‘Male violence against women cannot be solved with a ribbon so easy to wear and a pledge so easy to sign
Ali Morris, Specialist VAWDASV Trainer and Consultant
I didn’t wear a white ribbon this year. A ribbon to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Male Violence Against Women, otherwise known as White Ribbon Day (WRD).
But that’s it you see. They are not one and the same thing and it’s about time we dropped the sanitised takeover of this important day by a white ribbon that has become so easy to wear and an accompanying pledge so easy to sign.
Despite the adoption of the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) by the UN General Assembly in 1979, violence against women and girls remains a pervasive problem worldwide. Yet, there is still a long way to go on a global scale. To date, only two out of three countries have outlawed domestic violence, while 37 countries worldwide still exempt rape perpetrators from prosecution if they are married to or eventually marry the victim, and 49 countries currently have no laws protecting women from domestic violence.
Women’s rights activists have observed 25 November as a day against sex-based violence since 1981. This date was selected to honour the Mirabal sisters, Patria, Minerva and María Teresa, three political activists from the Dominican Republic who were murdered on this day in 1960 by order of the country’s ruler, Rafael Trujillo.
In 1993 the UN General assembly adopted the resolution as a way forward to end violence against women. This day has always had a feminist, activist, grassroots-led feel to it, even though many governments have adopted it. The brutality and often fatality of male violence has always felt real during this day and the 16 days of activism that follow. It has never been dampened down or underplayed.
- 1-in-3 women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.
- Most violence is perpetrated by a current or former husband/partner – only 6% of women have experienced sexual violence from a stranger.
- School related violence is a major obstacle to universal schooling and the right to education for girls. This is a huge problem in the UK.
- 1 in 4 girls (15-19yrs) have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner.
Covid 19 UN data and a recent report confirms what we have seen in the UK, that violence against women has worsened during the pandemic. Calls to helplines increased 5-fold in some countries. Violence against women is an existing global crisis that thrives on other crises such as conflicts and natural disasters.
The lockdown which necessitated isolation and social distancing enabled a shadow pandemic of violence against women. Women’s feelings of safety have been eroded leading to significant negative impacts on their mental and emotional wellbeing.
As an expert and specialist trainer and consultant on violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence and having worked in this field for 25 years, I have seen a shift by Welsh Government who believe that by creating a well-known logo and backing a range of accredited ‘wins’ such as the White Ribbon Town Award we are on our way to becoming a violence free country.
In the 25 years I have been in the midst of this, let me tell you they are not achieving that. Still women and children flood the refuges, still the police are inundated with calls and still the bodies pile up. Three women a week are murdered by a man they are in or were in a relationship with. Approximately five women a week kill themselves because of the abuse they have endured.
This has been a constant for years and years. No white ribbon has ever saved them.
The White Ribbon Campaign is a global movement of men and boys working to end male violence against women and girls. It was formed by a group of men in Ontario Canada in November 1991 as a response to the École Polytechnique massacre of female students by Marc Lépine in 1989. There is no doubt that the White Ribbon UK Charity is a noble campaign and is doing some fantastic work around ending male violence against women. This includes backing an end to prostitution and sexual assaults at festivals and gigs. The charity quite rightly places men at the centre of the problem and at the centre of the resolution.
A key tenet of the WRD campaign is for men to sign ‘the Pledge’. This is where men pledge to ‘never commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women’. What kind of society thinks it’s OK on any level to have men publicly sign a pledge to tell the world that they will be decent human beings? What about men promising that to themselves silently, instead of doing it publicly for all to see on one day of the year? We wouldn’t expect that for any other issue.
What about having men sign a pledge to say they won’t rape children or mug elderly people? That is how absurd it is. Men’s violence doesn’t stop because they’ve signed a pledge.
I am not saying that the White Ribbon Day campaign is not worthy. It is. But here is the problem. By merging two separate movements together, two movements run by two different groups of people and each with a different ethos and background, they will never mix. And guess what? In true form, the campaign run by men has taken over as the voice of women’s experiences and the voice of what will work to end the said violence against them.
As a society we now know much more information about violence against women than ever before. Men’s fatal violence is captured in Karen Ingala Smith’s Femicide Census, a unique source of comprehensive information about women who have been killed in the UK and the men who have killed them.
Men’s violence is the leading cause of the premature death of women globally, and we can see by the data that many of these murders are still seen as isolated incidences, one-offs, but they are not. They follow repeat patterns and are often the culmination of years of sustained abuse and violence. The blog Counting Dead Women laid bare the reality of life for women in the UK.
The pandemic and lockdown have caused a shift in how the public has viewed violence against women. The murder of Sarah Everard showed how women are not safe anywhere in the hands of anyone. The UK Government promised women would be safe and pledged millions of pounds on initiatives that would make streets safer by having a helpline where women could tell them where unsafe streets were. New lighting would be the way forward, they thought.
Let’s get to the root cause of male violence against women. Dark streets, being drunk, wearing a short skirt or lack of knowledge about police procedures (as said about Sarah Everard) do not cause rape abuse or murder. Men do. Unless as a society we confront this reality head on, we may as well do nothing.
Let’s get the 25 November back to the passionate, women-led day that it used to be and that it should be. Save the White Ribbon Campaign for the campaign it should be in raising awareness with men and boys every day of the year.
And yes, still the bodies pile up. Young and old. With faith and no faith. Black and white and every ethnicity in between.
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