The bulk of social work practice occurs within family settings where interventions proceed as if the relationships that occur within them are unproblematic. But the family has re-emerged as a highly contested political institution and a key instrument of social policy. ‘The family’ is central to struggles over redefining families and women’s roles within them as feminists argue for diversity and forms that meet women’s aspirations whilst moralists and religious fundamentalists across the globe demand a return to patriarchal arrangements. The vociferous voices of patriarchal moralists have regendered women in neo-traditional ways to reassert their responsibility for ensuring that family life proceeds in accordance with patriarchal injunctions and retains its status as a safe haven. Alongside these developments is a conservative men’s critique that castigates feminists for exposing the family as a source of oppression for women and children (Clark et al., 1996; Brooks, 1996). The orthodoxies they proclaim fly in the face of evidence that indicates women endure gender-based hardships across cultural domains (Basu, 1997).
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