Shawyer is a New Zealand feminist who pioneered self-help
services for single ("unmarried") mothers during
the 1970s. 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.
1973 Joss founded The Council for the Single Mother
and Her Child. As a result of the councils
campaigning, many "unmarried" mothers 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 Womens Awards.
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.
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.
about Joss and her work for women have featured in many New
Zealand publications. The Minister of Womens 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.
by Adoption is now out of print. Joss is currently
researching and writing a North American edition for publication