In 2001, the North Dakota American Association of University Women (AAUW) began a coalition-building process that brought together several women’s organizations from across the state for joint conferences and conventions in 2003 and 2004. Women said they wanted jobs that paid good salaries, better access to political, social, and economic choices, adequate home care and child care services for a state in which most women work outside the home. A vast, open prairie separates ND women, but the process of coming together to discuss the concerns of “Women in Charge,” and “Women at Work in ND Communities,” strengthened the resolve of those present to promote joint efforts to effect needed change on the ND landscape for ND women.
During this period of about four years several studies were released in state, each reinforced what we heard women saying, and what other women needed to know. The Status of Women in North Dakota report highlighted areas of greatest concern for women of the state. It found that women of North Dakota are healthy and hard-working, but truly lack a voice in business and government. In addition, opportunities for social and economic autonomy for ND women are inadequate. The study pointed out that the situation is uniquely problematic for Native American women, for whom health issues and access to health care are of great concern.
A coalition of women formed to take action and in November of 2004, a press conference was held to release The Status of Women in North Dakota, published by the Institute of Women’s Policy Research. Participation by diverse women’s groups exceeded expectations and gave rise to the emergence of a broad-based initiative addressing the comprehensive needs of ND women.
While many organizations in North Dakota work to improve the lives of ND women, there is not one, single group addressing the whole of data available, nor do we have current, effective communication tools to reach and inform one another of needs and progress. Due to this concern, coalition leadership again met on a regular basis to discuss and formulate the means necessary for the advancement of ND women in the areas of health and well-being, employment and earnings, reproductive rights, social and economic autonomy, and political participation. These discussions drove the creation of the North Dakota Women’s Network.