Moines, introduced a jail diversion program for Central Iowa women last fall. Previously, most of the women helped by the Beacon came to the nonprofit after being released from the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville. With the jail diversion program, some women who fit a specific profile can go right to the Beacon rather than jail. Most of the women served by the Beacon have complex trauma. “Our prison system has become a mental health institution, a substance use treatment facility, and it does a really bad job of those,” said Melissa Vine, the Beacon’s executive director. “This jail diversion poses the question, what would it look like to offer support instead of punishment for people with a lifetime of complex trauma?”

  3. How businesses, communities and day care centers are innovating together to address state’s child care crisis

    Published July 14, 2023

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    Within the past several years, business leaders have realized that access to child care is a critical economic issue. They have started to seriously look at what they can do to help. The solutions to the child care crisis aren’t cut and dried, and vary depending on the community’s needs. “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to child care, because every community is so different,” said Sheri Penney, employer engagement director at the Iowa Women’s Foundation. Both Penney and Emily Schmitt, chair of the state’s Child Care Task Force, said they’ve seen an increase in business involvement in child care, and believe public-private partnerships are the way to go to make the child care industry in Iowa sustainable long-term.

  4. Iowa’s gender-balance law may be on the chopping block

    Published Oct. 2, 2023

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    Iowa’s law requiring representation of women in government is in jeopardy, and advocates say that ditching its nearly four-decades-old provisions would be a mistake. The state started in the 1980s requiring that appointments to state boards and commissions result in gender-balanced boards. About 12 years ago the rules were expanded, with some additional leeway, to cover panels appointed by counties and cities. But a state panel is recommending repealing the law in order to “allow the most qualified Iowans to serve.” The Iowa Legislature will likely take action on this law early in 2024.

  5. Bill moving through Statehouse would license certified professional midwives

    Published Feb. 3, 2023

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    Advocates for midwife licensure have pushed for decades to have licensed CPMs in the state. They say doing so would help drive down maternal mortality rates and create more maternal care options for parents who have healthy, low-risk pregnancies in an era where there’s a shortage of birthing units. Iowa is one of 13 states where CPMs are not licensed or regulated. Unlike certified nurse midwives, who are primarily hospital-based, CPMs specialize in births that occur in homes and stand-alone birthing centers and do not require a nursing credential or graduate degree in midwifery. Instead, CPMs are direct-entry, and complete a multiyear program through the North American Registry of Midwives.

  6. After Sharon Malheiro’s death, Iowa’s LGBTQ community navigates grief and advocacy

    Published June 19, 2023

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    This June was Iowa’s first Pride month without Sharon Malheiro, a longtime attorney and activist who was instrumental in advancing the court case, Varnum v. Brien, that made Iowa the third state to permit same-sex marriage. She founded the LGBTQ-rights group One Iowa in 2006 and was a go-to name in that community for legal issues large and small, in addition to successes defending and advancing abortion rights. Her unexpected death on April 10 has prompted questions about who might take the baton from her for future court fights over those issues.

  7. How to help someone who has survived sexual violence: Start by believing

    Published Oct. 30, 2023

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    When someone discloses sexual abuse or rape to a friend, to a family member, to a co-worker, to anyone, what that listener says and does next can greatly affect the survivor – and what happens next. Believing a survivor of sexual assault is the first and most important thing a person can do, said Sara Hulen, a sexual assault forensic response coordinator in the Iowa attorney general’s office, and Shannon Knudsen, a sexual assault nurse examiner coordinator in Central Iowa.

  8. How a dream for a conference for Black women in Des Moines continues on

    Published April 2, 2023

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    In 2016, Lindsey White was looking to attend a women’s conference that focused on and featured Black women. She soon realized she would have to travel to Chicago, Atlanta or Houston to go to one. “Instead of investing my own money in somebody else’s thoughts and plans and community, it was like, I’m sure that there’s others here that need this as well. Why don’t we just try to create something here?” she said. In April 2017, LadyLike DSM was born with a mission to empower Black women in the Des Moines metro area by offering opportunities for connecting, learning and supporting one another. “Being ladylike is not just about wearing pearls, wearing heels or having the right makeup. Being ladylike is about empowering oneself and supporting your community,” Shekinah Fountain, empowerment lead at LadyLike, said.

  9. After skydiving for charity, Connie Wimer offers women advice about risk-taking

    Published Sept. 25, 2023

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    On Sept. 10, Connie Wimer, founder and chairman of Business Publications Corp., the parent company of the Business Record, went skydiving to support Above + Beyond Cancer. Wimer turned 91 in October. Fearless asked Wimer several questions about risk-taking, ageism and more. It is critical that women learn how to take risks, Wimer emphasized. “Every time you take a risk of any kind, you grow stronger and more confident – therefore more comfortable taking the next risk,” she said.

  10. Rachael Denhollander’s exclusive interview with Fearless: Advice to businesses, other organizations on how to prevent and respond to sexual abuse

    Published Nov. 20, 2023

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    Individuals and institutions have become more aware of how to support survivors of sexual abuse — but major mistakes remain common, an advocate says. Rachael Denhollander was the first woman to talk publicly about being sexually abused by Larry Nassar, a Michigan State University physician who was also the women’s national team doctor for USA Gymnastics. Stories about Nassar in the Indianapolis Star that quoted Denhollander helped bring about Nassar’s downfall and eventual imprisonment. Denhollander, an attorney and educator who lives in Kentucky, spoke at the Chrysalis Foundation’s Inspired event on Nov. 13 in West Des Moines.

  11. SHE: Ten stories of leadership, perseverance and authenticity

    Published March 30, 2023

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    In anticipation of Ballet Des Moines’ production of “SHE,” a triple bill exploring themes of identity, self-expression and belonging created by three leading female choreographers, Ballet Des Moines partnered with Fearless to shine a spotlight on 10 Central Iowa women. What is it we see when we look at each other? When we really look at the woman to our left or to our right? Society teaches us to look for labels, to classify success by titles. A quick scroll through social media shows a timeline of only the perfectly posed and curated highlights of someone’s life. The “SHE” project went much deeper.

  12. Annual Fearless survey: Awareness of gender equity issues is improving post-pandemic, now action needs to happen

    Published April 13, 2023

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    Once women lose ground, it’s hard to make up. That was a major theme of a Fearless/Business Record survey published last spring. In the survey, Fearless asked respondents to rank how close they perceive women are to achieving full equality with men on a scale of 0 to 100. The average number was 53. The following responses and analysis aimed to provide a wide-angle view on some of the biggest issues that respondents identified, including child care, pay equity, representation of women in leadership and political positions, and treatment at work.