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Biography of Joss Shawyer


Joss Shawyer is a New Zealand feminist who pioneered self-help services for single ("unmarried") mothers during the 1970’s. Herself the single mother of twins born in 1969, she raised her twin son and daughter to adulthood in defiance of the extreme prejudice against single mothers prevalent at the time of their birth.

In 1973 Joss founded ‘The Council for the Single Mother and Her Child’. As a result of the council’s campaigning, many "unmarried" mother’s homes changed their policies on enforced adoption to assist women to raise their children themselves, while other institutions closed. The council was the recipient of the ‘Best Use of the Media’ award for public education at the 1982 Media Women’s Awards.

In 1975 Joss co-authored an information booklet ‘Everything a Single Parent Needs to Know’ that went into six editions. All money raised by the sale of the publication went to support services for single mothers. In 1976 she became a foundation member of ‘Jigsaw’, an organization originally set up to help women trace children lost to adoption or find their missing mothers.

In 1979 her book ‘Death by Adoption’ was published and distributed in New Zealand, Australia and England. The title encapsulates the loss and grief experienced by women forced by social policies and related legislation to surrender children for adoption. The book made a powerful strike against the trade in babies and influenced profound changes to adoption law and practice in New Zealand. There are now less than 400 adoptions registered in New Zealand annually.

Stories about Joss and her work for women have featured in many New Zealand publications. The Minister of Women’s Affairs recommended her for a Queens Service Medal and she was awarded the 1990 Commemoration Medal by Queen Elizabeth for ‘raising the status of women in New Zealand’.

‘Death by Adoption’ is now out of print. Joss is currently researching and writing a North American edition for publication in 2004.


Voices From Exile Copyright © 2003 Joss Shawyer

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