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White Ribbon Scandal Angers Sector

22 October 2018 at 5:26 pm
Maggie Coggan
Continuing outrage over the White Ribbon reproductive rights scandal has some questioning the future of the organisation. 

Maggie Coggan | 22 October 2018 at 5:26 pm


White Ribbon Scandal Angers Sector
22 October 2018 at 5:26 pm

Continuing outrage over the White Ribbon reproductive rights scandal has some questioning the future of the organisation. 

White Ribbon faced criticism from politicians, women’s health groups, advocates and several of their ambassadors on Friday, after the news broke they had removed their reproductive position statement from their website after abortion was decriminalised in Queensland.

White Ribbon CEO, Tracy McLeod Howe, told BuzzFeed they had removed it because they were agnostic until its stakeholders said it was important to most of them.

But the position statement was reinstated on Friday afternoon, and White Ribbon said it maintained its former stance on reproductive rights, apologising for any confusion the removal may have caused.

“We have and always will be about ensuring women are safe and free from all forms of violence. Our position on reproductive rights was positioned within that context,” McLeod Howe said.

The backlash has continued however, with UTS academic, Jenna Price, calling for the campaign’s closure in an opinion piece published by Fairfax on Monday.

Price told Pro Bono News its values weren’t inline with stopping violence against women, and didn’t look deep enough into the structural drivers of inequality.

“What happened last week was pretty horrific, but it’s just another way they have displayed their complete lack of understanding of how inequality shapes violence,” Price said.   

She said the removal of the statement was most concerning because it demonstrated the needs and concerns of vulnerable women were not paramount, and the lack of transparency within the organisation.  

“It was someone else’s needs and concerns. I couldn’t tell you who that was either because there’s so little transparency about who the donors are… where the money is coming from, or even who the ambassadors are,” she said.   

Convener of Gender Equity Victoria, Kristine Olaris, told Pro Bono News she was pleased White Ribbon had reposted the statement, but that women’s reproductive rights should not be up for debate.    

“While we understand their desire to consult with their stakeholders about the statement, we firmly believe that the recognition of women’s right to autonomy and power over their reproductive choices is a basic human right and should not be up for debate,” Olaris said.

“It is vital that we are consistent around the need to address the gendered drivers of violence, so we can maximise our collective impact to eliminate violence.”

McLeod Howe told Pro Bono News  she wanted to make it clear that White Ribbon was opposed to all forms of control over a woman, and it was vital the community helped support their position.

“This includes, coercion, violence and abuse. Restricting or denying a woman the autonomy to make decisions about her body is an attempt to maintain power and control over a woman,” McLeod said.

“We need our community with us in driving our policy positions. They have valuable expertise and insight into their local and cultural community and are out there engaging with their communities to end violence against women.”

If White Ribbon continued to run, Price said she wanted the axing of the White Ribbon ambassador program to be the first step taken to improve the organisation.  

“There is little point in getting someone to stand up for the morning tea and say I want to stop violence against women,” she said.

“We don’t know who all the ambassadors are either, you could have some totally inappropriate person being an ambassador, and no one will even know, because it’s up to the ambassador whether they want that information public.”  

Price also wasn’t confident too much would change within the organisation.

“I had assumed that because they had a new CEO, White Ribbon would totally revisit its practices, but it hasn’t done that,” she said.

“I’d argue that what happened last week was actually worse than anything Libby Davies has done.”

Olaris said however she hoped the recent events would force a period of reflection, and deeper conversations to prevent violence against women, but encouraged the public to look outside of White Ribbon if they wanted to make a difference.

“Women’s health services, across the entire state of Victoria, are working at the grassroots, leading partnerships to prevent violence against women,” she said.  

“We encourage those who are keen to continue providing support to the prevention of violence against women to look broadly at the many organisations making a difference in this space.”



Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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One comment

  • Michael Clanchy says:

    With the greatest of respect, this situation is ideology gone crazy. It deauthoritises the incredibly important White Ribbon movement’s concern to stem violence within the community. Violence is ugly wherever it raises its head. It is facilitated by power, entitlement and a sense of ownership. While there may be compelling reasons for abortions, 90plus% of the 70,000 surgical abortions conducted in Australia each year relate essentially to “consumer choice”. Patriarch or matriarch, violence plays the same tune.

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