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Feminist principles for community work.


Is all community work with women feminist community work? Is all community work involving a woman community worker feminist? This paper suggests the answer to both questions is 'no'. It argues that feminist community work operates on particular principles of practice concerned with achieving certain social goals and developing alternative social and community processes. It is principles such as these which differentiate feminist community work practice from community work in general, and from community work with women.

The significance of such an exploration is a context in which preoccupation with difference threatens to rent asunder common goals and ground. Diversity--of 'race', ethnicity and class--is central to feminist practice. Yet feminist achievements of personal and social change suggest that perceived commonality is a basis for action, albeit sometimes a contradictory and always tentative common ground.

In my understanding of theory development from practice, subsequent proposals for principles of practice will always be historically and culturally specific. These limitations should not, however, silence debate nor immobilise different points of view. The development of feminist knowledge rests on critical reflection and debate about practice, re-stating and clarifying social purposes and re-thinking strategies.

The paper begins by raising five dilemmas or issues about the quest for identifying feminist principles for community work. In light of those dilemmas, it will then consider possible feminist principles in relation to purposes or goals, and those relevant to community work processes. By way of definition, 'principles' are understood to include both theoretical assumptions or beliefs, as well as 'principles of practice' meaning guidelines for or common elements in practice. (1)


Defining feminist

The first dilemma with the quest is that it presupposes some consensus about a definition of feminism and feminist. As this is an on--going issue for feminist theory, I will curtail my discussion to some of the literature on feminist community work on this subject and my observations about this.2 Lena Dominelli and Eileen McLeod (1989:50) contemplate the diversity of feminist activities and conclude 'that the answer lies in both identifying and explicating a number of influential feminisms'. However, they go on to assert that what is common is a shared goal; a process of debate about what is feminist; and a particular type of approach. The common goal is 'challenging the social determinants of women's inequality (Dominelli and McLeod 1989:51). In particular they emphasise collective action in relation to the everyday problems of women in their lives and their work. They note the distinction between feminist and non--feminist women's groups, pointing out that the latter support women in coping with the status quo rather than trying to change it.

Lena Dominelli and Eileen McLeod's second common feature is described as a dialectical 'process of debate and refinement' (1989:54) as women discuss what might be feminist objectives. They argue that it is 'quite usual for women to occupy a range of positions while organising together'. This is a rather broad claim. In my observation, willingness to submerge difference of feminist position varies with the newness of an issue identified for action. For example, with a (relatively) new issue, for example invitro fertilisation, people will join from a range of analytical positions to express public concern. Willingness to organise together, while maintaining a different analysis will also vary with the size and spread of the population of women involved. That is, co-operation will be strategic. For example, in small cities or towns, women submerge their differences for the sake of giving voice to some widely shared feminist perspective. In larger cities, such as Toronto, London or Melbourne, while networks may hold together a range of ideological perspectives, action groups and small women's services tend to become quite homogeneous in their analysis and perspective.

The third common feature identified by Lena Dominelli and Eileen McLeod (1989:58) is that feminist community work activities have 'sought to foster a co-operative approach within their organisations'. In noting this they reiterate one of the more widely claimed common elements of feminist practice process.

The proposal for recognising a plurality of feminisms is a useful contribution. What are considered feminist objectives and purposes will vary according to culture and status of women in a particular social context, socioeconomic class, and point in time or period of history. Even in the past two decades, changing context demonstrates contradictory relationships between the women's movement and the state, co-option of women's movement ideas, and the subsequent need for activists to re-group and reformulate the core issues as they perceive them. The newness of the issue or ascendancy of an idea in public ideology will also vary the extent of visible commonality or apparent difference between women pursuing feminist social change. For example, approaches used will vary with how widespread is opposition or ignorance, as has been the case with action about rape or domestic violence. As public acceptance of an issue increases, different strategies will be used, just as more refined and discriminating theoretical issues will be drawn out among feminists.

Finally, feminist principles for community work will vary according to the tradition of feminist theory and practice, be it liberal, radical feminist or women-centred, feminist socialist or post modern feminism. (3) This will influence the issue chosen for action as well as the analysis of that issue or problem, and likely, too, will influence the strategies for action employed and believed to be appropriate. In seeking a minimal working assumption, I assume feminist to mean women-focussed and social change oriented.

Is feminist community work synonymous with community work with women?

The second dilemma with the quest to articulate feminist principles for community work is whether or not feminist community work is synonymous with all community work with women. This is not explored with any intent to be exclusive, but when a social movement becomes institutionalised over time it can lose its original rationale and impetus. Of course change will occur to that original rationale, but it is important to reconsider such change in light of earlier directions. Feminist ideas have constantly been co-opted, taken on by people for varying purposes, and often mainstreamed to be palatable to a wider audience. (4) This sort of goal displacement is worth subjecting to constant critique.

It is possible to focus on the changes among women and women's groups and lose sight of common threads. For example Eileen Clark (1989:53), discussing women's work in rural community organisations, comments:
 There are no hard and fast boundaries between
 traditional and contemporary groups. An
 organisation of one type may shift over a few years
 towards the other type as the needs of its members
 and the community change.

This can be interpreted as a comment specifically concerned with contradictory and multiple goals within Australian rural women's community organisations, or understood as a comment on changing goals of community organisations. The latter may or may not involve a shift towards feminist goals.

If one examines goals and social purposes, then, at the most obvious level it seems clear that feminist community work and community work with women are not necessarily the same. A large number of the participants in community work (and particularly community development) activities involve women. Some are focussed on peace, some on conservation, some on better housing for families. While women, as well as men and children, undoubtedly benefit from the gains of such campaigns, it is not clear why they should be called feminist if they do not focus on improving the social position of women per se. It has, however, become common to describe an activity as feminist if it includes some feminists, includes some gender analysis and has drawn on feminist process. A further challenge to seeing all community work with women as feminist comes from examining the problems of supporting what women want or women's choice, a pitfall of liberal individualism.

First, one will quickly be faced with conflicts of interest between women, for example, adoptive and relinquishing mothers or foster and biological mothers. Second, what (some) women want may raise a range of ethical and social questions. In vitro fertilisation (IVF) technology as a primary response to infertility is a good example. Requests to a hospital by a particular cultural group to sew up and tighten women's vaginas is another. A community worker (or social worker) faced with a Turkish mother keeping her twelve year old daughter out of school to do housework and care for younger siblings faces a conflict. Were women asked, in the interests of multi-culturalism, to lobby to have Medicare cover the cost of clitoridectomies, we would have a further dilemma. One can only equate all community work with women as feminist if one assumes a very broad definition of feminism as all activity by and for women--and this would deny most views of feminist purposes and goals.

As the examples above show, a liberal definition of feminism concerned with what women want or giving women choice has many problems. In addition, as Lena Dominelli and Eileen McLeod (1989) have pointed out, some community work with women supports and perpetuates their social position, thus bolstering the status quo.

Goals and purposes--or process?

The third dilemma raised by seeking feminist principles for community work is whether one is focussing on matters of intent or purpose, or matters of practice and process. One could simply say that feminist community work is community work practised by feminists, but that leaves questions beyond that. However it is useful to draw out principles relevant both to purposes as well as practice, and I will pursue this later in the paper.

For women only?

The fourth dilemma, at least from the point of view of the feminist socialist tradition, is whether feminist principles will be assumed to be by and for women, or whether they are not for women only, to borrow from the American National Association of Social Workers (NASW) papers on feminist social work (see Nan Van den Berg and Lynn Cooper: 1986). Many feminist goals are thought by women to potentially enhance men's experience, for example, efforts to enhance men's role in child care and parenting. But can feminist campaigns involve coalitions with men? Gill Dixon, Chris Johnson, Sue Leigh and Nicky Turnbull (1982:59) are explicit that 'feminist insights are of value to men as well as women', when writing about feminist perspectives in community work.

The feminist socialist tradition has made coalitions with men, but has tried to preserve women's analysis of the issues, and work toward goals voiced by women. Ruth Brandwein (1987:116) focuses on the observation that 'women have often approached community organisation differently than men', as a basis for identifying elements of a feminist approach to community organisation practice. At the same time, she distinguishes between all women and feminists, and assumes that men can be feminist, (whereas the term pro-feminist seems more linguistically accurate). Donna Hawxhurst and Sue Morrow (1984) explicitly write about building feminist community among women. This dilemma amplifies the earlier question about what is feminism and feminist.

Paid and unpaid feminist community work

A final dilemma worthy of more extensive discussion than space allows here is reaching a fair understanding of the implications of women being paid to practice community work. The Victorian Women's Services Consultation (1985-1986) identified that many women began their involvement on a voluntary basis, learned skills and re-entered paid employment. (5) Eileen Clark (1989) confirms this in rural organisations. The dilemma highlights theoretical and practical issues about the women's movement's relationship to the state and the effects of Government funding and accountability requirements. An Australian survey of feminist women's services done in 1993 showed that many funded women's services supplement their paid labour with unpaid work (Weeks: 1994). (6)

In summary, then, before articulating feminist principles for community work practice it is necessary to reach tentative working assumptions about the definition of feminist, to clarify whether feminist community work is synonymous with any community work with women; to decide whether one is focussing on purposes, goals, or practices and processes, or both; and whether feminist principles are relevant only to women community workers or whether they have relevance to male community workers as well.

Working assumptions

The key issue in theory development is that feminist community work principles should be drawn from practice, and as yet the theoretical work is just beginning in Australia, (see for example, Kate Baxter (1992), Roselyn Melville (1993), Helen la Nauze (1992, 1993).

As a minimal common definition of feminist as woman focused and social change oriented has been proposed it has been suggested that feminist community work can be distinguished from other community work with women. Goals, purposes and processes will be explored separately, recognising that principles for practice are relevant for analysis, purpose and process--on the prior assumption that goals and means are not readily separable.


Based on the assumption that feminism is a social change movement attempting to challenge and change patriarchal gender power relations and structures, and on the assertion that it is too sweeping to include all community work with women, this paper emphasises goals and purposes as primary. Gill Dixon et al (1982:61) note that 'The women's liberation movement (WLM) has taught us to see that process and goal are inseparable', and refers to the contradictions in trying to change dominant power relations by 'working in an oppressive manner'. To propose that 'means' should not be sacrificed for ends and that pre-figurative or transformative practice, continues to reflect a contemporary Australian feminist quest, as references to the 1993 Australian survey will illustrate (Weeks 1994). The question of purpose is central if one is going to attempt to distinguish feminist principles from other principles of community work, hence it seems useful to focus on them separately. The over-emphasis in the literature on feminist process gives further impetus to revisiting goals and purpose first (see Jane Dixon 1993). I suggest that three principles are central.

1. Drawing on Feminist Analysis to Name Women's Social Issues

First, feminist analytical frameworks will be brought to understanding problems and issues. For the sake of being inclusive rather than exclusive, this may range from sensitivity to gender in relation to any issue, to the goal of woman-centred feminism which proposes rethinking all ideology and giving voice to women's experience, and to rethinking class and race relations in light of the different experiences of the genders. From either a woman-centred or feminist socialist perspective, it means developing a complex and broad analysis of the inter-relationship of issues as they affect women. For example, Anna Yeatman (1990:91-97) provides a model of analysis when she unravels the contradictory effects of the Child Support and Maintenance proposal, which received considerable feminist support on the basis that it insisted on the non-custodial parent's (usually father's) responsibility for child maintenance, yet colluded with the state's efforts to privatise responsibility for children. This principle of feminist analysis is seen by Lena Dominelli and Eileen McLeod (1989) as the first step in any feminist social work. Donna Hawxhurst and Sue Morrow (1984) view this as essential in the maintenance of a feminist organisation or campaign.

All seventy-eight services in the 1993 survey of feminist women's services answered the question about their philosophy, and seventy-one sent additional material which was analysed. A woman-centred or feminist analysis of women's needs and issues was identified as the starting point for practice. This included awareness of the multiple barriers some women face in achieving access to resources, opportunities and full citizenship; recognition that social policy and law is gender-biased; and assuming a social model of health and violence against women (Weeks 1994).

It is important to place this principle as primary, in view of attempting to perpetuate the debate about alternative feminist visions, as well as to constantly reask what is substantial social change--why? for what purpose? and how?

2. The Personal is Political

The second principle is that the personal is political, which has, historically, in the women's movement been identified by women talking together, voicing their experience, and developing an analysis of this experience, within an analysis of wider social structures, process and ideologies.

Marjorie Mayo (1977) was one of the earliest writers to explore the relationship between the women's movement and community work. In Mayo's collection, Elizabeth Wilson observed that the first lesson for community work is that 'daily life is political--political in a deeper sense than most community workers understand'. (Mayo 1977: 9) Bill Lee and I (Weeks and Lee 1981, 1991) earlier argued that personal change is political. In retrospect, however, while this is an important level of change, to emphasise it may de-emphasise the importance of collective action toward change in the face of patriarchal power relations. (7) The significance of this principle is in locating theory and practice within the tension between the diverse individual women's experiences within particular localities, class and racial groups, and an analysis of the economic, political and social arrangements, process and related ideas and beliefs.

3. Making Changes in the Structures of Women's Lives

The third principle is that the goals of action should be concerned with making changes to the structures of women's (and therefore men's) work and everyday lives. Following from 'the personal is political', it is structural change which becomes the primary goal for community work. Feminist psychology might address personal change and secondary education might challenge attitudes and expectations. A full discussion of the limitations of equal opportunity to address structural change is not possible here (See Bob Connell 1987, Gretchen Poiner and Sue Wills 1991). The term structures is used, however, to draw attention to changing economic, political and social arrangements for women as a goal. The extent to which consciousness raising, community education, lobbying or other forms of action are used is a strategic question.

The most helpful writers on feminist social change, in my opinion, are Nancy Adamson, Linda Brisken and Margaret McPhail (1988) who write from the Canadian women's movement. Not only do they make a case for reviving socialist feminism from the margins of mainstream feminist ideology, but they suggest that feminist social change depends on holding in tension two politics: the politics of disengagement and the politics of mainstreaming. They describe the pitfalls of disengagement as marginalisation and failure to have influence. Mainstreaming is subject to institutionalisation if not held in tension with the social critique possible from disengagement. From their perspective, women's groups which support women in coping with their 'lot' are not feminist unless they are also working toward changes in the women's situations. From this perspective, community work which aims at empowerment toward decision-making within the community would therefore be feminist, whereas that which simply organises activities for diversion or distraction which make it easier to accept 'women's lot' would not be viewed as feminist. However community development which encourages women to become involved in planning and organising and influencing programme activities in a community centre would be feminist even if the first activity they chose was to prepare and sell a cookery book as did a women's group in which I was involved at the Red Hill Child Care Centre in Ontario. In the context of an approach which encouraged the women to become active participants, one would expect that early activities would begin with sharing with others information they knew about, in this case, cooking. The members of this group later advocated for space and other group opportunities for themselves; wrote letters to the paper expressing their views about child care and several joined the committee of the Public Housing Tenants' Association.

Australian feminist women's services demonstrate a triple purpose. In addition to operating a programme for individuals and groups of women, they report extensive involvement in community education and in public advocacy towards social change. The latter included lobbying, submission writing and running campaigns such as the Real Rape Law Reform in Victoria (1992). The extensive list of social change activities includes abortion law reform, action to change, challenging family law and immigration and social security law, gun control legislation reform and the problems of mining and radiation for women. (Weeks 1994).


The previous section has argued that in developing feminist principles for community work, purposes are a crucial part. More commonly identified as feminist, are those series of processes which feminist women have developed in opposition to practices they saw as patriarchal and masculinist. Seven such processes are identified as feminist principles for community work practice.

4. Co-operative, Collective and Participatory Decision-making

The women's movement has lead the way in developing non-hierarchical forms of organisational process, to the extent that attempts to be participatory and collective are often described as 'feminising process'. Helen Brown's (1992) study of women's centres in Britain challenges organisational theory as being preoccupied with leaders and subordinates. She explored women's non-hierarchical organising where women negotiate a social order, based on their skilful organising.

Features of collectivity, or participatory democratic process, include collective decision-making; democratic division of labour on a shared or rotating basis rather than hierarchical or positional allocation of work; two workers assigned to a task; and salary sharing. Shared leadership is a key feature, and Helen Brown refers to the 'distributed' nature of leadership, emphasising leadership acts rather than leadership as a personal attribute. Bruce Kokopeli and George Lakey (1986) have described this as 'organic' or shared leadership, where the phenomenon of leadership is passed around, rather than vested in one person. The rationale for this has been the rejection of hierarchical forms of social relations which have developed from the 'rule of the father'. Where this has worked well, the shared leadership and decision-making has created a strong sense of involvement in a team or group, and the practice has been viewed as transforming or pre-figurative of a more democratic society. Difficulties with other organisations of the state, which operate hierarchically, have been persistently encountered. These range from irritation with collectives to insistence by funding organisations that coordinators be appointed. Perhaps the major problem arising from the organic leadership and organisational process of the women's movement has been the absence of development of women's movement peak organisations, in a context where political influence and funding continues to be organised in this pyramidal way. A side effect of this has been that liberal feminist organisations are viewed as the appropriate peak organisations for women's affairs, often failing, therefore, to give voice to other feminist groups.

Within women's movement groups a further criticism is that the emphasis on process can delay action and divert focus from attention to the task. Given the accomplishments of such groups, this criticism may arise from prejudice or stereotype, although it is likely to have contributed to the failure of a solidly pyramidal power base. Rather, the power of the women's movement remains horizontal, intruding into many spheres of social organisation, and as persistent as it is elusive to those who may wish to dismantle the leadership.

The more recently observable transition to a mixed model of organisational type, with collective decision-making being overlaid with a management model, albeit a participatory democratic one, has been difficult both for the co-ordinators and the collectivity or group, alike. A study of the experience of Australian feminist co-ordinators identified a series of practice issues for themselves as well as tensions within and between women's organisations (Weeks 1993, 1994).

Regardless of the difficulties, the feminising process of organic or shared leadership continues to be very important in terms of democratic social relations. Where action requires speed and highly organised and focussed activity which benefits from more focussed leadership, this can still be based on shared decision-making and can be rotated with a view to constructive timing. This emphasis on collective and participatory decision-making and leadership expresses enduring features of feminist theory and politics, and so claims its place as a primary principle for feminist community work practice.

5. Networking

Networking has grown out of the dispersed and fragmented structure of women's lives and is consistent with the horizontal leadership and communication of feminist community work. The Rural Women's Network in Victoria defines their network as 'foster(ing) a process of linking women's groups and interested individuals into a network to share information, ideas, resources and skills, meeting the special needs of rural women' (Office of Rural Affairs, 1993: 1). The roots of networking come from the community communication of women 'gossiping' and sharing information. It creates the strength of 'loose ties' and the lateral strength of social movement building. Bill Lee and I (Weeks and Lee 1981, 1991) and Helen Brown (1992) have claimed this to be a principle of women's movement organising, and the fact that many feminist community organisations have actually chosen to establish themselves as networks gives support to the claim that this continues to be a feminist principle for community work.

6. Sisterhood

Sisterhood as a basis for joining together in action is a controversial concept in the face of contemporary debates about difference.

The argument that the common bond of association in women's movement organising was sisterhood, that is 'the consciousness of being a woman, socially and politically' (Weeks and Lee 1981: 4) drew on Dorothy Smith's definition which referred to discovering oppression 'not as something which is peculiar to yourself ... but as something which is indeed imposed upon you by society and which is experienced in common with others' (Smith 1977: 10-16).

Acceptance of common gender as the basis for women's action is not nullified by the presence of other commonalities. Aboriginal women's business rests on common race and common gender. Community action by immigrant women rests on common gender, and diverse ethnic backgrounds. Support by women united against the oppression of women of different class, personal experience, race and ethnicity is central to the women's movement.

Twenty six percent of the Australian feminist women's services reported earlier had multi-lingual activities. Many more had diverse participants and recognition of diversity was a prime plank of their philosophies (Weeks 1994). Jane Dixon (1993: 23) distorts the principle of sisterhood as a basis for common action when she finds in such claims the idea of 'women as biological and social entities, who share interests based on common personal experience'. Dorothy Smith's conception of sisterhood points out that 'sisterhood' is an alliance based on another's oppression, with which one woman identifies whether or not she has experienced something similar.

Does feminist community work which draws support from profeminist men challenge 'sisterhood' as a principle of organising? What about community work involving both genders, which is the possible corollary of feminist socialist organising? Men's participation on the basis of a profeminist stance is not necessarily contradictory to sisterhood being the basis of feminist community work, in that they are supporting the coalescence of women who have identified their common bond and issues for action.

7. Reclaiming Women's Space

The principle of 'women's space' helps to explain why the women's movement has spent so much of its organising time on building women's centres, developing refuges and shelters and women's houses (Weeks and Lee 1981: 12). A more apt title maybe the principle of 're-claiming women's space'. This is illustrated by 're-claim the night' marches, as well as the development of safe spaces for women who have been victims of violence. A lot of feminist organising energy continues to go into this. In Victoria (unlike New South Wales and South Australia) efforts to obtain Women's Health Centres are still relatively recent, and women are the major users of neighbourhood houses. It is indicative of public ideology that neighbourhood houses have not been officially described as women's centres, nor have maternal and child health centres (previously infant welfare centres), although in fact both operate to provide women's space. The provision of women's safe space, run and managed by women is a commonly held principle of Australian feminist women's services (Weeks 1994).

8. Building Feminist Community

This principle has been contributed by the sub-title of Donna Hawxhurst and Sue Morrow's (1984) book entitled Living our Visions: Building Feminist Community. They argue that mutual support is necessary if women are going to maintain their strength to change patriarchical power and social arrangements. Support is defined as 'a byproduct of nearly all groups even if they are primarily task-oriented ... we mean emotional nurturance or sustenance that results from friendship, concern, validation, respect, comfort, caring, positive verbal or non-verbal feedback or praise' (Hawxhurst and Morrow 1984: 22). It is an important principle if feminist community work is to counter the isolation and sense of marginalisation feminists experience as they struggle to do things differently in their daily lives and make change.

9. Reclaiming and Celebrating Women's History and Traditions

Maria Bohen, who works with Health Sharing in Victoria, and completed her graduate diploma in Community Development, has suggested that reclaiming women's history and traditions can be an important principle in feminist community work. Feminist theorists (such as Dale Spender 1982) have been vocal in noting that women's contribution to history and the building of community and our social fabric is constantly overlooked. Articulating that on a local level can be very empowering for women and can give women a tradition of activity with which to identify. Drawing on women's traditions of cooking, crafts, child-centred activities, as well as their capacity for cooperative processes identified earlier, can be both empowering and corrective to dominant patriarchal accounts of history and social development. This process makes visible and celebrates women's lives and talents.

It is consistent with one of the key purposes of feminist theory, that is, to counter the invisibility of women's hardships and oppression and to make visible their social issues, their history, and their social contributions (see for example Gloria Bowles and Renate Klein 1983). In this regard this relates closely to the principle of sisterhood identified earlier. It goes further, however, by drawing on Janice Raymond's observation that in a hetero-relational society, there is a lack of what she calls Gyn/affection, friendship and social trust between women. One of the consequences is 'to make women not lovable to their Selves or other women, causing women to identify with other women out of shared pain and not out of shared strength' (Raymond 1988: 23). So, to follow Raymond, the empowering of women comes not only from making visible the 'State of Atrocity', but from celebrating women's strength, both personally and politically. According to Raymond, 'the best feminist politics proceeds from a shared friendship' (Raymond 1988: 9).

Ensuring respectful response to all women, avoiding 'woman blaming', supporting women's control over their decisions and empowering approaches to practice were identified as elements of the philosophies of Australian feminist women's services (Weeks 1994).

10. Recognising Cultural Diversity Among Women

In spite of criticisms about the Australian women's movement being white and middle class, the Australian feminist women's services reported recognition of cultural diversity, special needs of women, and multiple barriers to full citizenship to be central to their philosophies (Weeks 1994). There is ample informal evidence of much community work by and with women from non-English speaking backgrounds and by Aboriginal women (see for example, WICH--Women in Industry and Community Health; Women's Health Service for the West; the North East Women's Health Service; the Migrant Access Programme and Refuge Ethnic Workers Programme in Victoria; the work of the Migrant Women's Speakout Association in New South Wales; and the Multi-cultural Women's Health Centre in Western Australia).

Aboriginal women have long met separately to discuss women's and community business. The Aboriginal and Islander Corporation for Women, Woolloongabba, Queensland; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Action Group, Cairns; the Tangentyere Women's Committee in Alice Springs and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Congress of Western Australia are contemporary organisational examples. Whether they identify with the goals and processes examined as relevant to feminist community work is for them, not me, to say.

In the 1993 survey a number of feminist services identified themselves as having white and Aboriginal women workers, and 17% of the services offered cultural support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Three of the seventy eight services participating in the survey were totally comprised of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women (Weeks 1994).


Asserting principles for practice is a value laden activity, as is all social practice. Drawn from feminist theory and practice, the ten principles above, concerned both with purposes and process are suggested as ways to distinguish feminist principles of community work from principles of community work in general.


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(1) This article is a development of a paper given at the Women in Welfare Education Conference, Sydney, 1990, and revisits earlier papers by Weeks and Lee 1981, 1991. The context for exploring these questions was a two semester elective "Women's Issues and Community Development" in the Graduate Diploma of Community Development offered by the Department of Social Work at Phillip Institute of Technology, now Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. The elective has been offered since 1983 and the author taught in it from 1983 to 1990. Each year the class explored feminist principles for community work and each student had the opportunity to develop her particular conception.

(2) Two comments on writing style may be apt. The use of the first person is to identify the writer's personal view. The use of gendered (first) names as well as engendered surnames is to alert the reader to the gendered nature of knowledge.

(3) For a recent overview of the different traditions of feminist thought and debate, see Rosemarie Tong (1989). For a more in-depth discussion of the problems of theorising women's oppression, see Caroline Ramazanoglu (1989).

(4) Mainstreaming is a policy and practice principle and process which attempts to incorporate alternative and innovative ideas and practices into the established, dominant structures, processes and practices of the state. The outcome is usually a compromise, with the pitfall of cooption.

(5) No published report was made of this consultation by the Women's Policy Coordination Unit, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Victoria.

(6) As part of a larger project, the author undertook a national survey of feminist women's services in 1993. Feminist women's services were defined as free-standing women's services or independent operations auspiced by a larger non-government agency or hospital which explicitly operated on feminist principles. The sample included multi-purpose women's centres, specific purpose centres such as those concerned with violence against women, women's networks, outreach projects and Aboriginal women's business.

(7) The first version was a conference paper in 1981 which grew out of Cecile and Bill Lee's involvement with Native Women's Centre (native people are now identified as first nation people) and Wendy Weeks' involvement in the feminist Hamilton Women's Centre in Canada. The paper was rejected for publication by an international journal with reviewers' comments showing considerable ignorance of the existence of a women's movement and marked gender bias. I returned to Australia in 1982. Over many years both of us (in our respective locations) obtained positive feedback from students on the usefulness of the paper. We therefore re-submitted the first half of the paper to the international journal in 1990. They published it in 1991 in its original form without changes.

Wendy Weeks is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Work at the University of Melbourne.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Jane Dixon and Mary Lane for engaging in constructive debate on the content of this paper in recent years.
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Author:Weeks, Wendy
Publication:Women in Welfare Education
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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