We in Canada do not advocate that you conduct a White Ribbon Campaign in exactly the same way we do it. Particular approaches work best in different countries. And we know that you will have many new ideas that we will learn from in the future. However, there are four principles that are fundamental:
1. Politically neutral - open to all men
The first principle is that we are non-partisan, that is, we are not allied to any particular political party, or other political cause, or one part of the political spectrum. We strive to include men (and women) from across the political spectrum. This is not a left-wing cause nor is it allied with any particular wing of the feminist movement.
We take this approach because we believe that violence against women (VAW) needs a very broad social response. We take this approach so that no group of men or boys has an excuse not to get involved.
We welcome a diverse range of men and try to make them comfortable by including their concerns, speaking their language, and finding ways for them to address their constituencies.
We do not take any positions on many important social and political issues that are not immediately related to violence against women because we know these will be divisive among men. They will distract us from this central cause. (Of course, men and women involved in the WRC are free to take whatever positions they want and speak out on these issues and join other organizations that work on these issues, but just not "with their WRC hat on" as we say in English.)
And so, White Ribbon does not take positions that are important to many of us: environmental concerns, economic policy, abortion rights, workers rights, and so forth. We are even very careful on governmental/economic policies (such as levels of employment) that some of us believe have an indirect impact on the levels of violence, because this then becomes a partisan issue that will divide us in the WRC.
Sometimes this is difficult for some of us "to swallow," that is, to accept. But in the long run it will mean a high degree of unity and effectiveness.
Another implication of this is that no one existing national organization should dominate the national WRC unless it is seen as politically neutral (such as, for example, a United Nations group or the Red Cross). Existing organizations are usually identified with a particular part of the political or social spectrum. And existing organizations usually have positions and policies on other issues. If such an organization dominates the national WRC it will mean that others will not join.
However, existing organizations can certainly play a key role in stimulating the development of the WRC. They can play an important role in getting it started, in providing support and leadership on an on-going basis. (That of course applies to some of the organizations that will be represented at the Brussel's meeting.)
And, as well, existing organizations can participate in the WRC. Thus a national group might have members who are representatives of an organization doing work on gender issues or a trade union or a corporation or a government department.
In other words, we see as fundamental that the WRC is a broad-based organization, that can involve volunteers from all walks of life and political views.
I would encourage those at the meeting who are with an existing organization to think about how they can act as a catalyst to get other people and other social sectors directly involved in the WRC.
We do not endorse or support nor oppose any government. However, we do support or oppose particular government policies and will speak out for or against those regardless of what party in governmental power. (I guess we'd have to say if there was a government that systematically worked for the suppression of women as one of their central goals, and allowed and even encouraged violence against women (such as the Taliban government in Afghanistan) that might be an exception.)
2. Not anti-male
A second principle is that we do not believe that men are naturally violent. We do not think that all men are violent or are responsible for committing acts of violence against women.
We believe in appealing to the goodness in men. We believe men can be allies with women. We believe in appealing to the love most men feel for the women and girls in their lives.
We believe that while all men might not be responsible for committing the acts of violence, we all must take responsibility for examining our own beliefs and behaviour and for speaking out to end it.
We believe that, except for the rare psychopath, men who use violence are able to stop their behaviour if they are challenged by other men, if they are forced to take responsibility for their actions, and if they are given opportunities to get to the source of their problems.
In other words, we are on guard against any language that is implicitly "anti-male" or "male-bashing." Such things will not help us stop violence against women.
On the other hand, we do not support the anti-woman and anti-feminist "men's rights" organizations.
The main implication of this is that we take care about the type of statements we make, about what links we have on our web sites, and particularly about the language we use in our own statements. Bert has eloquently addressed some of these issues in his recent e-mail letter to Daniel.
3. We have limited resources, so we must be a catalyst
This is a basic organizational principle. We don't have a lot of wealth or a big organization. We want all men and boys to hear about the WRC message. Thus we do our best to work with and work through existing organizations to get out our message.
We see ourselves as catalysts.
Thus, we do our best to make sure that a trade union would take up the campaign to reach its members. That a corporation would take up the campaign to reach its workers and its customers. That religious institutions take up the campaign to reach their members and their community. That men's clubs and sports associations take up the campaign, etc etc.
4. Work in partnership with women's groups
We encourage you to consult and talk to a range of existing women's groups. This is so we can learn from them. It is so they won't think we are competing with them for audience or resources. It is so we can coordinate our efforts.
Some other matters for discussion. These are not basic principles, but are issues I would like to raise.
How can we sustain the WRC in the years ahead ? I am so happy that City & Shelter has received this grant. But a one year grant of about 100,000 Euros is not going to get us far.
Thus, I hope that everyone will leave the Brussel's meeting seeing the EuroWRC as more than a one or two year project and as more than what can happen from one particular grant.
In order to create a durable European-wide campaign and durable national chapters, there are several things that seem important:
6. International ties and responsibilities
Several things here:
I'd like to encourage you to think in terms of two major activities each year. Trying to do too much will lead to not doing anything well.
I hope these comments are helpful and not offensive. They are comments for discussion. I will be with you all in spirit!
(notes for the EuroWRC Meeting in Brussels, Feb 25-27, 2000)