How often in our lives - not our individual lives, but our collective life - can we identify the exact moment when everything changed for us all ? When our assumptions and knowledge before that moment were different than after ? When there was a collective wrenching of our beliefs ?
For Canadians, there was such a moment.
It occurred ten years ago in Montreal on Wednesday, December 6, 1989. It was the death of fourteen women, murdered for the simple reason they dared pursue a career in a profession that was traditionally claimed by men. It was a tragedy that unleashed legislative change, research, new attitudes, and national soul searching that continues to this day.
The massacre changed everything. Overnight, one day after what was to become known as the Montreal massacre, the discussion of this tragedy shifted from a dissection of the pathology of one individual man to a dissection of a national culture that has stayed mum on the epidemic of violence against women.
Talking about this epidemic didn't mean that all women had directly experienced violence. Nor did it mean that most men committed acts of violence. However, as many women knew and as a handful of men finally concluded, the majority of men had remained silent about this violence. Through that silence we had allowed the violence to continue.
So a handful of men decided to step beyond soul searching and search for how we could make a difference.
In the fall of 1991, we started the White Ribbon Campaign. We rejected the idea that men were naturally predisposed to beat, rape, or kill. We did not blame all men for the actions of a minority. And yet we said that although the majority of Canadian men were not responsible for committing acts of violence against women, we all needed to take responsibility for helping bring it to an end.
We adopted the White Ribbon as a symbol. Wearing the ribbon would neither be an act of contrition, nor a misplaced collective guilt, nor a pedigree that you're a great guy. Rather it would be an act of love for the women in our lives. Wearing the ribbon would be a personal pledge never to commit, condone, nor remain silent about violence against women. It would be a catalyst for discussion and soul searching. It would be a public challenge to those many men who may use violence against a wife, girlfriend, family member, or stranger. And it would be a call on our policy makers, opinion leaders, police, and courts to take seriously this national and international epidemic.
Much to our surprise, it quickly grew into a bit of a national institution, where school kids across the country wear ribbons, where thousands of teachers use White Ribbon curriculum materials, where trade unions and corporations and so many others distribute ribbons and encourage men to speak out against the violence.
Since that day we've worked alongside women's groups, learning from their experiences, finding ways to lend financial and moral support to their work, and together to discover new ways for men and women to work together for positive change.
What few Canadians know, however, is how White Ribbon has been embraced by men and women around the world. Saying this isn't self- congratulatory. Rather it is to congratulate the hundreds of thousands of Canadian men and boys, and particularly, the Canadian women who challenged and inspired us, who have made White Ribbon a reality.
In southwest Africa, groups in Namibia, many related to the church, are organizing a WRC. In nearby South Africa, there is a campaign of women and men that uses a white ribbon symbol; we are working with South Africans to develop new programs aimed specifically at men.
White Ribbon has worked with women and men in training sessions (and through the Internet) in Nepal, India, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, and Australia. Men in the Nordic countries have organized vibrant White Ribbon Campaigns in Sweden, Norway and Finland, and are launching efforts in Denmark and Iceland. Committees are growing in Germany, Belgium and Spain.
In the United States, the campaign continues to spread on quite a number of university and college campuses and the campaign's "Education and Action Kit" is distributed in hundreds of schools. We work with men and women in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Chile.
The campaign is developing closer contacts with international organizations including UNICEF, Save the Children, UNESCO, and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. One of the most exciting developments of the past year is our ties with the United Nations women's body, UNIFEM. That organization has proclaimed November 25 the International Day for the Eradication of Violence Against Women and has invited our participation in their work. In other words, along with our traditional Canadian exports of wood, wheat, and hockey players, we can be proud that women and men in Canada are exporting a message of hope.
Like many moments in history, it took a tragedy to generate hope. On December 6, we remember the women we have lost. We think with compassion about the women who have lived in fear or with the terrible memories of the past.
But we also celebrate the strength of those women. And we dedicate ourselves anew to make Canada the first country in the world in which violence against women will be a rarity, an oddity, and a whisper from the past.
White Ribbon Campaign