“Men develop ideas and systems of explanation by absorbing past knowledge, and critiquing, and superseding it. Women, ignorant of their own history, did not know what women before them had thought and taught. So generation after generation, they struggled for insights others had already had before them.” (Lerner, p. 19, ‘The Creation of Feminist Consciousness’)
This is a coalition that I was involved with from 2002 to 2017. Given that family law is yet again under scrutiny, yet another inquiry having been instituted and men’s rights groups agenda being promoted I feel that it is important to document some of the work that feminists have been involved in and give the opportunity for others to learn and build on such work.
NAFCC was a national (and international) Feminist coalition of organisations who formed to advocate on behalf of women and children going through the Family Court system with concerns about domestic violence and child abuse.
About the Group
The National Abuse Free Contact Campaign consisted of a coalition of people and organisations from throughout Australia, with a number of members from New Zealand, England, and Ireland.
The Coalition consisted of frontline workers in domestic violence services, health services, sexual assault services, women’s services, legal and social science academics and researchers, legal profession, feminist organisations, victim support services, single mothers’ organisations, counsellors, therapists and women who had experience of the family law system.
Our major aim of the Coalition was to lobby and advocate for change in the family law system to adequately protect women and children from ongoing abuse and violence.
And also, to share information, ideas and to act as a forum for discussion.
The National Abuse Free Contact campaign communicates through the elsa email network.
It should be noted that the campaign represented a number of state and regional groups who had developed their own network to campaign for family law reform. Initial contact was made with the Abuse Free Contact group in Brisbane. Under the auspice of the Women’s Legal Service, Brisbane, Kathryn Rendell, Zoe Rathus and Angela Lynch conducted research on child contact arrangements where there is violence in the family and their report “an unacceptable risk” was released in November 2000. This was important in providing a focus for mobilisation and grew directly from concerns of practitioners meeting with women and children. Other groups that we established important links with were Victorian Family Law Coalition https://familylawreformcoalition.org/; SA Violence against Women group; NSW Women’s Refuge Movement Family Law Campaign https://www.dvnsw.org.au/ ; Women’s Refuge W.A https://www.womenscouncil.com.au/ and National Women’s Legal Services network https://www.wlsa.org.au/. Many of the activities and activism were developed and actioned at the local and regional level. A major role of the National Abuse Free Contact Campaign was sharing widely such activities, and also developing strategies and ideas for further activism.
This national group was also an important forum for identifying the issues within the family law system of most importance for women and children’s safety and sharing of research and the most effective strategies for raising this issue within political system, within the family court system, within a broad range of organisations working with women and concerned about women’s safety and the general public.
Briefing Paper and Fact Sheets
The campaign, after thorough consultation developed a Briefing Paper, summarising the major issues and concerns which we held. This was widely distributed for use in campaign activities and provided to politicians and other interested groups. We also developed a series of Fact Sheets: Parental Alienation; Myths and Facts; Domestic Violence is Gendered Violence; The Myth of women’s false accusations of domestic violence and misuse of protection orders; Violence Against Women- Apprehended Violence Orders.
Family Law Submissions
The Howard Government established an inquiry into child custody arrangements in 2002 and the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs’ Report – Every Picture Tells a Story – was released December 2003
Early on in the life of the Campaign our major focus was on developing submissions to the inquiry.
A major advantage of the membership of the Campaign was that it represented a variety of professional groups, such as the legal and social work profession, alongside were women who were working directly with women and children escaping male violence and advocates such as the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children https://www.ncsmc.org.au/ who had a long history of awareness of issues facing separating mothers.
We were therefore able to share information, research and strategies about what issues we thought important to focus on in our submissions and what were the legal changes that we wanted to achieve.
Women’s Safety After Separation Project https://www.ncsmc.org.au/wsas3/
The National Council of Single Mothers and their Children (Inc) received funding from the Federal Office for Women to develop a website to provide information for separating women and those supporting her. The National Abuse Free Contact Campaign was developed in partnership with the Women’s Safety After Separation project.
The website provides information on family law, domestic violence and child abuse. It also provides on negotiating the myriad of organisations for women separating. In developing the resources for the website we were able to connect with women’s organisations throughout Australia thus establishing important links, and inviting these organisations to be part of our campaign.
We were also able to print fact and information sheets and posters which were distributed throughout Australia.
Many of our members were encouraged to contact Members of Parliament outlining their concerns with the family law system. This was achieved in a variety of ways:
- Letter writing to local MP’s, MP’s with portfolios connected to family law and women’s issues such as the Attorney-General, Minister for Health, Minister for Women and their opposition counterparts
- Appointments with MP’s both at a local level and the appropriate Ministers
- The National Abuse Free Contact Campaign was invited by Feminist Agenda Australia to visit Canberra. We met with a range of Federal Members of Parliament over 2 days and family law reform and male violence against women was a major item on our agenda
- Postcard campaign. On two separate occasions, coinciding with Christmas we developed postcards which were sent out to a range of politicians by our members. This was another example of cooperation and networking. One of our members had a friend develop the artwork for the postcards. Another organization offered to pay for the printing of the postcards and members interested in distributing the postcards paid for postage.
Image of postcard
Several groups organized to raise awareness of the family law campaign and issues by being active at women’s events, such as Reclaim the Night marches, May 5th Domestic Violence Remembrance Day and International Women’s Day events.
The Brisbane Take Back the Night March organizers made a banner ‘Make Family Law Safe for Women and Children’ for their march.
Women’s House Shelta, Brisbane https://womenshouse.org.au/womens-house-shelta/ also offered to pay for the costs of printing t-shirts with the banner on it. 100 t-shirts
Candlelight vigils outside of the Family Court. This also was coordinated with groups advocating for Domestic Violence Death reviews.
A media kit was distributed throughout the group to help to reach out to the media about the issues.
Relationships were also developed with certain journalists and media outlets who were interested in promoting the issues.
Interviews were held with both television and radio networks eg Sunday Channel 7, ABC 7.30 report And SBS Insight
Conferences, Seminars and Forums
A number of our members organized to present papers at a range of conferences and seminars. Some state groups organized specific forums on family law issues. For example, the Domestic Violence Resource Centre in Victoria https://www.dvrcv.org.au/ invited National Abuse Free Contact Campaign to speak on the issue at their Family Law Forum. The Brisbane Women’s Legal Service https://wlsq.org.au/ celebrated their 25th anniversary by conducting a conference and we were again invited to present a workshop.
We also managed to have published articles about the issues in a number of journals including Violence against Women journal, the National Clearinghouse on Domestic Violence, SACOSS journal, Green Left Weekly.
Networking with other women’s groups
In our aim to connect with as many people as possible we also made contact with other women’s groups who were not directly involved in family law issues. Eg in Adelaide we met with Zonta https://zonta.org.au/Zonta_in_Australia/Home_to_3_Districts_of_Zonta_International.html