THE wonderful thing and the terrible thing about feminism is the factions.

Disagreement prompts reflection and robust debate - but it can also stymie growth.

There’s a general agreement that the purpose of the movement is to procure the equality of women and men.

But the best way to achieve this end… that’s another matter.

A feminist ethos is the driving force behind the network of women’s aid branches around the country. These take a feminist reading of domestic abuse and apply it to their work to provide refuge and support to women and children who are experiencing or have experienced intimate partner abuse.

Not all women’s aid groups in Scotland are affiliated with Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA) but those who are sign up to a regulations that can be read as conflicting. On one hand, they pledge to work in a way that reflects the diversity of society. On the other, they pledge to be run with only female management and staff.

Moray Women’s Aid (MWA) has found itself placed in a position where it must leave the network. For eight years, the organisation has had a male director, Graham Leadbitter.

Scottish Women’s Aid claimed it was in the dark about this fact and, once it had uncovered it, insisted MWA ask Mr Leadbitter to step down.They refused and have now left the network.

I should step in here and say that I am currently vice-chair of Glasgow Women’s Aid, but this is very much my opinion and not reflective in any way of the organisation.

The third sector environment is not lush with funding. We rely on local authority and government support, both of which are squeezed.

In Edinburgh, the city council is carrying out a review of its domestic abuse services, including grant provision, statutory agencies and commissioned services to make provision more nimble.

Dumbarton District Women’s Aid and Clydebank Women’s Aid suffered funding cuts to their services last year as West Dunbartonshire Council tightened its belt. North Ayrshire Women’s Aid and three groups in Lanarkshire also found themselves dealing with budget cuts.

Scottish Women’s Aid warned that funding across the country was “broadly precarious or at risk.”

In other changes, the question of whether Women’s Aid projects should focus solely on women came to the fore in January this year when Falkirk and District Women’s Aid morphed into the new organisation Committed to Ending Abuse (CEA), which both provides support for men and works with perpetrators.

If MWA shows anything, it is that the addition of a man to the board has done no harm. No one even noticed. That’s not really good enough, however, to prompt change. Has it done any good, should be the test?

MWA certainly thinks so, calling Mr Leadbitter a dedicated and proactive member of the board. In a letter to SWA, the chair of Moray says the organisation cannot but help interacting with men – the police officers it deals with are invariably male, the councillors making decisions on funding are too.

SWA counters that it is vital to give a gender restricted platform to women because they are marginalised, particularly in legislating for and policing domestic abuse.

I agree with MWA that there is a place for men on the board of a feminist charity. I also sympathise with SWA’s position that women are underrepresented in spheres that directly affect them.

I can’t sympathise, however, with a rigid model that threatens to weaken the network and refuses to allow for evolution as society evolves.

The stereotype of the feminist is that we are rigidly dictatorial, despise men and that, while we cry sisterhood, are unable to work effectively together.

That’s simply not true. But, to my mind, it is a pity SWA is not now pausing to reflect on whether it should allow member organisations to grow and evolve with more autonomy.

Children using the service often have only female teachers. They are exposed only to female staff in refuge and female play therapists to support them. They live with their mums. A service without men shows them no nurturing male role models. It does not show them men are not to be feared or avoided.

A female-only service says to men they don’t have to be allies, we’ll deal with the aftermath of their messes alone. It says to men who are allies they must stay one step removed.

Women’s Aid services do extraordinary, hard labour. But services are changing, expectations are changing, and adaptability is needed.

Standing on points of principle rather than flexing to accommodate a variety of needs serves only to risk harm to the women the groups are there to protect.