Reflecting and Learning: the importance of hearing feedback
Over the past few months White Ribbon Australia has come under some criticism as a social change movement to prevent men’s violence against women. This is not a new state of affairs as a vocal minority have often taken issue with our work to engage men in preventing men’s violence against women in Australia.
However we wanted to take the time to thank you publicly for your feedback. We are heartened by your passion in the movement to end men’s violence against women in Australia, and we are on the same mission with you. We would be concerned if we were not held accountable to our mistakes.
The recent decision by our former CEO to remove the statement of support for women’s autonomy in their reproductive choices can be seen as such an example. The decision was made by the former CEO who had the view to engage in a wider community consultation on this and other policy matters. Following feedback from both White Ribbon staff and the wider public the position statement was reinstated, and the White Ribbon Board confirmed that this position was never open to consultation and should not have been removed.
As an ever-evolving social change movement committed to ending men’s violence against women, we are open to criticism and welcome it. We have always listened to criticism and, where criticism has been valid, used it to strengthen our work. With sincerity we want you to talk to us, and even criticise us, but don’t stop supporting us.
The crucial work of engaging men
As you may be aware one in three women in Australia has experienced men’s violence and on average one woman each week is killed by a male partner or ex-partner. One in two women in Australia has experienced sexual harassment. Not captured statistically is a genuine picture of the extent women experience intimidation and intrusion from men known and unknown to them. It is important that we engage men in this issue as the change must come from men. We must prevent those who would be the perpetrators of abuse from ever becoming so through a campaign to raise awareness, educate and engage men to reflect on this issue.
Since foundation in 2003 our campaigning has been highly successful in putting the issue of men’s violence against women firmly into the public consciousness. We are a large movement to engage men with the issue, which over the 15 years it has existed has grown at such an exponential rate that has at times presented challenges to channel this in the best possible way at all times.
We do not shy away where we have been wrong. However this shouldn’t take away from the vast amount of good work that we have done and continue to do. We want to keep doing this work, and we want to always continue getting stronger. We can show that we welcome criticism and have used criticism to strengthen our work
However, other criticisms over recent months can be seen to be uninformed and misleading.
There is a misconception that we are a movement solely for men. Our Ambassador program serves to enlist committed men through a thorough recruitment and vetting process designed to ensure genuine, knowledgeable and active men can join the organisation in a role to drive the movement forward. But we are a partnership of men and women which is reflected in our side by side Ambassador and Advocate programs. Our Advocate program provides women with an equal platform to engage men with the issue. We work closely with much of the DFV sector and are informed by the long line of feminists that came before us. We recognise our presence owes to the tireless work of female campaigners throughout history.
We do not claim to be perfect or have every answer, but we are deeply committed to continuing progress in this matter. We are a movement to make women’s safety a man’s issue too. We are founded on the very premise that there needs to be deep cultural change amongst some of the structures of socialisation that enable the gendered drivers of violence and abuse of women.
We are a large, coordinated and coherent organisation, of men and women in partnership, working together to engage men on the issue to prevent violence against women. Whilst we want to see more refuge space and treatment services for victims and perpetrators, what we really want is to see the need for these services subside. We believe that without prevention there is no cure.
Standing firm in our mission
Violence against women can and should be prevented before it occurs. This is done by addressing the underlying factors that cause the problem such as rigid gender norms and inequality. Preventative actions benefit, but are separate from, responses to violence. However, both forms of action are required to reduce violence over time.
We work to promote the mass social reflection needed to wade through the slow and arduous process of meaningful cultural change over generations to stop the issue at the source. This movement has been highly successful and can continue to get stronger. Whilst we don’t get everything right all the time, we listen and we learn. Criticise us when we may divert, but to stop supporting us would be regressive. It would be an immense loss if this part of the movement was absent.
We occupy a place in the movement that has for too long been absent– engaging the broad population of men to address the issue of men’s violence against women. It has been the missing piece. No other organisation can claim to do this to the extent White Ribbon does. We are a genuine whole of community movement. At the end of November we were in government departments and corporate headquarters, at the same time as we were marching through public parks and speaking to students in schools right the way across Australia. We were at sports games in elite level and grassroots clubs. We were in police stations, workers clubs, defence bases, community centres, supermarkets, and businesses of all shapes and sizes. We are always there to say the very same thing: men’s violence against women is a major issue in Australia and we are not going to tolerate it.
Without our movement many men who would never have engaged with the issue are told about the scale and impact of men’s violence against women, and begin to learn about men’s violence against women in a way that they would not otherwise have considered. It is this which will move Australia towards lasting social change.
But we are so much more than what you can see on White Ribbon Day. As a staff team we work day in day out running programs in schools, guiding workplaces towards cultural change, educating sports clubs, working with fathers, and raising awareness in remote or diverse communities right across the country throughout the entire year. We build on and improve our work every year to reach more people, to change their communities, and make Australia a safer country to live for all.
Author Sam Wainwright is White Ribbon Australia’s Ambassador Program Coordinator.