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Q&A with The White Ribbon Campaign

Q&A with Todd Minerson, Executive Director of the White Ribbon Campaign.  The White Ribbon Campaign is the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women. In over fifty-five countries, campaigns are led by both men and women, even though the focus is on educating men and boys. In some countries it is a general public education effort focused on ending violence against women.

What does your organization do to fight sexual violence against women?

The White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) is concerned with the role and responsibility that men and boys have to eliminate violence against women, and more broadly, to work towards true gender equality.

The campaign began in Canada in 1991, and has now spread to 57 countries around the world.

In order to accomplish this WRC focuses on:

1. EDUCATING young people, especially young men and boys, on the issue.
3. CHALLENGING everyone to speak out, and think about their own beliefs, language and actions.
4. WORKING IN PARTNERSHIP with women’s organizations, the corporate sector, the media, and other partners, to create a future with no violence against women.
5. SUPPORTING WHITE RIBBON CAMPAIGNS around the world with our experience, resources and networks.

What can men do to help stop sexual violence against women?

WRC believes that there are many positive roles men and boys can play in working to end violence against women. Men can be allies, engaged bystanders, peer educators, and positive role models.

Specifically, men can listen to and learn from women’s experiences; learn about the extent and nature of the problem of violence against women; understand why some men are violent; challenge sexist and degrading language; learn to identify harassment and violence in workplaces, schools, and communities; support local women’s programmes; examine their own behaviour, be a positive role model for younger men; work towards long-term solutions; and of course – get involved with the White Ribbon Campaign.

What do you feel is the best way to educate men about sexual assault?

One of the most important principles in educating men about sexual assault is to develop programs that both address and involve men in the education effort. That means designing programs that incorporate men’s experiences into the work and address their fears, gaps in knowledge, or areas of ignorance. In addition, we have found that while most men may not use or condone violence against women, they also feel they do not have the skills, knowledge or language to effectively work to end it. In that way it is very important to show men positive examples of how to promote healthy and equal relationships, to find alternatives to violence, and how to diffuse potentially violent situations in non-violent ways.

What reactions do you get from men and women during your campaign? How do their reactions differ? How do they differ in other parts of the world?

Wow this is a huge question, I am not sure there is a generic answer to it. Globally, the issues and responses are so unique to every culture and community. As well, there is a wide range of responses from both women and men. Generally, most women seem to respond with the “this is great, it is about time men got involved” response, but there is also a minority perhaps that feel genuinely skeptical about men’s real desire to give up privilege and power, and advocate for true gender equality. For men, I think the majority feel they don’t condone violence against women and have some responsibility to work to end it, but are very unsure about how, what, or when they can have an effective role in doing so. At the same time there is definitely a vocal minority of so-called “men’s rights advocates” who have a host of nasty names and things to say about those of us who are working with men and boys to end violence against women.

How can survivors of sexual violence get involved in the campaign? How can survivors approach the men in their life about getting involved, without pressuring them or making them uncomfortable?

Survivors can help play an important role in working with us to share their stories and experiences of violence. Nothing is more powerful than those who are in a place where they are able to share that publicly. However, this can be a lot to ask, and there are other important ways survivors can help. One of the very important things we have learned is that many men get connected to us through women in their lives who have experienced violence. Women are critical in acting as a link to men who need to know more about the violence prevention work we are trying to do with men and boys around the world. Bringing awareness to men that there is a positive way in which they can actively work in their own community is a very powerful way survivors can help.

Do most of the men in your organization have a personal connection to violence against women? If so, have you found that their participation in your organization has assisted them in their own healing?

Some men definitely do have a personal connection – either having witnessed violence as a child, or having a woman (or women) in their life who has been a affected by violence. It is difficult for me to assess how this has helped in their own healing, but there is certainly a sense of comfort that they are doing something positive.

What changes have you seen in men's perceptions of sexual violence towards women since the campaign started? What changes would you like to see in the future?

I think gradually there is a greater awareness evolving in men that this is an extremely serious and pervasive issue. One that does not know any boundaries as far as race, class, education, culture or religion; one that is an issue that spans the entire globe; one that has the potential to affect every one of us who has a mother, a wife, a partner, a sister, a daughter or a co-worker we care about. In the future I would like to see us get to a point of real transformative change around ending violence against women. Where the issue is relegated to the garbage bin of socially acceptable behaviour, where we look at it with the same disbelief and bewilderment as slavery, genocide, and other atrocities humans commit against each other and our planet.

What do you consider the greatest success of your organization?

I think our greatest success has been tapping into the desire of men around the world to work to do something positive and effective in working to end violence against women. I think getting men to understand that even if they don’t condone the use of violence, their silence about it speaks volumes. Do we have a long way to go? Unfortunately yes, but every day, from every part of the world I get to learn about amazing examples of men understanding they do have a role and responsibility to end violence against women, and as I said to start, work more broadly to achieve real gender equality in our world.


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