Added: December 7, 2013 – Last updated: December 14, 2013


Author: Jane Vanderpyl

Title: Aspiring for unity and equality

Subtitle: Dynamics of conflict and change in the ‘by women for women’ feminist service groups, Aotearoa/New Zealand (1970-1999)

Thesis: Ph.D. Thesis, University of Auckland

Year: 2004

Pages: xiii + 374pp.

Language: English

Keywords: 20th Century | New Zealand History | Society: Women's Movement


Link: ResearchSpace@Auckland (Free Access)



»This thesis examines the emergence and subsequent development of feminist activist service groups in Aotearoa/New Zealand feminist movements from the 1970s to the 1990s. It specifically considers, the Women's Centres, Women's Health Collectives, Women's Refuges and Rape Crisis groups. Feminism in the groups was closely linked to the internal processes of organising as a collective based on 'women's ways of working'. The groups merged a radical feminist political orientation with a service orientation as they developed services 'for women by women'. The study was based on a qualitative analysis of published and unpublished documents of activist service groups, and open-ended interviews with 65 women discussing their experiences of working in activist service groups.
Two distinct phases of change to the internal organisation of the groups between 1970 and 1999 have been identified and examined. In the first phase, (1970s - 1980s), radical feminist collective ways of working acquired the status of a taken for granted institutional norm among the groups. These groups organised as women-only collectives, utilised consensus decision-making, embodied ideals of non-hierarchy, and had aspirations of sisterhood between women. The second phase (from the late 1980s) was marked by modification of the radical feminist collective, as groups experienced internal and external pressures to adopt bureaucratic practices. Major pressures included the shift by the state to contract funding of the groups, the changing participation of paid and unpaid workers in the daily work of the groups, and the increasing formal differentiation between employers and employees. These changes were a major source of conflict and tension, as the groups modified their organisations to include differentiation of roles, specialisation of positions and formal hierarchy. At the same time groups sustained aspects of radical feminist collective organising.
Dealing with differences was a major site of tension and conflict in the activist service groups. Groups implemented various strategies to address differences between women in relation to race/ethnicity, sexuality and class. A major focus of the groups was the development of bicultural relations between Māori and non-Māori. Models of biculturalrelations in the predominantly Pākehā groups ranged from increasing Māori representation in the groups, to the formation of alliances between independent groups or alliances between ethnic-specific groups in the same organisation. These strategies were mostly framed in terms of a binary opposition between oppressed and oppressor, and along a single axis of oppression. Nevertheless, the groups' attempts to 'deal with differences' between women were important in challenging assumptions of genderbased commonality between all women.
In spite of these conflicts and associated changes, participants in the activist service groups attempted to maintain inclusive, non-hierarchical, empowering organisations 'for women by women'. In the 1990s, many of the feminist activist service groups continued to pursue democratic collective ways of working and to engage in a politics of difference in their organisations.« (Source: ResearchSpace@Auckland)


  Abstract (p. i)
  Acknowledgements (p. iii)
  List of Tables and Figures (p. x)
  List of Abbreviations (p. xi)
  Prologue (p. 1)
    Reflections on my Rape Crisis journey (p. 4)
  Introduction (p. 6)
    Focus of the thesis (p. 9)
    Outline of thesis (p. 14)
  Part One: Introducing the Study and Literature (p. 19)
  Chapter One: Method (p. 20)
    Feminist Research (p. 20)
    Blurring the Insider/Outsider distinction (p. 22)
    Defining the topic (p. 23)
    The politics of constructing the research area and topic (p. 24)
    A qualitative approach (p. 27)
      Data sources (p. 29)
  Chapter Two: Equality and 'Women's Ways of Working' in Feminist Service Organisations (p. 43)
    Feminist Service Collectives - An Oppositional Construction (p. 44)
    Difficulties Sustaining Feminist Service Collective Organisations (p. 54)
      Differences and disagreement in feminist collectives (p. 55)
      The problem of 'success' for feminist collectives (p. 60)
    Challenging the Oppositional Framing of the Feminist Collective Organisation (p. 65)
  Chapter Three: 'Dealing with Differences' (p. 72)
    Western Feminists' Engagement with Difference (p. 73)
    Contesting Western Feminists' Engagement with Difference (p. 83)
      A Politics of inclusion (p. 83)
      Whiteness as absence (p. 89)
      A Politics of partiality and specificity (p. 92)
  Part Two: Growth and Development of the Activist Service Groups (p. 96)
  Chapter Four: Emergence of the Second Wave Women's Movement in Aotearoa/New Zealand, 1970-1975 (p. 97)
    The Development of Second Wave Women's Movement Organisations (p. 99)
      Women's movement organisation developments (p. 101)
      Organisational practices (p. 105)
      Challenging claims to sisterhood (p. 110)
    The Emergence of the 'By Women for Women' Activist Service Groups and Centres (p. 113)
      Women's Centres - feminist bases, networking and information (p. 114)
      Women's Health Groups - self-help action (p. 117)
      Refuges and Rape Crisis Groups - addressing violence against women (p. 118)
  Chapter Five: The Second Wave Women's Movement in Aotearoa/New Zealand, 1976-1980 (p. 124)
    Women's Movement Organisations, 1976 to 1980 (p. 126)
    Development of Activist Feminist Service Projects 1976 to 1980 (p. 128)
      Women's Centres (p. 128)
      Women's Health Centres and Self-Help Health Groups (p. 129)
      Women's Refuges (p. 132)
      Rape Crisis Centres (p. 133)
      Funding the activist service organisations (p. 134)
    Constructing Activist Services as Political (p. 137)
  Chapter Six: Activist Service Organisation Developments and Debates in the 1980s (p. 150)
    Survey of 1980s Activist Service Organisations (p. 151)
      Women's Centres and Women's Health Centres (p. 152)
      Women's Groups working in the area of domestic and sexual violence (p. 154)
      Radical feminist organising and the activist service groups (p. 157)
    Developing and Sustaining Feminist Service Communities (p. 160)
      Local radical feminist service networks (p. 160)
      The development of national collectives (p. 163)
      Implementing radical feminist constitutions and codes of ethics (p. 169)
  Part Three: Tensions in the Activist Service Groups (p. 176)
  Chapter Seven: A Politics of Engagement: Achieving Stable Government Funding (p. 177)
    Debating State Funding - Assessing the Risk of Cooptation (p. 178)
    Changes to State Funding (p. 184)
      Temporary Employment Schemes and the development of activist service groups (p. 185)
      The increased use of grants-in-aid to fund the activist service groups (p. 190)
      Contract funding by the state - the Community Funding Agency (p. 196)
    Institutionalising Services, Deinstitutionalising Collectives (p. 200)
  Chapter Eight: Employment Conflicts: The Struggle between Collectivity and Bureaucracy in the Activist Service Organisations (p. 211)
    Processes of Change in the Activist Service Organisation (p. 212)
    Positioning the Activist Service Organisations (p. 217)
      Sustaining a 'flat' collective structure (p. 219)
      Modifying the democratic collective organisation (p. 223)
    The Tension between Collectivity and Formalisation in the Employment Relationship (p. 233)
  Chapter Nine: Addressing Differences and Inequality in the Service Groups (p. 244)
    Strategies to Address Difference and Inequality (p. 246)
      Specifying differences and inequality between women (p. 246)
      Developing organisations responsive to inequalities between women (p. 251)
    Developing Bicultural Partnerships between Māori and Pākehā (p. 259)
  Conclusion (p. 280)
    The development of the activist service groups (p. 281)
    The institutionalisation of the radical feminist collective (p. 282)
    Modifying the radical feminist collective organisation (p. 284)
    Dealing with differences between women (p. 287)
  Glossary of Māori Terms (p. 291)
  Appendices (p. 292)
    Appendix I: Published and Unpublished Documents (p. 293)
      Journals and newsletters (p. 293)
      Unpublished sources (p. 296)
    Appendix II: About the Interviews (p. 298)
      Describing the interviewees (p. 298)
      Description of Interviewees and their Collectives (p. 300)
    Appendix III: Participant Information Sheet (p. 307)
    Appendix IV: National Women's Movement Conferences and Conventions (p. 308)
      About the women who attended the conventions (p. 309)
      1972: National Women's Liberation Conference, Wellington (p. 310)
      1973: United Women's Convention, Auckland (p. 311)
      1975: United Women's Convention, Wellington (p. 312)
      1977: United Women's Convention, Christchurch (p. 313)
      1979: United Women's Convention, Hamilton (p. 317)
    Appendix V: Radical Feminist Meetings (p. 322)
      1973 Easter Feminist Conference, Christchurch (p. 323)
      1975 Hamilton Feminist Camp (p. 324)
      1975 Wellington Radical Feminist Caucus, Wainuiomata (p. 326)
      1976 Auckland Regional Caucus, Easter Week-end (p. 328)
      1976 National Radical Feminist Caucus, Auckland (p. 329)
      1977 Radical Feminist Caucus, Christchurch (p. 332)
      1978 Piha Women's Congress (p. 333)
  List of Interviews (p. 338)
  List of References (p. 340)