White Ribbon closes down amid financial turmoil
3 October 2019 at 5:10 pm
White Ribbon Australia is closing its doors for good, with the charity announcing it has gone into liquidation.
It was revealed earlier this year that White Ribbon was more than $840,000 in the red, and the organisation said it decided closing was necessary after “an analysis of the organisation’s future sustainability”.
The anti-domestic violence charity has also been rocked in recent times by scandals and leadership instability, with chair Nicholas Cowdrey and CEO Tracy McLeod Howe departing the organisation late last year.
In a statement, the board said it wanted to acknowledge the communities around Australia who were part of the White Ribbon movement.
“It is with profound sadness that the board of White Ribbon Australia informs the community and supporters that it has taken the very difficult decision to close its doors,” it said.
“Even though White Ribbon Australia’s journey ends here, we know that the work of our partners and communities will continue. Eliminating men’s violence against women must remain a priority.”
White Ribbon was widely condemned in October last year, after the charity removed its pro-choice reproductive position statement from its website after abortion was decriminalised in Queensland.
Three weeks later, McLeod Howe was ousted as CEO after just three months in the role.
Then in November, Cowdrey resigned as chair after after an ABC documentary aired comments he made about the sex life of convicted baby killer Keli Lane.
Speaking to Pro Bono News, McLeod Howe said the closure was due to long-standing financial issues and not because of what happened during her brief tenure as CEO.
“I’m sad to hear about this news, but unsurprised,” McLeod Howe said.
“I feel for the staff and hope a movement of men will continue.”
University of Technology Sydney academic Jenna Price, who last year called for White Ribbon to be shut down, said she felt terrible for people who had lost their jobs.
But she told Pro Bono News the organisation had lost its way.
“It really wasn’t fit-for-purpose. It’s not the job of any organisation to give men cookies for saying there shouldn’t be violence against women,” Price said.
“Any organisation which gets money from the public or from governments around domestic violence should be, first of all, focused on frontline services and secondly on re-thinking respectful relationships in every level of education.
“You cannot persuade men by getting them to wear a white ribbon. That’s not how it works.”
Price said reputational damage and financial issues were not the only reasons the organisation failed.
“There was a serious case of overexpansion and under resourcing of things which really mattered,” she said.
“Boards allow this to happen. It’s not as if this would have come out of the blue.”
Kit McMahon, the chair of Gender Equity Victoria, told Pro Bono News it was sad there would be one less advocacy voice out there.
“But I think it’s important to note that the work continues with other community based organisations,” McMahon said.
“For instance in Victoria, there’s been a significant distribution of investment to many more organisations to do the work, and that has resulted in increased capacity for other charities outside of White Ribbon to make change.”
McMahon said while she did not know the details of White Ribbon’s financial problems, there were lessons the charity sector and governments could learn from the charity’s liquidation.
“We need to set up funding arrangements that leverage existing partnerships and communities to achieve change, rather than ones which set up organisations in competition with each other,” she said.
“I think that’s something important to come out of this situation.”
The charity’s collapse comes less than a month before White Ribbon Day on 22 November.