Three: Women and social action: social change at the individual level


Traditional community action has failed to deal adequately with individual need and respond appropriately to individual circumstances and personal expectations due to its commitment to collective action. Arguing that structural arrangements have a direct bearing on personal experiences, feminist community workers have addressed this problem by linking personal woes to structural relationships and theorising individual predicaments as reflective of specific constellations of social relations as stipulated in public relational space which impacts upon domestic relational space. This chapter examines feminist action on the personal level. It considers feminist ways of working that tap into the dynamics of identity formation, building confidence and self-esteem, raising consciousness, advocacy and counselling. It also explores services that women have developed to engage with these issues, including those involving feminist counselling and other therapeutic interventions.

Each individual woman has a very personal experience of oppression, albeit one given meaning by engaging with social situations, institutions and structures. Feminists have developed theories and practices to reduce individual women’s suffering and eliminate collective hardship. Feminist therapy, including counselling, feminist social work and practice in feminist health collectives, has been central in developing feminist responses to individual women while at the same time locating their emotional distress within the structural constraints that impact upon their personal lives, lending credence to the slogan ‘the personal is political’ in linking individual concerns with structural considerations.

Feminists have used consciousness-raising in individual work and small groups to highlight the connections between individual women’s plights and their social subordination (Howell and Bayes, 1981; Bondi and Burman, 2001).

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