Everyone knows about White Ribbon Day in Australia. They pretty much have the best marketing strategy and brand awareness of any charity day.
Everyone has watched public figures accused of violence against women donate to the charity, as if throwing money at it then forgetting about it solves the larger problem.
This is a major issue. It doesn’t solve anything – it absolves personal guilt, and acts as a flimsy bandaid for thousands of tragic, heart-wrenching bullet wounds. It is a drop in an ocean of violence and death.
I am a passionate advocate against domestic and sexual violence. I am a vocal feminist. I have experienced friends and loved ones have their lives ripped apart by domestic violence, sexual assault and mental abuse first-hand. I regularly donate money and time to women’s services.
But, today is White Ribbon Day, and I cannot lend my support. I cannot, in good faith, bring myself to.
The reasons are many.
I FEEL STRANGE ABOUT THE HUGE PRIORITISATION OF MEN
WHEN WOMEN DISPROPORTIONATELY EXPERIENCE DV
When you click on White Ribbon‘s website or social media accounts, chances are you’ll be greeted with a photograph of a male ambassador.
The oft-shared One in Three campaign’s statistics have been debunked time and time again – while a percentage of men do of course experience domestic violence, this issue overwhelmingly and disproportionately affects women. Stories of men who are survivors of DV should definitely be heard – but by looking at the numbers, far more women should be gracing these stages to tell their stories.
And, men on stages at White Ribbon events are – more often than not – ambassadors, not survivors.
Don’t get it twisted: I couldn’t agree more that men need to be a part of this difficult conversation. But sacrificing women’s lived experiences in order to prioritise a strong male voice makes me uncomfortable. Is it because men are more likely to listen to other men?
I wholly celebrate, love and adore my male allies – I’m even in relationship with one. But I appreciate them because they listen and make space for women in this arena. They don’t speak for us or over us.
FOCUS IS OFTEN ON DONATING, BUT RARELY ON EDUCATING
Before I start, I will clarify – yes, White Ribbon do install a bunch of very good education programs in schools, which is absolutely bloody good because education MUST prioritise young men and women in order to break societal cycles. This isn’t at all the problem with White Ribbon.
The thing that makes me uncomfortable is that, as I said at the beginning of this article, many public figures who have been found to commit domestic or sexual violence could break Olympic records with the speed at which they throw money at White Ribbon. The same people are often very unwilling to donate time or energy to the cause, or properly educate themselves or others.
Money is good (if it’s directly helping the affected), but education is priceless.
And I’m not talking about being an MC at a fundraiser 2 months later and shaking hands with corporate sponsors in photographs – I’m talking about the commitment to actively rejecting with the societal system that encourages DV and playing a part in attempting to dismantle it. EVERY MINUTE OF YOUR DAY-TO-DAY LIFE.
Calling out sexist or violent behaviour when witnessed from friends, family, colleagues, team mates – volunteering your time and energy to educate people, giving resources and time directly to crisis centres. These are all frontline battles. They are fundamentally important.
THE MONEY DOESN’T DIRECTLY ASSIST VICTIMS
There’s been plenty said about the lack of actual White Ribbon dollars that ends up going to DV survivors.
Exact figures aren’t known, but numerous sources state that very, very little ends up actually helping the affected. Their funding, according to their website, goes towards Education Programs, WR Ambassadors, Community Engagement, WR Workplaces, and Police & Advocacy. What do these broad terms mean? Most likely, that White Ribbon is more a success story of brand awareness and marketing than anything else.
So, if you’d like to assist women who have been disproportionately affected by domestic or sexual violence, forget that $2 white ribbon or rubber bracelet in the supermarket, and instead directly donate money to women’s refuges or domestic violence crisis centres and hotlines.
These places regularly have their government funding cut or taken away completely (Mike Baird‘s government in NSW got rid of the much-needed Women’s Family Law Support Service in February, for example), and they need help. They need money, and they need resources.
Here’s just some of the services :
Safe Steps – http://www.safesteps.org.au/
Merri Outreach – http://merri.org.au/site/
WIRE – https://www.wire.org.au/
Victorian Women’s Legal Service – http://www.womenslegal.org.au/
Victorian Domestic Violence Resource Centre – http://www.dvrcv.org.au/
IWDA – https://www.iwda.org.au/
YWCA – http://www.ywca.net/
Dandelion – http://dandelionsupport.org.au/
Immigrant Women’s Speakout – http://www.speakout.org.au/
NSW Rape Crisis Centre – http://nswrapecrisis.com.au/
YWCA NSW Crisis Support – http://www.ywcansw.com.au/crisis-support-services
(There’s plenty more. We’re sorry to those we missed – let us know and we’ll to add to this list!)
Even some workers at independent or smaller women’s charities and service centres feel similarly about White Ribbon. I spoke to one service provider for a women’s charity, who wished to remained unnamed:
“Whilst men talking to men about domestic violence is an important part of dismantling toxic masculinity, White Ribbon tends to allow men to mark themselves as allies by merely wearing a ribbon and posting a selfie on social media.
This performative allyship creates a kind of “glamorous” way of supporting the decidedly unglamorous problem of domestic violence, so it’s easy and self-congratulatory to donate and display your ribbon.
However, we’ve seen time and time again the bad behaviour of White Ribbon “ambassadors.” A lot of them are just not willing to “walk the walk.” How dare White Ribbon CONGRATULATE ambassador and NSW Premier Mike Baird on his re-election while his government continuously slashes front line services (DV services for Family Court and numerous refuges etc). How dare they partner with notoriously misogynistic radio station Triple M and men like Eddie McGuire and Mark Latham when actual frontline services making a real difference to women’s lives are shutting, woefully underfunded or understaffed and rely on the goodwill of volunteers?
We need money for rape and DV crisis hotlines, women’s housing, food stores, counselling and health services instead of White Ribbon lining their own pockets and patting themselves on the back.”
Clementine Ford wrote a fantastic summarisation of this all on Facebook in light of White Ribbon Day:
“If you’re attending a WR event today, look around and ask who has done the work of organising it. Chances are it’s women.
Ask where the money raised is going. Chances are it’s on marketing.
And ask every single man wearing that white ribbon to tell you what he does to challenge men’s violence and how he opposes sexism in everyday ways. Ask him if he talks to his mates about these issues. Chances are he doesn’t.”
I’ll no doubt become a public enemy for denouncing such a well-known and widely-celebrated company. I know and accept this. But White Ribbon themselves state this as their oath:
“I will stand up, speak out and act to prevent men’s violence against women. This is my oath”.
So, here I am. Speaking out about how we could all better assist survivors of domestic violence in Australia.
This is my sworn oath; it is intact.