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Opinion

The evolution of Ambassadors – busting myths about our most recognised and controversial program

Since the genesis of the White Ribbon movement in Australia, the endorsement of community representatives, particularly men, as Ambassadors has been a central feature of our mission to end men’s violence against women.  Our Ambassador Program has been highly successful, although it hasn’t been without its critics.

The original thinking behind our Ambassador Program in 2003 was for every Australian man to become a White Ribbon Ambassador. Whilst this model of campaigning saw many successes, and made significant strides in spreading awareness about men’s violence against women, it was not without its flaws and drew criticism; some justified, some constructive, and some misleading and inaccurate. Critique is something we always consider seriously, as learning is crucial to this journey. The criticisms we faced could be seen to follow certain themes that I would like to address to reflect the developments of the Ambassador Program.

If anyone can be an Ambassador, the status becomes obsolete or too easy.

This is something we’ve learnt from, as we accept not every man should be an Ambassador. We instead need individuals who are genuine, knowledgeable and active to lead the charge in ending men’s violence against women. Our original rationale was to make all men part of the solution in ending men’s violence against women. This failed to fully account for the way in which the gendered inequalities that drive men’s violence is perpetuated, often unconsciously, through socialised and normalised patterns of behaviour. The insufficiently flexible ‘blueprints’ or ‘social scripts’ given to men and women, which at their root often give men a more valuable social position, enable abuses of power. In short, this did not go far enough to challenge the status quo, and a movement that does not challenge the status quo will have limited success in changing social outcomes.

In recognising this, we have implemented a more robust recruitment process for White Ribbon Ambassadors, which we continually reinforce. All Ambassadors have demonstrated a depth of understanding of the issue, real-life engagement with the movement, and credibility as a representative through a 5-step application process involving:

  • An online training package.
  • Written application.
  • Telephone interview with a White Ribbon Australia Ambassador Team staff member.
  • Police Check.
  • Reference Check.

This has reduced our numbers from 2900 to 1200, and we aim to ensure that only the right people will become White Ribbon Ambassadors.

What do Ambassadors actually do?

White Ribbon Ambassadors come from all levels of society, in communities across the length and breadth of Australia.

Their main role is to bring the movement into everyday life – personally and professionally. Through their roles as friends, brother, fathers, sons and colleagues, Ambassadors drive the movement to prevent men’s violence against women through their interactions both publicly and privately. By continuously discussing the issue, they put the message more firmly into the public consciousness that violence against women is an issue that must not be tolerated.

Whilst the widely-publicised promotional campaigns to raise awareness are the most immediately visible, and make a significant contribution to the movement, the power of everyday interactions cannot be understated. It is through everyday interactions that society changes. Through the network of active Ambassadors, we can influence hard to reach people or those less connected to the issue, and this is the real strength of a genuinely community-led grassroots movement.

We create accountability for the individuals who represent the movement. All Ambassadors have agreed to a role description and code of conduct that sets out expectations for an initial two-year tenure, which if not met will result in this status being lapsed. We have regular communication with our Ambassadors to provide support, give training opportunities and educational tools, and we have implemented an activity log where Ambassadors evidence their activity towards the movement under three streams: Engage, Educate and Act. It is a requirement for Ambassadors to demonstrate their activity to remain in this position.

White Ribbon is about the brand.

The white ribbon as a symbol has become ubiquitous in the movement to end men’s violence against women. As a symbol, it’s a powerful tool in bringing attention to the issue and uniting those supportive of the movement to end men’s violence against women. We make no apology for utilising this powerful tool to spread awareness, and harness support under the banner to prevent violence. As an organisation passionate in its mission, we view the symbol as one of our greatest assets in empowering communities to take up the charge, and unite people from all backgrounds to work together.

Ambassadors tell us that the white ribbon is a physical reminder that holds them to account in their behavior wherever they are. It reminds them to notice the issue more in their day to day lives, commits them to doing something about it, and gives them the platform to act with confidence.

The ribbon is a unifying statement that our Ambassadors carry into their communities. One of the most important functions of the symbol is that it tells other people that we oppose violence against women wherever it occurs. It makes the issue visible and stops us from turning away. It is a declaration to act, for if we don’t act now, nothing will change.

Author Sam Wainwright is White Ribbon Australia’s Ambassador Program Coordinator.

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