By the time of White Ribbon’s corporate collapse earlier this month, Pease no longer liked to be associated with the movement he helped create.
“It lost its community base,’’ he says. “It also lost some of the progressive politics that spawned the campaign in the first place. It found itself in a dilemma, a dilemma that I think contributed to its demise.
“I would often be invited to give talks on White Ribbon Day by local councils and community groups but increasingly, I found myself wanting to distance myself from the campaign.”
As liquidators sift through the financial ashes of the prominent not-for-profit foundation which abruptly closed its North Sydney doors on 2 October, pioneers of the movement have urged it to return to its community roots.
Michael Flood, a Queensland University of Technology and White Ribbon ambassador who worked with Pease in the early years of the anti-violence campaign, said the movement had succeeded in generating huge public awareness but perversely, failed to mobilise enough men.
“White Ribbon, to its credit, was good at getting in the door,’’ he told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. “What it did far less of was moving those men along a continuum, from initial interest and sympathy to greater involvement in personal and social change.”
In the days since White Ribbon’s collapse, Flood and other anti-violence activists have formed a loose coalition of groups each working to this end. The emerging national network includes Jesuit Social Services, No To Violence, Male Champions of Change and Stopping Family Violence.
Tom Meagher, whose wife Jill Meagher was murdered seven years ago, has put his name to No To Violence, having previously supported the White Ribbon movement in his native Ireland.
Matt Tyler, the executive director of the Men’s Project run by Jesuit Social Services, said the groups were each seeking to engage with men to reduce violence against women.
“It is clear that White Ribbon had considerable impact on shifting the conversation to make women’s safety a men’s issue,’’ he says. “With White Ribbon’s demise, there isn’t a loss of momentum in efforts to engage men to end violence against women.”
Prior to its collapse, White Ribbon was also in discussions with the groups to improve its approach and relations with other organisations working in anti-violence.
Those involved in the network are determined to avoid the mistakes made by White Ribbon, such as its failure to make men do the heavy lifting of the organisation. White Ribbon Australia estimates that in 2015, about two thirds of its community events were organised by women.
“This was a campaign encouraging men to take responsibility for men’s violence against women but most of the activities were organised by women,’’ Pease says. “Men would be brought in for a media interview or a picture for the local paper, while women were doing all the organisational work.”
Pease says this fed a perception that pinning a white ribbon to your lapel was cop-out instead of a commitment. “Wearing a white ribbon became for many men a fashion accessory,’’ he says.
The nationally recogniseable symbol of the white ribbon symbol is likely to be the most valuable asset that can be recovered from the corporate collapse of White Ribbon Australia. The question is whether it can be returned to the humble, community movement which first embraced it.
Chip Le Grand is The Age’s chief reporter. He writes about crime, sport and national affairs, with a particular focus on Melbourne.