White Ribbon Day: violence against women is a workplace issue

By Stephen Easton

November 24, 2017

“Not all disrespect of women ends up in violence against women, but that’s where all violence against women begins,” Malcolm Turnbull said in a press conference yesterday.

It’s a reasonable observation for the Prime Minister to make a few days out from international White Ribbon Day, a campaign that revolves around men declaring their opposition to violence against women and girls. The actual day, Saturday November 25, involves 16 days of activism.

The white symbolises the flag of surrender, the laying down of weapons that precedes an end to violent conflict, and the day began in 1989 after a Canadian university student killed 14 women and injured many more, in the deluded belief he was fighting feminism.

Turnbull’s comment also accords with the government’s Respect campaign, which encourages parents to avoid passing on traditional gender stereotypes to young boys and girls on the basis that this could reduce violence in the future.

Actually, he was responding to a video posted on YouTube this week showing the ex-member for Bennelong, John Alexander, telling a couple of bawdy jokes back in the ’90s including one making light of a fictitious rape trial.

The user who uploaded the video — which almost certainly came out of a dirt file to harm Alexander’s chances of winning back his seat in an upcoming byelection — claimed they personally didn’t see “anything to apologise for” but apologise is exactly what the former MP did.

“More than 20 years ago I told crude and inappropriate jokes, which were completely unacceptable and I apologise unreservedly,” he said. “There is no place for jokes about violence against women. Again, I apologise unreservedly.”

Turnbull said the same thing. “There is no place for joking about violence against women.” It’s true, there isn’t anymore, but there definitely was not so long ago. 

On Monday, the head of Turnbull’s department, Martin Parkinson, signed the White Ribbon Day oath — “I will stand up, speak out and act to prevent men’s violence against women” — along with seven of his public service colleagues and has posted a YouTube video of his own.

The Canberra Times reported Parkinson’s associate secretary for Indigenous affairs, Andrew Tongue, as well as Prime Minister and Cabinet senior executives David Gruen, Allan McKinnon, Ian Anderson, Tony Sheehan, Lin Hatfield-Dodds and Yael Cass, joined him in signing the oath.

The head of the Australian Public Service thinks it is “delusional” to suggest this is not a workplace issue, and used the occasion to encourage all public servants who are victims of family violence — or perpetrators — to make use of employee assistance programs.

“It is a moral and ethical issue, but it is also a workplace issue and as the head of the public service I am absolutely committed to taking this seriously and doing our bit,” he said.

Parkinson said the oath was a way to tell victims of violence “we are with you, we’re supporting you and we have the tools to help you” and to “say enough is enough” to the perpetrators.

On Wednesday his deputy secretary for cyber security, Alastair MacGibbon, hosted a panel discussion on domestic violence that was live-streamed to PM&C offices around the country:

“First to speak was Simone O’Brien, who told her horrific story of violence and outlined her campaign to educate the nation about the red flags that can signal domestic violence. In Simone’s case, her red flags weren’t physical or verbal abuse, but rather behaviour like deleting things from her phone, and stealing money and possessions.

“Simone explained that during the relationship, she had no knowledge of her perpetrator’s previous history of domestic violence. Her motivation today is to support women so they can tell their stories and ensure that perpetrators of domestic violence cannot continue to use violence in subsequent relationships. Simone’s presentation was truly moving for all who attended and several audience members expressed their thanks to Simone for telling her story during Q&A.”

The White Ribbon website lists a range of government initiatives, various state and federal departments have achieved White Ribbon accreditation and more will surely follow, while events like the above have taken place all over the country.

Also on Wednesday, the Queensland government hosted a more public breakfast event featuring schoolkids singing John Farnham’s classic anthem You’re the voice (we’re not going to sit in silence / we’re not going to live in fear).

Elsewhere in the federal sphere, the Australian Federal Police has teamed up with the Department of Human Services to hold their White Ribbon event this morning, hosted by official ambassador Andrew O’Keefe. The TV presenter and game show host was involved in importing the idea to Australia 14 years ago.

As part of their joint effort, the two agencies have also given support to a Canberra-based domestic violence support organisation named in memorial of a local woman who was murdered by her abusive ex-partner.

DHS is “a recognised leader in providing support and referrals for those affected by family and domestic violence” according to the minister. “Departmental staff receive specialist training and are well-equipped to identify people at risk and provide them with information, referrals and support.”

“Every one of us is individually responsible for starting the cultural change that will end men’s violence,” O’Keefe said.

“We need to have those important and sometimes difficult conversations about respect and restraint, with our friends, our colleagues and our kids, and to model what love and dignity really look like.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to be part of the change. Because our words and actions could ultimately save a life.”

Tudge said the Government was committed to “ending family and domestic violence in Australia” in the statement.

“We want our children to grow up in [a] safe environment, knowing what a respectful loving relationship is,” he said. “No-one should have to live in fear. It is time to say enough.”

The national domestic violence counselling telephone line is 1800-RESPECT and there are a few more resources on the DHS website.

But amid all these fine statements, commitments, events and pledges to take action, there are signs that White Ribbon Day is wearing a bit thin, with several critics like family counsellor Jill Murphy in the Sydney Morning Herald coming out this week to call for more action and less public relations opportunities.

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