Families, Gender, & Children
Council on Family Violence Builds Civic Partnerships with State
Council was founded as an organization that could work with both
the Texas state government and local battered women's shelters.
One of its top priorities has been to secure state funding for
shelters, while at the same time creating a relationship with
the Texas Department of Human Services to insure that battered
women's shelters remain autonomous, community-based, and community-supported.
The Council's work has helped the Texas government to act as a
catalyst for civic efforts against family violence, not replacing
them with government "owned" programs or, on the other hand, ignoring
a public problem of such consequence. Story
and case study plus.
The Texas Council
Study Plus: Working
with the State: The Texas Battered Women's Movement and the Politics
The Texas Council
Council on Family Violence was founded in 1977 by a coalition
of grassroots feminist activists involved in the battered women's
movement. The Council was created as a feminist movement organization
that could work with both the Texas state government and local
battered women's shelters. One of its top priorities has been
to secure state funding for shelters, while at the same time creating
a relationship with the Texas Department of Human Services (DHS)
to insure that battered women's shelters remain autonomous, community-based,
It has accomplished
these goals by several means. First, the Council helped to draft
the legislation that would allow for public funding of battered
women's shelters. This would provide shelters with a more stable
funding base. Second, it drafted a stipulation that qualifying
shelters needed to be operation prior to receiving state funding.
It also stipulated that over a six year period state funding would
decline, so that state dollars would not account for more than
50% of a shelter's funding. This would insure that shelters began
with, and would continue to develop, community support. Third,
the Council developed ongoing relationships with DHS personnel.
This gave the Council the opportunity to stress that while DHS
"owned" other welfare programs, it "funded" family violence programs.
has used its expertise in the area of family violence and shelters
to provide information to DHS and to local shelters through contractual
relationships with the state. In addition, the Council contracted
to evaluate local shelters for DHS. Since the Council is a member-based
advocacy organization, this led to a certain amount of conflict
between some local shelter members and the Council. When an advocacy
group contracts with the state it raises the possibility of conflict
of interest. Whom does the Council represent: the state? shelters?
itself? Negotiating these complex relationships has been an important
challenge for the Council.
its work the Texas Council on Family Violence has helped further
the movement against domestic violence and strengthen local battered
women's shelters. In addition, it has prompted the Texas government
to act as a catalyst for civic efforts against family violence,
not replacing them with government run programs or, on the other
hand, ignoring a public problem of such consequence. Claire Reinelt
has been a grassroots feminist activist for the past 15 years.
She has also worked as a consultant and evaluator for various
Study Plus: Working with the State - The Texas Battered Women's
Movement and the Politics of Engagement
the most pressing work before us is to build our own autonomous
institutions. It is absolutely crucial that we make our visions
real in a permanent form so that we can be even more effective
and reach many more people.
Barbara Smith, Home Girls (1983)
have not yet succeeded as a movement is in the structural arena.
We have not brought this vast, decentralized revolution of consciousness
and the small projects characteristic of the women's movement
into sufficient engagement with the political structures to
create lasting structural changes that would institutionalize
some of the new possibilities for life that we seek.
Charlotte Bunch, Passionate Politics (1987)
Is it possible
to build and nurture autonomous feminist institutions while at the
same time engaging with mainstream institutions? Or are these two
strategies politically contradictory? Historically, feminist activists
have tended to emphasize one strategy over the other depending upon
their political beliefs. Radical feminists, who were skeptical about
transforming the existing system, favored creating alternative,
autonomous institutions (Echols 1990a). Liberal feminists, by contrast,
sought legal reforms within that system. These divergent political
strategies characterized much feminist activism throughout the 60s
and early 70s.
By the late
70s, the boundary between liberal and radical feminism had blurred
(Taylor 1983). Feminist activists within alternative institutions
increasingly attempted to transform the politics and practices
of mainstream institutions.  Women within mainstream institutions
began organizing collectively to challenge institutional forms
of gender inequality.  Self-defined feminists were moving into
positions of power within bureaucratic structures (Eisenstein
1991). And liberal feminist organizations, like NOW, adopted proposals
that required more than legal reform (Eisenstein 1981; Taylor
1983). This blurring of movement and institutional boundaries
transformed feminist political strategies.
with these transformations, battered women's organizations, along
with other feminist organizations, began seeking and receiving
government funding in the 1980s. This move to seek outside funding
was controversial for some battered women's movement activists
because they believed that it compromised the political integrity
of shelter organizations (Morgan, 1981; Andler & Sullivan, 1980).
Others saw it as an opportunity to reach new communities and constituencies
(Simon, 1982; Matthews, 1992). In fact, government funding facilitated
both the expansion of the movement and changed its political character.
It also changed how certain government agencies approach the delivery
of human services.
of all kinds who are working to rebuild civil society and reinvent
government, the lessons of battered women's movement's interaction
with state is instructive. For government to become a catalyst
for civic efforts at social change, community organizations and
the myriad other institutions and associations that make up civil
society need to work together collaboratively, and then work in
cooperation with the state.
the Impact of State - Nonprofit Organization Interaction
There is a growing
literature that seeks to understand the relationship between nonprofit
organizations and government agencies. Historically, these two sectors
have been conceptualized as independent from each other. Recently,
a framework of interdependence has been developed that more accurately
accounts for the many links between them (Ostrander, 1987). With
this shift in theoretical framework, research has focused on trying
to understand the dimensions of this relationship (Gronbjerb, 1987;
Saidel, 1989; DeHoog, 1990). To date, most of this work has relied
on broad overviews of voluntary and public organizations.
takes a case study approach to understanding the inter-relationship
between public and nonprofit organizations. I will discuss how
feminists within the Texas battered women's movement engaged with
the state in order to bring a feminist movement agenda to local
shelter activists, state agency employees, and legislators, among
others. The Texas movement is of particular interest because it
has been instrumental in the funding, evaluation, and administration
of state funds to battered women's shelters through a series of
contracts with the state.
shelter activists in Texas practice what I call a politics of
engagement. A politics of engagement is based on a belief that
long-term social change depends on mobilizing and educating women
in their communities by creating autonomous institutions, and
on establishing relationships and structures of communication
with those who work in and set policy for mainstream institutions.
This political approach starts with the insight of radical feminists
that autonomous institutions are essential for women in a patriarchal
society. At the same time it views mainstream institutions as
absolutely necessary terrains of political struggle.
the terrain of the state is full of political contradictions for
movement activists. On the one hand there are new political opportunities
for organizing and education; on the other hand, there are increased
opportunities for divisions within the movement and for co-optation
of the movement's agenda. The challenge for state-level feminist
activists is to negotiate a path that provides support for services
to battered women and at the same time promotes a feminist program
for change. This paper will present a case study of actual feminist
practice in order to understand how some feminists are defining
and implementing their visions in the 1990s. 
Texas Council on Family Violence and the Texas State Government
In 1977, feminist
activists from around the country met in Houston for the International
Women's Year Conference. At this conference, shelter activists held
several workshops. It was the first time that so many women from
the movement had gathered in one place. They shared information,
traded stories, and felt empowered by being together. This conference
was instrumental in the formation of the National Coalition Against
Domestic Violence. It was also out of this conference experience
that shelter activists in Texas decided to form the Council on Family
activists moved quickly to define an agenda and a workable structure
for the new organization. A working board of eight people was
set up. Each board member was responsible for coordinating Council
activities in one of several areas such as legislation, fundraising,
membership and research. As with many shelters, the Council decided
on a modified collective structure. The board had a chair who
was responsible for running board meetings, but decisions were
made by consensus.
the Council coordinated the passage of a bill to establish a pilot
project to provide state funds for six Texas shelters. This was
the beginning of the Council's effort to involve the state in
funding local shelters. The Council's decision to seek state funding
was uncontroversial. In fact, the Council formed in large part
for this purpose. State funding was seen as a means to create
a more stable funding source for local, community-based shelter
that Council activists drafted to increase state funding was carefully
written to insure that shelter programs continued to be autonomous,
local, community-based programs with primary funding coming from
community sources. State contracts were to be awarded only to
those shelters that had been "in actual operation offering shelter
services 24 hours a day with a capacity for not less than five
persons for at least nine months before the date that the contract
[was] awarded." This provision was designed to discourage those
who might form a shelter solely for the purpose of getting state
funds, reflecting the Council's belief that such shelters were
less likely to be grassroots, community organizations. While this
commitment to community-based organizations is consistent with
feminist practice, it does not acknowledge that some communities,
particularly those that are poor, may find it extremely difficult
to organize without state funds (Matthews 1989).
further provided a declining scale of state support over a six
year period so that after six years no more than 50% of a shelter's
funding could come from the state. By limiting the amount of state
support, the Council sought to encourage local shelters to continue
raising funds in their communities in order to build acceptance
and support for their work. Community support is one of the strongest
guarantees that a shelter will continue to survive. Shelters that
lack community support lose touch with the population and are
not as responsive to community needs.
shelters with broad community support also strengthen the statewide
movement. It is more likely that legislators will support the
Council's legislative and funding agenda if there is a community-supported
shelter in their district. In addition, those shelters that are
well-established in their communities have more staff resources
to contribute to political and educational work organized through
activists saw the state as a potential resource for their own
activities as well. In the enabling legislation they wrote language
that required the Department of Human Services (DHS), which would
administer the funds, to "contract for the provision of training,
technical assistance, and evaluations related to shelter and service
program development." This provision was meant to insure that
the Council would be actively involved in carrying out the mandate
of the legislation. Their role was further reinforced by another
section of the bill that stated, "in implementing this chapter,
the department shall consult with individuals and groups having
knowledge of and experience in the problems of family violence."
was passed in 1981. Soon after, the Council received a contract
from DHS to visit every shelter in order to prepare them for state
funding. DHS contracted with the Council because they perceived
it in their interest to do so. When DHS received the legislative
mandate to administer the Family Violence Program, they had no
knowledge of family violence or shelters. The legislation required
that they contract for technical assistance, and the most knowledgeable
source on family violence and shelters was the Council. In addition,
the Council had the community and legislative support to make
it highly unlikely that DHS would choose to contract with another
contract marked the beginning of a contractual relationship with
DHS that in 1991 generated $260,000 for movement-building activities
in addition to the money that local shelters received. DHS contracts
funded a toll-free technical assistance hotline, a resource library,
the Council's newsletter, training conferences, an information
database, site visits, a statewide public education campaign,
and money for Council members to participate actively in shaping
DHS' administration of the Family Violence Program (Texas Council
on Family Violence 1990).
contract, along with a grant from the Levi-Strauss Foundation,
made it possible for the Council board to hire a staff. Two shelter
activists from the Austin Center for Battered Women, who had been
instrumental in obtaining the grant and contract, became the Council
staff.  Under the new contract, they began visiting every shelter
that qualified for state funding.
advocacy group contracts with the state for funding it raises
the possibility of conflict of interest. Whom does the Council
represent: the state? shelters? itself? Under this first contract
the potential for conflicts of interest was not very great since
its purpose was purely informational. With this limited state
agenda the Council staff was able to spend a lot of time talking
with shelter directors about their programs and about the Council's
agenda. The contexts for the visits were in fact very favorable
since it was the Council that had been instrumental in securing
state funds for the shelters.
for conflict of interest increased significantly with the next contract.
In 1982, the Council contracted with DHS to evaluate shelter services.
They did this for several reasons. First they were interested in
developing a "competency-based evaluation system" that would be
used as a basis for allocating funds to shelters. The idea behind
this system was to encourage shelters to develop their programs
in the direction of more public education and advocacy work. Second,
they knew that DHS would want some form of evaluation to ensure
that shelters complied with their contracts. The Council wanted
to have input into how the state conceptualized these evaluations
and if possible use the state's authority to implement their own
ideas. Third, they saw the evaluation contract as a way to shape
how the state perceived its relationship to local shelter programs.
And fourth, they saw the evaluations as a vehicle for learning about
shelter programs, assisting shelter staff with problems, and encouraging
them to take risks and innovate. This diverse agenda proved very
hard to negotiate.
Council sought the evaluation contract they were aware that some
local shelters might misperceive their relationship with the state.
Not all shelters were equally aware of the Council's history.
When the Council first formed there were only six shelters in
existence. At the time of the evaluations there were 29.  Those
shelter activists who had been involved in the formation of the
Council had a very different relationship to it than did those
that were formed afterwards. Having a part in creating a movement
organization from scratch is a much different experience than
coming into an already established organization.
the new shelters were formed through the active nurturance of
Council members; others developed on their own. Most shelters
were Council members, but some perceived the Council as a professional
organization for shelter providers, rather than a movement organization.
Others did not feel that feminism spoke to their communities.
took place during a day-long visit to each shelter.  The Council
staff conducted the visits with the shelter staff in the presence
of the DHS regional contract managers. The participation of the
contract managers was required by the Council. They felt that
contract manager participation was a political opportunity to
educate state employees about battering and shelters as well as
a chance to define the state's relationship to local programs.
evaluation visits contract managers would sometimes refer to the
shelter program as a state program, whereupon the Council staff
would correct them in no uncertain terms by saying that these
were locally-based community programs that the state was helping
to fund. Often a conversation would ensue about the difference
in the state's relationship to shelters compared with other programs
that DHS administered. The substance of the conversation was always
that while DHS "owned" other welfare programs, they "funded" family
with which the Council staff corrected DHS misconceptions about
the state's relationship to shelter programs underscores the strategic
importance they placed on maintaining the autonomy of local shelters.
If DHS began to perceive shelter programs as "their" programs,
then the shelter movement would lose a significant tactical edge.
By maintaining the autonomy of local shelters, the movement strengthened
its claim vis-à-vis the state to define how shelter would
instrument that the Council designed had several purposes. 
First, it met the needs of DHS by assessing whether shelters were
complying with the law. Second, it provided a mechanism for the
Council to gather information about how shelters handled batterers,
children, staff/board relations, and other areas such as budget
planning, personnel policies, and shelter organization. With this
information, Council activists hoped to be better able to advise
and consult with shelters. And lastly, the evaluation instrument
was designed to open up dialogue on issues like advocacy vs. counseling,
the use of volunteers, public education, developing community
resources, and shelter accessibility that would give the Council
staff an opportunity to discuss shelter philosophy and politics
with shelter staff and DHS contract managers.
directors actively engaged with the Council staff during the evaluation
visits. They used them as a resource and saw them as an ally;
they discussed problems and engaged in philosophical and political
discussions that were learning experiences for both the Council
staff and shelter directors. This was particularly evident in
one South Texas shelter run by the Catholic Charities. The shelter
director, a middle-aged Hispanic woman, operated the shelter with
a philosophy of "charity" that included viewing battered women
as victims who primarily needed therapy. She was very reticent
about doing public outreach. As she explained, this is "macho"
country, by which she meant that it was dangerous for women to
challenge male power by discussing the rights of womenincluding
the right not to be beaten.
staff who conducted the evaluation visits had never provided shelter
in a hostile environment. Their shelter experiences had been in
a liberal, urban city where politicians and community leaders
were generally receptive. The visit to South Texas caused the
Council staff to reflect on how regional, racial and cultural
differences shape how a community provides shelter. The Council
staff worked hard to empower the Catholic Charities shelter staff
to take the political risks of raising the issues of violence
against women in their communities. Not only would a public presence
build community support, it would also increase their opportunities
for diversifying their funding base. The two direct service staff
(also Hispanic) responded positively to the Council staff's suggestions,
but the shelter director was afraid to "rock the boat".
of the battered women's movement in the 1990s will depend on how
it handles issues of diversity and difference (Ristock 1990).
At the time of these evaluations the Council's philosophy statement
did not include any mention of how culture, race, and sexuality
impact on battering relationships and on the movement's political
agenda. They were afraid early on to raise issues of homophobia
and racism because they believed such a focus would weaken their
efforts to pass legislation to fund battered women's shelters,
to transform how police officers view battered women, and to encourage
all shelters to become members of the Council. Recently the Council
has taken on these issues more directly through a series of training
workshops aimed at new shelter staff that includes a work session
on homophobia and lesbian battering and one on racism and women
of color.  The Council's willingness to confront these contentious
and emotional issues signals their own greater feelings of political
strength and their recognition that understanding and working
across differences is essential political work in the 1990s. 
directors were unhappy with the Council's approach to the evaluations.
One shelter director said in a letter to the Council that she felt
"the evaluators tended to impose themselves into the internal operations
of a private agency, well beyond the scope of the [DHS] contract
under evaluation." She considered any discussion of philosophy,
politics, personnel policies to be inappropriate. Part of her resistance
came from very real philosophical differences between herself and
the Council staff. This shelter director was neither a feminist
nor a movement activist. At one point in the evaluation report,
the Council staff objected to the shelter's policy of "limiting
women's activities and problem solving during the first three days
of their stay." This, they argued, was "incongruous with accepted
shelter practices." The shelter director objected by invoking her
own "experts" and arguing that women in crisis experience "cognitive,
behavioral and affective disequilibrium and need a three day waiting
period to regain their sense of equilibrium." The Council staff,
consistent with their approach, tried to engage the shelter director
in a discussion about this policy without much success. The shelter
director was particularly angry that the Council's assessment of
this policy was included in the evaluation report sent to DHS.
up the evaluation reports the Council staff included a full assessment
of all the shelter's policies and practices. These reports were
used simultaneously to give feedback to the shelter and to report
to DHS. Such mixed goals were problematic. Giving feedback to
local shelters is an internal movement activity aimed at strengthening
and supporting local shelters. To be useful, it should include
frank assessments about the strengths of the program and the areas
where improvement is needed. Reporting to DHS is an official act
that can have consequences for the local shelter's share of state
funding. By not distinguishing these two activities the Council
placed itself in an extremely contradictory position. Some local
shelters protested that "their" organization was divulging negative
information about them to their funders. Feedback from local shelters
on the evaluation visits led the Council to reevaluate this strategy.
wanted to maintain a mechanism for discussing philosophical issues
and providing technical assistance to shelters, but they did not
want to be in a position of providing DHS with the knowledge about
and content of these discussions and they did not want to adversely
affect their relationship to local shelters. As the Council's
director said to me, "we have become much more circumspect about
what we reveal to DHS." The Council made a decision not to continue
evaluating shelters for DHS; nonetheless they do still engage
in evaluative activities by investigating complaints or questionable
practices engaged in by shelter staffs. While DHS may ultimately
be asked to intervene if a complaint or grievance is not resolved
internally, the goal is to create internal processes for handling
and Political Engagement
I have discussed
the politics of the evaluation contract at some length because it
points to both the potential benefits and the contradictions of
engaging with the state. Once the state is viewed as a terrain of
political struggle, some form of political engagement is likely.
Defining the parameters of this engagement in a way that maximizes
movement autonomy and effectively challenges institutional practices
is a major feminist challenge.
pursuing this dual agenda requires not only a more complex understanding
of the state but also a revised understanding of the dynamics
of power. Earlier movement activists understood power as the ability
of the state, institutions, and those who held positions of authority
to impose their will on others. Power was competitive, individualistic,
and zero-sum. If some had it, then others did not. As feminist
politics changed, power was redefined as the ability to act, the
ability to transform oneself and the world. Power was no longer
defined only as something that others possessed and wielded over
you. Through working together collectively, creating organizations,
and challenging patriarchal practices, feminists began to experience
their own power, based on energy, strength, effectiveness, not
domination and control (Hartsock 1979).
movement activists to challenge bureaucratic and institutional
practices has been one of the Council's important political contributions.
During one regional meeting that I attended with local shelter
activists, the Council staff spent a good deal of time demystifying
the power of the state. Local shelter activists were angry that
their contract manager was slated to be changed during a bureaucratic
reshuffling. Feeling powerless to influence the DHS decision,
much of their anger was directed towards the Council for not protecting
their interests. The Council staff redirected the focus of local
activist anger to the DHS decision and empowered those activists
to collectively work to change it. This turned what began as a
hostile encounter between the Council staff and local shelter
staffs into a common struggle to find effective ways to challenge
oppressive bureaucratic practices. Feelings of powerlessness that
had caused anger and resignation were replaced by feelings of
others to act and take responsibility for their decisions is a
political strategy that Council activists have also used with
those within mainstream institutions. One of the most frustrating
aspects of engaging with mainstream institutions is the bureaucratic
and hierarchical processes that delay action and derail communication.
From the beginning of its relationship with DHS, the Council sought
to create structures and patterns of communication that held DHS
personnel accountable for both decisions and indecisions. Through
a joint Council-DHS advisory committee, extensive written correspondence,
and regular phone calls, Council activists have been more effective
than other advocacy organizations in demanding timely, honest,
and open consideration of issues that affect the Family Violence
In the beginning
the Council's approach was particularly awkward for some DHS staff
people because they were being asked to engage with the Council
staff in ways that were highly unusual for agency personnel. In
one case, a DHS staff person, responsible for the Council's contracts
with the agency, was initially quite antagonistic toward the Council
and felt threatened by its power and its approach to dealing with
the agency. Through extensive and persistent communication, Council
activists gradually developed a relationship of trust and understanding
with her, until she actually became an active advocate for the
movement within DHS.
the state is a strategy that has risks. It is risky because state
funding is contingent on economic and political forces that one
does not control. It is risky because state engagement can threaten
movement solidarity. But any strategy that has risks also has benefits.
Funding for movement activities, access to policy makers, and opportunities
for educating many people about the issues of violence against women
are not trivial. Risks and benefits are present in any political
choice. Organizations that acknowledge this are better able to cope
with the uncertainty.
is a dynamic process. It is guided by values that include nurturance,
democracy, cooperation, empowerment, inclusion, transformation,
maximizing rewards to all and ending oppression (Martin 1990b).
These values provide a moral framework for action but do not entail
specific organizational forms or political strategies. Because
the process of social change is neither predetermined nor linear,
all activism is historically contingent and shifting, replete
with its own contradictions. Instead of denying this reality,
many feminists in the 1990s accept this as the condition of their
women's movement has changed from its early days of grassroots
autonomy. But this change cannot adequately be characterized as
either a radical break from the past or a quiet slippage towards
ever greater bureaucratization. Instead feminists continue to
move into more and more arenas of political activism; they are
developing innovative organizational and communicative structures
and strategies; and they are continually challenging the structure
and practices of mainstream institutions. Their work has the potential
to reinvigorate civic organizations and associations of all kinds,
and redefine the role of the state. And while many of these changes
may appear less radical than the early feminist organizing efforts
of the 1970s, they may in the long run result in more profound
and long-lasting transformation.
1. For a discussion
of how the battered women's movement has attempted to transform
mainstream institutional policies and practices, see Schecter (1982).
2. See Katzenstein (1990) for a discussion of women organizing within
the U.S. military and the Catholic Church.
3. In their recent book the Dobashes (1992) describe in some detail
feminist efforts to define and implement an anti-violence agenda
at the federal level in both Britain and the United States. Leidner
(1991) provides an excellent analysis of feminist practice by looking
at the internal organizational process of defining what it means
for a feminist organization to be inclusive and representative.
4. For more positive accounts of the impact of state funding on
organizations and movements, see Simon (1982) and Matthews (1989).
For more critical or pessimistic accounts see Morgan (1981) and
Andler and Sullivan (1980). For a more recent critical account see
5. Both women are white, college-educated feminists with a long
history of community activism, including anti-rape work and shelter
6. Most of the evaluation visits were held during 1983.
7. I accompanied the Council on eight shelter visits in the South
Texas and mid-Texas regions. I was a participant observer during
these visits. The Council staff arranged my participation. I was
introduced as a researcher who was interested in the evaluation
8. During the week I traveled with the Council staff in South Texas,
one contract manager attended all five evaluations. At the beginning
of the week he spoke continuously about state requirements and seemed
uneasy about the Council staff's approach to evaluations. By the
end of the five days his bureaucratic concerns were replaced with
an interest in the programmatic issues shelters faced. He began
to assume the role of an advocate, discussing strategy with shelter
directors, much as he had heard the Council staff do earlier in
the week. In other words, he became an active participant in the
evaluations on the terms that the the Council had defined.
9. The instrument was developed and used in 1982-83.
10. There has been active resistance by some attendees at the sessions
on homophobia and lesbian battering. Primarily it comes from women
in the shelter community who are fundamentalist Christians. For
a discussion of feminism and fundamentalism see Stacey (1990).
11. There is a growing literature that addresses battering in the
African-American community (White 1985), the Latino community (Zambrano
1985) and among lesbians (Lobel 1986).
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