Thumbnail Image

An investigation into battered women’s shelters: feminist cooperatives or social service institutions, case studies of Canada and New Zealand

The battered women’s movement has faced challenges and experienced tensions. The establishment of ongoing government funding for the battered women’s movement was significant as shelters which were established as feminist collective organisations were transformed into hierarchical and bureaucratic organisations. This study has examined both the external constraints and the internal dynamics that have impacted on the movement’s transformation through two case studies, one Canadian transition house and one New Zealand refuge. More specifically the study has explored the influence of external funding and internal factors on the social change agenda that feminist collective organisations support. The study has drawn on empirical and historical data derived from the transition house and the refuge and from documents and the academic/research literature. These have provided an understanding of the impact of the external environment, particularly governments, (and in New Zealand the influence of the refuge movement, through the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges Inc. (NCIWR)) on the two shelters. The study examines to what degree they have been able to balance the exacting requirements that governments impose whilst remaining feminist organisations and social change agents. The relationship with the external environment (that is, with governments and non-government organisations) impacted differently for the transition house and the refuge in the study. The transition house focused on sustainability issues by ensuring that it maintained and expanded its resource base. In its engagement practices with government it sought and negotiated opportunities for expanding services for battered women and children as well as promoting feminist principles. Internally the transition house accommodated the characteristics of bureaucracy within its operations, its service delivery models and its staff, as it met the challenge of changes in women’s needs and responded to funding opportunities and requirements. For the refuge, which was undergoing transformation during the research period, it was the tensions that were salient as a result of bureaucracy replacing a collective structure. The internal changes were influenced by the external environment which through government and non-government intervention imposed governance, administrative, financial and service delivery requirements within a funding environment that prohibited innovation and participation. These changes strained the refuge’s internal governance/staff relationship and undermined its feminist framework, which was the justification for the original structure and practice. When feminist organisations and the battered women’s movement experience transformation processes they may increase internal conflict and organisational instability with the loosening of shared values and experiences and a breakdown in participatory and collaborative systems. Although transformation processes may be detrimental to these organisations due to the bureaucratic and hierarchical structures instituted, there can be positive outcomes. Government funding provides stability and sustainability. Bureaucratic structures can provide effective infrastructures for managing externally-imposed governance, administrative and service delivery systems. For feminist organisations and shelters, balancing these structures with policies and processes that reflect and reinforce their feminist philosophy and collectivity is not just an ideal, but critical. Through such expressions of strength these organisations can continue to promote social change as an organisational objective as well as using it to negotiate external constraints so that they continue to retain their autonomy and independence as well as promulgate a feminist philosophy externally.
Type of thesis
Gilson, D. (2001). An investigation into battered women’s shelters: feminist cooperatives or social service institutions, case studies of Canada and New Zealand (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/14262
The University of Waikato
All items in Research Commons are provided for private study and research purposes and are protected by copyright with all rights reserved unless otherwise indicated.