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White Ribbon Day

Rev Dr Lynne Frith —

Will you be wearing a white ribbon on Thursday 25 November? Will you show your commitment to eliminating violence against women and girls? It will cost you nothing other than a few seconds of your time to pin a white ribbon to your collar or lapel.

White Ribbon Day is 25 November each year, the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

A group of men in Canada began the White Ribbon Campaign in 1991 after the mass shooting of 14 female students at the University of Montreal. In 1999 the UN officially recognised the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The same date also kicks off 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence which runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day.

In New Zealand, Unifem introduced White Ribbon Day in 2004. The White Ribbon Trust is now supported and promoted by the Families Commission, Women’s Refuge, National Network of Stopping Violence Services, and other organisations.

In this country most violence by men against women takes place in the home – with an average of 14 women a year killed by their partners or ex-partners. Each year there are over 3,500 convictions recorded against men for assaults on women and one in five women will experience sexual assault or sexual interference at some point in their lives.

White Ribbon Day celebrates the many men willing to show leadership and commitment to promoting safe, healthy relationships within families and encourages men to challenge each other on attitudes and behaviour that are abusive.(from whiteribbon.org.nz )

Each year, White Ribbon NZ adopts a campaign theme. For 2021 the theme is “Shining a Light on Violence Prevention”. This theme is broken down into four topics: Shining a light on healthy masculinities, Shining a light on respectful relationships, Shining a light on consent, Call-in Culture.

Interestingly, and sadly, national church bodies rarely speak up in support of the White Ribbon campaign. What does that silence mean? Do church leaders not consider the eradication of violence against women to be important?

Does the theology of male “headship” held by some Christian denominations provide a cover and excuse for male violence? Where are the voices of male church leaders and members on the subject of male violence?

The principles of the Mission Statement of Te Hāhi Weteriana o Aotearoa do not include explicit references to non-violence. Some might argue that a stance of non-violence is implicit in Peace -to be peacemakers between people and in the world and Healing-to listen for hurt and work for healing.

In this time of social disruption caused by the pandemic when the pressure on relationships is exacerbated, and agencies such as Women’s Refuge report an increase in demand for their services, wearing a white ribbon on 25 November is the least we can do to demonstrate our individual and collective commitment to ending violence.

For more information on the White Ribbon Campaign and suggested actions go to www.whiteribbon.org.nz