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Changemaker  |  Social Issues

Truly Equal Citizens

1 May 2017 at 8:46 am
Wendy Williams
Libby Davies is the CEO of White Ribbon Australia, Australia’s only national, male-led organisation to stop violence against women. She is this week’s Changemaker.

Wendy Williams | 1 May 2017 at 8:46 am


Truly Equal Citizens
1 May 2017 at 8:46 am

Libby Davies is the CEO of White Ribbon Australia, Australia’s only national, male-led organisation to stop violence against women. She is this week’s Changemaker.

Since being first launched in Canada in 1991, White Ribbon has become the world’s largest male-led movement to end men’s violence against women and is now active in more than 60 countries.

The organisation launched in Australia in 2003, with the mission to make women’s safety a men’s issue too.

The campaign works through primary prevention initiatives involving awareness raising and education, and programs with youth, schools, workplaces and across the broader community.

For Davies, who says she grew up during the second tranche of feminism, engaging men is crucial to realising gender equality.

She says her goal is that one day women around the world, can be truly equal citizens.

Prior to joining White Ribbon Australia Davies previously held CEO positions in national organisations such as Family Services Australia, UnitingCare Australia and Brain Injury Australia and has served on numerous boards and advisory councils including at ministerial, national and state levels.

She is also a director of Lifeline Australia, member of the NSW Domestic and Family Violence Council, member of the NSW Preventing Domestic and Family Violence Social Investment Advisory Group and Ministerial Roundtable on Prevention of Violence, Victoria.

In this week’s Changemaker, which coincides with the beginning of Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month, Davies talks about why White Ribbon’s social change model was “on the money”, the importance of workplaces being part of the change and how where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Libby DaviesWhat attracted you to the not-for-profit sector?

Probably the first reason that would come to mind to answer that is the desire to make a difference. Whilst I’ve worked very closely with government, in the not-for-profit sector there is a greater degree of flexibility and freedom to be advocates and changemakers, and to influence the community and positions of government, for profits, not for profits or for purpose organisations, through becoming a strong and committed advocate for change. Ensuring that work is built on evidence-based best practice and best practice that is absolutely independently evaluated.

So the work that I have done over the years in social change and driving more effective outcomes in terms of delivering greater wellbeing to our communities in various ways has always been through that commitment to make a difference and to see positive change realised.

The other important part of why I work in this area is because we can operate almost, and this sounds very altruistic but, I think it is with a conscience. We are able to provide a strong conscience to the way in which resources are distributed particularly to meet the needs of marginalised and vulnerable Australians.

So I have always had a strong commitment to working in this sector for those reasons and I’ve been very lucky and fortunate to work in organisations where there is a very strong alignment of my values and the values of the organisation.

What does a typical day for you look like as CEO of White Ribbon Australia?

Well there isn’t a typical day. Today I am in Darwin, last week I was in three capital cities, Darwin, Melbourne and Sydney, this week it will be Sydney, Darwin and Canberra. So keeping up with the pace of being a CEO, because most CEOs work quite long weeks, so a 65 to a 75 or 80 hour week is not uncommon. And I think you need to start your day by making sure you look after yourself.

So keeping in shape is always very important for me. I have an early start, I do yoga and I power walk or swim, and I like to meditate as well. So that gets me started for the day. I am usually in the office, when I’m in the office and not travelling, by 7.30. I enjoy that time before the rest of the team get in so that I can really plan the most important elements of my day going forward, and spend often early morning with my EA going through my day, my week. Work planning is a very important part of my day.

Looking at the way our ongoing delivery against our strategy, executing the workload against that. So that means there is a lot of meetings involved particularly with my senior executive team. But I also ensure that I meet with my whole staff on a regular basis, on one on ones as well, to get a sense of how they’re travelling in terms of executing their workload.

Communication, you are available 24/7 so that is a big part of what you do. And of course social media and the various platforms mean that you are constantly looking at your phone or your ipad. So communication and availability.

Trying to set a rhythm into your day, even when I am travelling and that is very difficult at times because you have so many competing demands on your time. But I do try and lock in. This morning for example, I’ve got this interview, I have got a discussion with my EA, I’ve got two teleconferences and then I’ve got my face to face meetings which I am here in Darwin for. So executing your meetings and ensuring they are short, concise and productive is really important.

The other important part of what a CEO does is ensuring that the human resources in your organisation meet the needs of the organisation. So hiring and putting the right people in place and enabling those people to develop as part of the development of the ongoing culture within the organisation and in accordance with its values and strategic direction is very critical.

Of course, surrounding all of that is our financial viability. For an organisation like White Ribbon we are less than 10 per cent government funded so executing our strategies to ensure viability is a key part as well of my oversight role.

But I do have one rule and that is when I go to sleep, I do not have my ipad or my iphone next to me. You need to be able to shut down and to shut off otherwise it becomes all consuming, you can wake up at 2am and you are doing your email. I am not sure that is very healthy so I do try to have a demarcation between when I stop looking at my communications and it is my time.

Why is it important to involve men in stopping family violence?

I grew up and went to university, and my undergraduate years were in very much what we call the second tranche of feminism. In the 1970s and 1980s that second tranche was very much breaking down the confines of gender to enable greater gender equality and to ensure that the rights of women to be the best they could be and to have access to opportunities the same as men were actually validated.

And one thing that struck me in all of the feminist meetings that I went to, there were no men in the room. And yet we were talking about the fact that the glass ceiling was being imposed by men, that men were making most of the decisions about the distribution of resources in our community, men were the powerbrokers, that sense of privilege and control that was attached to the male gender was one of the inhibitors of us absolutely realising gender equality. And so, I thought well why aren’t we talking to men about this? Why are these feminist action groups so heavily dominated by females. Yes, there were male feminists but they weren’t in great numbers.

The thing that attracted me to the White Ribbon social change movement was the inclusion of men in a movement which was about standing beside all of the hard work women had done through the first and second tranche and now the third tranche of feminism that we’re in now, to break down that sense of power and control and privilege that some men have that precludes women from being truly equal citizens or truly equal in their relationships etc.

So I think what for me what was really important was that this social change movement harnesses the energy of men to change gender constructs that are mostly perpetrated by men. So it is about asking men to be our allies in driving this change and working with them to develop their understanding and the tools for action that will enable this to happen.

And so, in terms of my leadership, I’ve got a strong commitment to pursuing what is fair and what is right, and I felt that this social change model White Ribbon was developing was absolutely on the money in terms of enabling men to stand up and be part of the change movement to really realise gender equality, and a key part of that was preventing men’s violence against women, which is one of the drivers of gender inequality.

What are White Ribbon Australia current priorities?

Our priorities are very much the continuing engagement of men in the prevention of violence against women. In changing the view of masculinity. In creating a masculinity that enables men to walk and stand beside women in truly equal ways. To provide the tools of change to the community.

Key to that is our respectful relationships education program which is extremely successful. And our White Ribbon workplace accreditation program.

The majority of human beings spend the majority of their life in the workplace and workplaces therefore are significant as a cultural environment that normalise our ways of behaving, our attitudes and the constructs that we have that guide social behaviour as well as our other economic and psychological behaviours.

So workplaces are a key tool in unlocking the drivers of inequality and creating a much more egalitarian society. I think what is key for us in developing the workplace accreditation program was the use of that workplace as an optimum place of change. And the workplace accreditation program developed in 2012 has now realised over 100 organisation as White Ribbon accredited, there are another 123 going under accreditation at the moment, and that number is continually increasing and there are over 800 plus organisations on our expressions of interest and waiting list. So workplaces are embracing this and realising that they need to be part of the change.

Our respectful relationships has been around in education for at least 30 years but it continually gets refocused, and the latest refocus of respectful relationships education is on the issue of deconstructing and reconstructing masculinities to ensure that we are not creating young people who perpetuate inequality or who perpetuate violence against women.

The other of course which I mentioned to start with is the engagement of the community. Particularly our White Ribbon ambassadors which are highly vetted and trained men who are the front face of White Ribbon social change movement, and they are supported by advocates and by our supporters, and that’s the community at work. So we are a community-owned and community-driven model of social change, very much accountable to the feminist movement, accountable meaning that we respect and understand and work alongside the many women who have been driving change in this space.

May marks Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month. Why is it important to have an event like this to raise community awareness?

For hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, the whole issue of violence against women, or domestic and family violence was something that was a private matter between two people or a family, or the inner family, kept behind closed doors, and the silence was never broken around the impact that was had on maintaining control over women and their children.

What has happened now is we have seen, fortunately, a breaking of that silence, women speaking out, women identifying the way in which violence has been perpetrated against them, not just physical violence, but financial, psychological, emotional violence. And how if they are going to be treated and recognised and realised as truly equal members of our community that they shouldn’t have to put up with that violence.

And events, awareness raising months, international days, all focus attention on what is one of the most critical issues to be dealt with if we are going to realise gender equality.

We say: “White Ribbon every day, all year”. Because the engagement of men to prevent violence against women, the breaking down of the barriers to understanding what causes violence against women, women feeling comfortable to report violence and to know that there are very supportive pathways for them to leave violent relationships and to be supported. And similarly men who perpetuate violence, for perpetrators to be supported to change their behaviours. All of these things are realising an increase in reporting which means we are getting an increase in figures of levels of domestic violence. That is a good thing because women are speaking out. Then we hope of course, is that what we will see as our prevention and support work will continue to be enhanced then those figures will eventually drop. So we are talking about intergenerational, social impact change.

Through your work what is your ultimate goal?

My goal is that women in Australia, and around the world, can live in an environment where they do have the opportunity to be truly equal citizens. That we do have a community of true gender equality. Where men and women are respected equally, and make equal contributions to the health and wellbeing of the community. And I think I would like to see that the feminist frameworks and movement that have initiated gender equality as being key to the health and well being of a community is something that will benefit my granddaughter, and my grandson. So that as they grow up the inhibitors of gender equality and a truly health community are minimised through very solid action that drives positive social change, so that everybody in the community can realise their potential and be supported in their realising their potential and live much healthier lives.

What are you reading or watching at the moment?

I have actually just finished an amazing historical account of Charles Bean, the official Australian world war one historian and war correspondent, who wrote the official history of World War One, and of course was very instrumental in the establishment of the Australian War Memorial. It was written by a journalist called Ross Coulthart and it is interesting that I actually finished the book on Anzac Day.

It is an amazing hardcopy book, not a Kindle. I enjoyed reading both the reference to the primary material that was sourced and other material that was sourced to support the development of the book, and to really understand the relationship between Australia and the British government in those early years. How that manifested in the political and social and economic climate that surrounded our participation in World War One and the huge human toll that resulted from those political engagements. I don’t think till you read some of the primary material, you know the numbers, you walk through the war memorial, you see the figures, you see the wall of remembrance and you know how many hundreds of thousands of Australian young men that were sacrificed really in that war effort, but the more you read the primary material, it sort of hits home, the magnitude of the cost that we paid.

So history is a very important part of understanding our social context so I do love to read historical accounts. I love to read a good novel as well.

When I travel I have both material that I read from a business point of view, such as the Harvard Business Review, and I do take time, to read my novel. I do sort of cut off and try not to spend every minute doing 50,000 emails. You’re a little bit more refreshed if you do that, rather than flogging yourself all the time with work.

Do you have a favourite saying?

“Where there’s a will there’s a way.” That has been very much a part of my work ethic. When you believe passionately in something you must ensure that you work through that to realise its potential.

I love the line that we use as part of our mission for White Ribbon which is: “Engaging men to make women safety a men’s issue too.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.


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