Erin Pizzey Celebrates 70th Birthday
Campaigner established the world's first women's refuge in Chiswick
This week saw the 70th Birthday of Erin Pizzey, the founder of the world’s first refuge centre for victims of domestic violence in 1971 in Chiswick. Her campaign to bring attention to the prevalence of domestic abuse has come a long way in 38 years. The campaign has changed but the challenges have not.
In an article published in Mail Online she wrote of how she came to establish the refuge and how, ironically, it was feminists that almost caused its demise:
“During 1970, I was a young housewife with a husband, two children, two dogs and a cat. We lived in Hammersmith, and I didn't see much of my husband because he worked for TV's Nationwide. I was lonely and isolated, and longed for something other than the usual cooking, cleaning and housework to enter my life.
By the early Seventies, a new movement for women - demanding equality and rights - began to make headlines in the daily newspapers. Among the jargon, I read the words "solidarity" and "support". I passionately believed that women would no longer find themselves isolated from each other, and in the future could unite to change our society for the better.
Within a few days I had the address of a local group in Chiswick, and I was on my way to join the Women's Liberation Movement. I was asked to pay £3 and ten shillings as a joining fee, told to call other women "sisters" and that our meetings were to be called "collectives".
My fascination with this new movement lasted only a few months. At the huge "collectives", I heard shrill women preaching hatred of the family. They said the family was not a safe place for women and children. I was horrified at their virulence and violent tendencies. I stood on the same platforms trying to reason with the leading lights of this new organisation.
I ended up being thrown out by the movement. My crime was to warn some of the women working in the Women's Liberation Movement office off Shaftesbury Avenue that if it persisted in cooperating with a plan to bomb Biba, a fashionable clothes shop in Kensington, I would call the police.
Biba was bombed because the women's movement thought it was a capitalist enterprise devoted to sexualising women's bodies.
I decided that I was wasting my time trying to influence what, to my mind, was a Marxist/ feminist movement touting for money from gullible women like myself.
By that time, I'd met a small group of women in my area who agreed with me. We persuaded Hounslow council to give us a tiny house in Belmont Terrace in Chiswick. We had two rooms upstairs, two rooms downstairs, a kitchen and an outside lavatory. We installed a telephone and typewriter, and we were in business.
Every day after dropping my children at school, I went to our little house, which we called the Women's Aid. Soon women from all over Chiswick were coming to ask for help. At last we had somewhere women could meet each other and bring their children. My long, lonely days were over.
But then something happened that made me understand that our role was going to be more than just a forum where women could exchange ideas. One day, a lady came in to see us. She took off her jersey, and we saw that she was bruised and swollen across her breasts and back. Her husband had taken a chair leg to her. She looked at me and said: "No one will help me."
No one would help me then and nobody would ever imagine that my beautiful, rich mother - who was married to a diplomat - could be a violent abuser.
I quickly discovered, as battered women with their children poured into the house, that whatever was going on behind other people's front doors was seen as nobody else's business.
All the social agencies knew about domestic violence, but nobody talked about it. I searched for literature to help me understand this epidemic, but there was nothing to read except a few articles on child abuse in medical journals.
So in 1974 I decided to write Scream Quietly Or The Neighbours Will Hear, the first book in the world on domestic violence. I revealed that women and children were being abused in their own homes and they couldn't escape because the law wouldn't protect them.
If a husband claimed he would have his wife back, she couldn't claim any money from the Department of Health and Social Security, and social services could only offer to take the children into care.
Meanwhile, our little house was packed with women fleeing their violent partners - sometimes as many as 56 mothers and children in four rooms. All had terrible stories, but I recognised almost immediately that not all the women were innocent. Some were as violent as the men, and violent towards their children.
The social workers involved with these women told me I was wasting my time because the women would only return to their partners.
I was determined to try to break the chain of violence. But as the local newspaper picked up the story of our house, I grew worried about a very different threat….
The full article can be read here.
She concludes, “I believe that vision was hijacked by vengeful women who have ghetto-ised the refuge movement and used it to persecute men. Surely the time has come to challenge this evil ideology and insist that men take their rightful place in the refuge movement.
We need an inclusive movement that offers support to everyone that needs it. As for me - I will always continue to work with anyone who needs my help or can help others - and yes, that includes men.”
February 21, 2009