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Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

The importance of supporting men through positive fatherhood

Ron Mitchell here again, Fatherhood Program Coordinator at White Ribbon Australia. I hope you enjoyed my last blog about modern dads. I really enjoyed writing it and sharing a bit about my life as a young dad.

My time at the Multicultural Council of the Northern Territory

I want to now talk about a different aspect of my life. My work life.

Prior to leaving Darwin in December 2017, I was the Program Manager at the Multicultural Council of the Northern Territory (MCNT) based in Darwin. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Australia’s top end as a practitioner and advocate in the multicultural sector.

For twelve years, I was committed to quality service provision and best practice project management. I worked with colleagues in Darwin’s collaborative community services sector to identify and address the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals and families within the Australian multicultural community.

I learned that resettlement is a multi-layered and long-term process and that recently-arrived migrant and refugee families continue to experience challenges with successful resettlement in Australia many years after arrival.

Migrant men and their challenges

From my time at the MCNT, I learned a lot about perceptions of masculinity and fatherhood from the experiences of recently-arrived migrant men settling in Australia. For many of the men I worked with, the resettlement experience was disempowering – particularly with long-term unemployment (when they expected to be the primary ‘breadwinners’), changing family dynamics (their wives gaining a sense of independence through receiving Centrelink benefits), and intergenerational conflict from their children becoming ‘Westernised’ and no longer respecting their authority.*

For many men being resettled, there was a clear division between the experiences in their home countries and their new experiences of Australian life. There was a constant tension between maintaining traditional cultural practices and parenting styles while adhering to the demands of a new society. I saw these issues create ongoing challenges for maintaining good relationships with their wives and children, often leading to alcohol abuse and even domestic violence.

As service providers in Darwin, my colleagues and I at MCNT were very concerned about the impacts of the resettlement process on migrant men and their families. So in November 2017, in partnership with my colleagues from the community services sector in Darwin and consultation with community leaders, I co-founded the first ever Multicultural Men’s Group in Darwin. The group explored many issues of concern for migrant men including the lack of information about living in Australia, competitiveness for employment, health and wellbeing, and respectful relationships within the family unit.

Positive masculinity

The entrenched patriarchy of society has reinforced the attitudes, behaviours and violence-supported social norms of male dominance and privilege. Not just for newly arrived migrants, but for all Australians born and raised.

I believe it’s so important that we, as a society, start building a positive vision of masculinity. I can see it starting to happen in the men around me. Many fathers are taking on more equal care-giving responsibilities and breaking down the gendered stereotypes that they have been told to traditionally follow.

The importance of fatherhood

It is estimated internationally that about 80% of men become biological fathers during their lifetimes.

The birth or adoption of a child is a milestone for men and provides an opportunity for men as fathers to review their lives and often generates the motivation to take greater responsibility, and develop stronger and more respectful relationships.

Supporting dads as they go on this journey of caregiving, and empowering them to reject the traditional roles or “boxes” that hold them back was one of the aims the Multicultural Men’s Group addressed. Now I’m proud to be part of White Ribbon’s Fatherhood Program, building on the aims and goals I first set out to address in the Northern Territory.

Fatherhood is truly a time of transformation that inspires men to adopt a caring masculinity and act as positive agents for social change. I’m so excited to see what the future holds for the dads of Australia.

Author Ron Mitchell is White Ribbon Australia’s Fatherhood Program Coordinator, a proud husband and father of two.

*I must openly state that there is ultimately no excuse for any form of men’s violence and abuse against women, and that the perceptions within this article relate to the experiences of some migrant men I encountered in Australia sharing their personal perceptions of their resettlement.

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Are you a modern dad?

By way of introduction, I’m Ron Mitchell the Fatherhood Program Coordinator within the Community Development & Engagement Team at White Ribbon Australia. As background, I am a happily married man and the proud father of two adult sons (born 21 months apart), who I like to believe are now fine men. To a large extent, my views of involved fatherhood were formed and evolved during the early 1990s when my sons were still infants.

Evolving definition

You might have seen our launch of our new Fatherhood Program over the weekend to celebrate Father’s Day 2018. Today I wanted to discuss the role of fathers and father-figures as I’ve seen and experienced during my time as a father and share an anecdote with you about an experience with one of my sons. I also invite you all reading this, to share your perspectives, experiences and anecdotes with us on social media. Use #whiteribbon #fatherhood to let us know your stories.

As we’re currently seeing in contemporary Australian society, the role of ‘father’, the concept of ‘family’, and the expression of masculinity and gender roles within families are becoming more socially diverse and broadly defined than in the past. The term ‘father’ now includes a range of males who function in a caregiver role for children.

In addition to biological fathers, there are adoptive fathers, foster fathers, stepfathers, and a range of relatives and friends who, as social fathers, play significant fathering roles in the lives of children. I think you’d agree that positive male role models in every form are essential in shaping the lives of young kids. That’s the remit of White Ribbon Australia and our new Fatherhood Program.

My story

By all accounts I was effectively a stay-at-home dad in the early 1990s, although I had not heard of the term at the time. I was at University undertaking studies towards a Bachelor’s Degree and I was the primary caregiver for our sons. My wife was working full-time to support my studies. My infant sons were enrolled in the University child care centre. I recall I took my sons to a playgroup a few times near where we lived. I was certainly the only man there at that time amongst all the other female caregivers. Somehow we fitted in okay, although it was still a social stigma at that time for a man to attend a playgroup.

I recall very well one time when I arrived at the child care centre. To my alarm I found my older son wheeling around a toy pram with dolly passengers.

I asked the educator, “What are you doing to my son?”

She replied, “One day he is going to be a father”.

Her comment really put me in my place.

Upon reflection, the child care centre was quite progressive for the time, and in their own way was normalising male caregiving for the children in their care. My son was probably modelling my own behaviour as a caring father.

I often wonder how many other dads have had experiences similar to mine. I think it’s a good time now for modern dads and social dads to celebrate special moments with the kids in their care. And to reflect on their impact on the small humans whose lives they help shape.

Author Ron Mitchell is White Ribbon Australia’s Fatherhood Program Coordinator, a proud husband and father of two.

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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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Why do women always die at the Opera?

The Sydney Opera House is one of the most iconic buildings in the world: its architectural vision and the methods required to build it were cutting edge; and the sails floating over the harbour inspire wonder whether seen for the first or the thousandth time. But the opera shown there isn’t as progressive as the building. The stories inspire wonder for the wrong reasons.

I moved back to Sydney with my wife in 2015. We were keen to go to the Opera House regularly: initially for plays, contemporary dance and music. Then we decided we’d go to the opera as well. I’d always heard that the opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings, but the truth is different and distressing. Usually, it’s not over until a woman dies.

Madama Butterfly

In 2015 we went to Madama Butterfly. I’d heard the name, but knew nothing more. I became incensed as the plot played out before my eyes. An American man arrives in Japan and decides he wants a ‘wife’, but only for the time he’s there. He chooses a young geisha who throws her all into their relationship and the false promise of a future life in the USA. After getting her pregnant, the man goes back to America, but Butterfly holds onto the hope he’ll return. After three years he does, with a new wife, saying they want to adopt the baby. Butterfly is devastated and commits hara-kiri (suicide). That’s the grand finale, then everyone stands up and yells ‘Bravo!’

When the director, Moffatt Oxenbould, was interviewed about the themes of the production, he focussed on the set and then on the male character’s grief. He excuses the character from treating women and children like possessions and causing others pain.

Carmen

Perturbed but not defeated, in 2016 we went to Carmen. I’d learnt the music on piano as a boy, but didn’t know the story. At the beginning, it was great to see a vivacious women live her life as and with who she wanted. However, I was horrified at how the story continued. Carmen’s ex-partner stalks and then stabs her to death when she leaves him. Then everyone stands up and yells ‘Bravo!’ I don’t remember any warning that this was about to occur, there definitely weren’t people at the entry and exit talking about men’s violence against women. Yet one in three Australian women have experienced sexual and/or physical violence perpetrated by someone known to them; and one in five women over 18 have been stalked. None of this was mentioned, it was just another night at the opera.

John Bell, who staged the performance, said that his inspiration was “what leads you to love the one person who is going to destroy you?” I have huge respect for John Bell’s career, but found this comment out of line. These words seem to suggest that women in abusive relationships have ‘chosen’ what happens to them. This is victim blaming and removes responsibility from where it lies: with the man who chooses violence when he can’t get what he wants.

Tosca

We knew people in the 2017 performance of Tosca, so we attended the production with trepidation. As the story goes, Tosca’s lover is captured by a dictator. The dictator tells Tosca that unless she sleeps with him, the dictator will order the death of her lover; she is forced to submit due to the threat of violence. However, when the dictator begins to assault her, she assassinates him. Tosca stands up in defence of freedom and liberty, and against authoritarianism and corruption. In the grand finale, she’s killed with a machine gun. Then everyone stands up and yells ‘Bravo!

Again, John Bell was director. He described the plot as, “a tyrannical regime, resistance fighters hunted down, women forced to give sexual favours in order to protect a loved one — these things are still happening, and always have been, during war”. In fact, men force women to do things against their will through violence and threats every night and day.

Violence at the opera

We were slightly traumatised by this time. Butterfly, Carmen and Tosca all died fighting against the same issues of our society today. Yet in another cruel irony, their struggles were abstracted by the men staging these productions, who portrayed each of them as having fatal flaws, rather than blaming the men who cause their deaths. And the music and voices soar, to make it all seem okay – reviewers seem to say it’s only the music we’re really there for.

I get that these stories happened in a different place at a different time. I definitely get that they were also all written by men. However, the argument is that we study great works of art like Shakespeare because their themes still have relevance today. Yet opera runs away from the most direct connection with today’s world in each: men’s violence against women. Opera doesn’t own up, contextualise or really explore the theme, it celebrates violence. Killing the woman onstage and then the audience gives a standing ovation. I mean honestly… what is going on?

Why can’t opera showcase stories where the women live? If these stories can’t be found, why don’t we write some? Or deconstruct the stories by inverting the gender roles or the endings? Why is it always women that have to die at the opera and how can this be seen as acceptable?

 

The opera bubble

Opera seems to exist in its own bubble, disconnected from the world around it. Globally, we’ve been having a massive discussion about men’s violence against women and gender equality for decades. Two Australians of the Year in the last five years have campaigned on this issue. Surely influential people within the opera community have heard what’s going on around the country. We don’t need these tragedies played out in seasons onstage. These stories are lived out nightly in homes, on streets and on TV screens during the news. And in real life, there are actually empowered women and survivors.

To be relevant today, opera needs to provide the context of what has happened in the past and how those attitudes are no longer acceptable, or it needs to change the story.

The Opera House has just started seasons of Rigoletto and Aida this week. We’ve learnt our lesson and have read the synopses first. Each time, another woman dies to end the performance. Rigoletto has the most disempowered female role in opera that female opera singers hate to play. More stories telling women that they must suffer in this world based on the power and violence of men. We don’t need to hear the bravos, we’ll stay at home instead.

Author Jeremy Tarbox is a White Ribbon Ambassador.

Views expressed in this article are that of the author and don’t necessarily represent the views of White Ribbon Australia.

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UN CEDAW Committee review of gender equality in Australia

Australia is a party to a large number of United Nations (UN) and other international instruments that are designed to assist all countries to raise their standards of conduct in a very wide range of fields. One such instrument is the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), signed by Australia in 1980.

As a party to CEDAW, Australia is obliged to promote and protect women’s rights, including equality before the law, freedom from discrimination, political participation, health, education and employment.

The UN CEDAW Committee keeps watch on the implementation of such instruments by conducting periodic reviews of the performance of countries against the standards they prescribe. Countries are obliged to report every four years.

Recently, on the 2nd and 3rd of July 2018, Australia’s record on women’s rights was reviewed by the CEDAW Committee. Domestic and international performances were examined, with the former including action on domestic violence.

The Committee drew attention to the following matters:

– The absence of a bill of rights at the federal level or other mechanism to integrate the protections provided by CEDAW and other instruments.

– The level of resources provided to the Office for Women (which has only 30 staff – fewer than White Ribbon).

– The need for targeted and gendered services to be provided for female victims of domestic violence, much more than they are.

– The need for federal legislation addressing domestic violence. The Committee remarked that this may be the only way to overcome problems with gathering consistent data and implementing policy in the federal context. It was suggested that the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) might address this.

– Serious concern about the influence of false claims by so-called men’s rights activists on government policies and practice.

– The family law regime not presently meeting the contemporary needs of families and effectively addressing family violence and child abuse.

The Committee also raised concerns over women’s health, economic security and homelessness in Australia.

Under health it noted that while abortion is covered under Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, it is still criminalized in NSW and QLD. White Ribbon Australia supports the autonomy of women to make their own choices about their basic right to health care. Our position on abortion may be accessed here.

Under economic security it noted that high rates of poverty are experienced by single parent households, the vast majority of which are women. Financial abuse, leading many women into poverty, is a well-recognised form of violence against women. Women need to be economically empowered and to have equal access to resources for their security.

Under homelessness it is well established that domestic and family violence is the principal cause of homelessness for women and children. The Committee questioned the lack of affordable housing in Australia, particularly its access to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, older women, single mothers and women leaving violence. White Ribbon works to reduce violence and thereby address the problem of homelessness.

The CEDAW Committee review provides a timely reminder to Australia that all is not as well as it should be in relation to women’s rights in a country like ours. NGOs, such as White Ribbon, have a role to play in pressing government for improved compliance and in shouldering some of the burden themselves – in White Ribbon’s case, by working to end men’s violence against women. Success in this endeavour reduces the consequences and the harms resulting from the matters particularly noted by the UN Committee.

Author Nicholas Cowdery AM QC is Chair of the White Ribbon Australia Board.

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Mate, we need to talk. Ambassador Andrew Swan calls on men to stand up and speak out after the murder of Eurydice Dixon

Mate, we need to talk.

I’m guessing you don’t need me to tell you what happened to Eurydice Dixon. The whole nation seems to be in a state of shock, and rightfully so.

Everybody has their own way of understanding, coping with, and responding to tragedy, and that’s OK. However, of all the responses we’ve seen in recent days, only one can actually prevent future tragedies like this from occurring. That is, for us – the everyday men of Australia – to stand up, speak out and act to prevent men’s violence against women.

Don’t agree?  Well, let me ask you a few questions:

When was the last time you felt afraid, powerless or unsafe?

In the street? At work? At home? Anywhere?

This week? This month? This year? Ever?

Believe me, if it has ever happened to you, you’d know.

Imagine if you were made to feel afraid, powerless or unsafe regularly enough that you planned for it, just in case. For example, by carrying your keys in one hand and phone in the other as you walk home, uncertain of who you might encounter. Sound familiar?

Violence occurs when someone is hurt or made to feel afraid, powerless or unsafe. It can be physical, emotional or psychological. Anyone can experience it and it happens across communities, ages, cultures and sexes.

No one is immune and it’s more likely to happen at home than in public.

While it’s true that most men are not violent, abusive or disrespectful, we have all seen and will know those who are. To stop violence against women, well-meaning men must do more than merely avoid perpetrating violence themselves.

If we do nothing, nothing will change.

We must pursue equitable and respectful relationships. We must challenge the violence of other men. We must demonstrate that being ‘a man’ means being someone who lives by the values of respect, inclusion and equality. Should we fail or refuse to do this, we will not be perpetrators but perpetuators who chose to let violence continue.

Changing attitudes and behaviour will take time but if we succeed it will be time well spent, and lives saved.

So, what small act can you do, starting right now, to make a difference? To begin with, do what most of us have done all our life: love, respect and protect women. If you can do that, then try to do the following:

Be aware…

  • Of the facts. Know the facts about violence against women.
  • Of yourself. Have the confidence to explore your own actions, beliefs, and opinions, confront your faults and make a plan to improve.
  • Of victim-blaming. Learn what it is and how to recognise it. Tell others.

Speak up…

When it matters. Call out bad behaviour and safely challenge others who overstep the line.

Talk with women and girls…

  • About their experiences. Be willing to listen and learn.
  • About your own behaviour. You may not see the impact that your words and deeds are having.

Talk with men and boys…

  • About the problem. Learn how the issue touches their lives.
  • About how to respond. Empower them to call it out.
  • Early, and often. Mentor and teach one another about how to be men in ways that don’t involve degrading or abusing girls and women.

If you question what impact any of the above actions can have, give one of them a try today and see for yourself. I did, and the response indicated that I still have work to do. When it comes to tackling such a big problem, we all have work to do.

Everybody has their own way of understanding, coping with, and responding to tragedy. But you have a choice. You can remain in the silent majority of men who disapprove of violence but do little to prevent it. Or, you can stand up, speak out and act to help all Australians live a better life.

Mate, it’s up to you.

Take the White Ribbon Oath today.

Author Andrew Swan is a White Ribbon Australia Ambassador and active member of our Victoria State Committee.

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