Finn Mackay Interviews Chris Green
FM How did you get involved in White Ribbon Campaign?
CG In 2004, I had been teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University for 15 years and needed some renewed stimulus. I was interested in developing something around masculinity as in the 1970’s I had been involved in a range of activities, from men organising crèches against sexism, Pro-Feminist men’s newsletters, to looking at different models of contraception in the group Vasectomies against Sexism for example.
White Ribbon Campaign – Men challenging male violence against women, had been set up in Canada in 1991 and seemed an excellent campaign to replicate in the UK. After registering a WRC UK home page and paying to produce a website based upon the Canadian model, I sat back and waited for the enquirers to pour in. I ordered 1000 ribbons with the website address printed on and for the first six months absolutely nothing happened.
The campaign was sustained by a couple of supportive phone calls from the then Executive Director of Tender, tender.org.uk Tamsin Larby who reinforced my belief that starting the organisation was a good idea and that men did have a role to play in challenging male violence.
A major boost occurred in 2005 when the Council of Europe wanted to appoint a second man to join the seven other members of their Task Force to challenge violence against woman and girls, which laid the ground for the Istanbul Convention. The other members were all very experienced in the sector including Hilary Fisher, Director of policy at Womens Aid and the UN Special Rapporteur on VAWG Dubravka Simonovic. The learning I experienced over the next year hugely informed the development of WRC UK. I spoke at any event to which I was invited, including the feminist conferences organized in Sheffield and then in London. Another excellent PR opportunity came in late 2006 with a half page feature in Cosmopolitan magazine when I was awarded the title ‘Ultimate Man of the Year’.
FM What happened next in building the campaign?
CG Over the next five years WRC UK slowly expanded, operating first from an attic in my house , to one room in a shared workspace , to two rooms and then 4 years ago the opportunity came to purchase at auction a large building in Mytholmroyd, near Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, UK. Although this required a substantial financial commitment it meant that the organisation became sustainable. No rent to pay, no rates to pay, and no wages to pay as all our staff were volunteers.
Now WRC UK is distributing £90,000 of awareness raising materials each year, to 500 different groups and individuals across the country.These orders vary from the London Borough of Haringey requiring 7,000 enamel badges through to 5 Hull primary schools requiring “These hands are not for hurting” campaign kits, to individuals wanting specific campaign badges. There are 5 part time paid staff promoting the involvement of men in speaking out about male violence against women and challenging negative gender stereotypes. The staff work in the areas of Sports campaigning, Music campaigning, supporting local authorities and maintaining and servicing the resources based in the office.
WRC has consistently condemned and campaigned against the whole spectrum of male violence, including emotional violence, coercive control and so-called honor based violence. As well as working to eliminate physical violence WRC produces materials to support anti-pornography campaigns, and objects to renewal of ‘sex encounter venue’ licenses.
As well as working with Womens Aid and Rape Crisis, WRC has supported the work of Feminista, Object, Lose the Lads Mags, Reclaim the Night, No more page 3, 50-50 project, Stop Porn Culture and Women’s Business Council.
FM Is your work engaging men now any different to what it was in the past?
CG Forty years ago when I was involved in the Pro-Feminist men’s movement it may have seemed larger then than it does now. National conferences were held and a broad based pro-feminist men’s newsletter had a circulation of a couple of hundred and a list of men in various cities often coordinating men’s groups.
In 2004 When I first started WRC UK I was quite apprehensive about mentioning the campaign in case men were going to sneer or ridicule. The fact that such ridicule never happened, at least not to my face, might say more about my own apprehension than changes in the willingness of men to face up to our responsibility for challenging our behavior, but it does seem easier to engage men on these topics now than 10 years ago.
WRC has nearly 200 Ambassadors across the UK. The vast majority of these ambassadors have come forward in the last 2 years, since we made it a requirement for a local authority to have local ambassadors if they are to gain White Ribbon status. Some have been suggested by the local Community safety partnership or other professional organisations, others have come forward as a result of having witnessed trauma of violence against women affecting those close to them, such as their mother, a daughter or a sister. A minority have come forward as they want young women to grow up in a safe environment, and that means educating boys and men in respectful relationships.
The setting up of other progressive men’s organisations like Men Engage or, in the UK: A Call to Men, Good Lad Workshops, and Great Men Respect Women has been evidence of a demand for more work with young men , but these organisations rely very heavily upon project based funding, and in the UK on a school by school basis with very limited reach , have very few staff and when a project finishes the momentum dies. Until there is a rethink in the way young men are educated in relationships and there is compulsory relationship education within schools, colleges and universities these initiatives will only remain as pilot projects and not involve the vast majority of students.
FM Where do you see the campaign in the future?
CG One way forward for the increase in engaging men may be via legislation. The Council of Europe’s Convention on Prevention and combatting violence against women and girls and domestic violence, commonly known as the Istanbul Convention, was signed by David Cameron on behalf of the U.K. Government in 2012. It has been ratified by 20 member states, but not yet by the UK.
When the government does eventually sign, there are implications for the involvement of men and boys in challenging male violence. The Convention is a legally binding document and Article 12 of the Convention states “Parties shall take steps to ensure that everyone, particularly men and boys, contribute actively to preventing all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention”.
However, I add a note of caution here, the professionalisation of Pro-Feminist men’s work is a trend which could be seen as detrimental to the mass engagement of large numbers of men. Enthusiasm and passion for change is replaced by competing for funding, and jockeying for position at important events, examples of exactly the type of behaviors we should be moving away from.
I was recently sent an email enquiring which men’s organisations would be attending the Commission on the Status of Women conference in New York. My response would be that men’s organisations should use the money they would have spent on attending to support a women’s organization to attend instead. Men could then organize a virtual conference for interested men.
The increase in interest by men on interpersonal politics and gender equality is partly evidenced by the success of the sold out annual Being a Man festival at the South Bank Centre which points to possibilities, but the agenda there is not feminist. The men’s strand of activities at the annual Feminism in London Conference holds far more potential for development into a progressive force.
FM Are there many other White Ribbon Campaign groups internationally?
CG WRC UK is not alone, WRC operate autonomously in up to 50 countries around the world. Active and successful WRC campaigns in Scotland and Ireland have other models, with White Ribbon Scotland receiving grant funding every year from the Scottish Government. Wales , while not having a separate campaign has endorsed white ribbon activities more wholeheartedly than England, with the Government of Wales and the huge majority of local authorities signed up as White Ribbon organisations, as well as much more substantial numbers of health authorities, fire and rescue services, housing associations than anywhere else in the UK.
As a campaigning organisation WRC will continue to exist, and continue to speak with a voice for Pro-Feminist, anti-sexist and anti-violent men committed to love, respect and equality for years to come. The revolution in the lives of women demands a revolution in the lives and attitudes of men, and until equality is achieved the demand for our presence will continue.
Chris Green is Director of the White Ribbon Campaign UK Info@whiteribboncampaign.co.uk. Finn Mackay is a sociologist and feminist activist. She founded of the London Feminist Network in 2004 and is a senior lecturer at the University of the West of England. She is author of a number of books and articles on feminism including: Radical feminism: Feminist activism in movement (2015) London: Palgrave.