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Changing attitudes, organising communities: Men’s role in ending violence against women after White Ribbon

By Phil Barker

“We need men to be part of the solution. We need them to organise, labour, discuss and reach out to one another. And we need to be telling the true stories of violence and abuse, because the only way to fix a problem is to understand its true shape.”

A rallying cry in the wake of the unfortunate demise of domestic violence prevention organisation White Ribbon in Australia was summed up here by author and journalist Jane Gilmore in The Saturday Paper last week.

White Ribbon has had its supporters and detractors over the years and while mistakes were made in the execution of its goals, its core intention was wonderful – to build a movement against men’s violence against women by engaging with men.

So, while we can debate forever what went wrong, the bottom line is that White Ribbon’s loss is another step backwards at a crucial moment in the struggle to end family violence.

It’s a sad fact that every single time I, and every other commentator, in media or otherwise, writes on any aspect of family violence, we need to reiterate and reinforce the numbers.

Here they are: more than one woman a week is killed in Australia by a partner or former partner. Last month was particularly awful: nine women died from violence, seven by a current or former partner. Seventy-one women were killed by men in 2018 and this year, we’re looking like surpassing that number.

Australia’s attitudes to violence against women haven’t shifted far enough, fast enough, new research from ANROWS shows. Young men still don’t get that controlling behaviour is wrong, there’s a disturbing lack of understanding of consent, and even an element of victim blaming expressed.

It’s not surprising that in a patriarchal society, men often listen to other men but dismiss or ignore the commentary of women.

The vast majority of media commentators on family violence, and workers in the sector, are women.

A recent statement from a network of organisations working with men in the family violence area, including No to Violence, said, “Australian men remain crucial partners in nationwide efforts to end violence against women and children”.

No to Violence Strategy Director, Che Bishop, said “We are at such a critical point and on-going, cross sector engagement must continue, with men as equal partners … to end sexual and domestic violence”.

With the demise of White Ribbon and the concerning lack of attitudinal shifts evidenced by the ANROWS research, men must start speaking up, loud and long.

We must stand up and call it out, at work, at barbecues, whenever we see or hear anything from a sly joke to a slap, or worse. We must continue to support, amplify and build communities organising against men’s violence.

Since this movement began, women have carried the heavy burden of organising communities against family violence. Now more than ever, it’s time for men to play their role in changing societal beliefs and attitudes to women. It is time for men to stand alongside women in solidarity and

Simply saying “No, Mate, not funny,” can encourage other men who feel the same to speak up.

White Ribbon Day was to be on November 22.

Perhaps we should make every day one where men engage other men in conversations, big and small, on how family violence is a huge problem for everyone. For us men, our critical role is in reframing our understanding of family violence, turning the spotlight from the victims to the perpetrators.

If you need help addressing your use of family violence, call the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491. Lines open 24/7