First a quick story. In early December, I was getting on an Air New Zealand flight from Brisbane to Auckland and there was a group who looked like they were from some South Pacific island. Men and women: tall and striking with flowers in their hair. On the plane, one of the men was sitting in front of me and we started chatting: I asked if they were coming from a wedding (since they were festively dressed) and he said, no, from the Miss South Pacific Beauty pageant in Papua New Guinea. They were from the Cook Islands and one of the women in their group – who was impossible to miss – had won the pageant. But he talked about these women not by their looks but by their professions – the winner is an engineer whose acceptance speech was about women’s voices in promoting change– and I said to him it was good to hear a man referring to these women’s accomplishments in that way. He looked at me, quizzically. I said I worked as an educator to promote gender equality and end violence against women. His response to that? He said, “We just celebrated White Ribbon Day at the beauty pageant” (at which point I told him of my involvement in the WRC and he told me of the annual campaign in the Cook Islands.)
The White Ribbon Campaigns down under are among the most remarkable in the world. It was my pleasure to see the campaigns in Australia and New Zealand first hand at the end of November and early December during a two-week speaking tour.
Here are a few highlights of the amazing work they’re doing. But first, a photo of some Australian seamen in Antarctica, unfurling a White Ribbon banner with the slogan, “No Violence. No Silence.”
In Australia, November 25, the UN’s International Day for the Eradication of Violence Against Women is known by all as White Ribbon Day. (In popularizing the day several years ago, two women from the UN women’s organization, Libby Lloyd and Rosemary Calder wanted to stress the importance of men’s involvement and action.) It’s run by two autonomous organizations the White Ribbon Foundation and, for the state of Queensland, CEO Challenge.
Here are some highlights from this year:
– Aussie Men Should Swear. They developed a great campaign around the tag line “Aussie Men Should Swear.” The kicker is: “I swear not to commit, excuse, or remain silent about violence against women.This is my oath.” Their wonderful ad features well-known sports figures, media types, and politicians. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y19OOhXG9dw
– Swearing ceremonies. Some events concluded with men coming up to the front, face the women in the group and taking the WRC oath. I took part in this at the Victoria state parliament and another north in Queensland. It’s incredibly moving.
– In the federal parliament the PM and leader of the opposition led a ceremony.
– Municipalities carry out vibrant campaigns – and seem to be outdoing each other. Each year they produce different T-shirts. Some produce large, magnetic decals with the ribbon and a slogan that go on the side of garbage trucks, police cars and municipal vehicles for a week or two. Banners are hung across bridges, on buildings and they hold public events.
– Ambassadors: They have over 1400 ambassadors. Some of these are high profile: athletes, musicians – including Nicole Kidman’s husband & country music singer Keith Urban — political leaders (including the former PM), media types, police officers, business and union leaders, etc.) but others who are simply known or hard at work in their community
– One ambassador, for example, has done this over the past year: John Minz is CEO of a cooperative mortgage society—Heritage Building Society. He visited all of their branches over the past year to talk about DV. He added the WR oath to the signature on all his emails. He changed company policy to give women who experience DV up to 20 days off. He raised money. And through a partnership with a big gardening/building centre chain, developed a White Ribbon camellia which is being sold across the country. . .Another ambassador, the CEO of Queensland Rail, organized ribbon distribution in all the train stations in his state and had ads placed in all their trains.
– Sports teams are very active, both rugby and Aussie rules football. (At one of the events, one of the other speakers was a former “footie” star and now the young coach of one of the teams. He said: “We demand the utmost courage from our men on the field, but demand very little from them when it comes to their personal relationships and speaking out against violence against women.”)
– There are many receptions, concerts, walks, lunches, breakfasts, cocktail parties, golf tournaments, public distribution of ribbons, and tons of media coverage.
New Zealand Highlights
Here, too, November 25 is referred to as White Ribbon Day. A semi-autonomous government organizational, the NZ Families Commission, coordinates the campaign in partnership with many non-governmental organizations. As in Australia, there is a huge public presence. Here are only a few highlights:
– White Ribbon motorcycle ride: Until I met some of the guys first hand, I didn’t understand why this was so incredible. You’re in a small town. You hear the roar of Harley-Davidsons and in stream a long row of bikers, clad in leather, shaved heads or hair flying all over the place. This might strike fear for some, but the mayor is there to greet them for they’ve arrived to talk to men and boys about speaking out against violence against women. A large number of the guys are Maori, the indigenous people of NZ. Some are ex-gang members. One group is the Super Maori Fullahs. Another is led by current or retired soldiers.
– One of the great things about the campaign is its community outreach. When I was driving across the north island, every community big and small had pages of coverage in their local papers. The white ribbon symbol is on the masthead of many local and national papers. All this is facilitated through an outreach effort with local non-governmental and governmental organizations – to help them develop the tools for successful work with the media.
And there are tons of other events: runs, walks, breakfasts, concerts, workshops. And here’s a music video featuring some of NZ’s top musicians: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KitGfjj2-k&feature=related
For more information, visit: http://whiteribbon.org.nz/