A personal perspective on White Ribbon Accreditation
Author: Cllr Kay Wesley, White Ribbon Champion for Congleton Town Council
What is Congleton doing and why?
Congleton Town Council has voted to become White Ribbon Accredited. The catalyst for this was a visit to Congleton by Chris Green OBE, the White Ribbon UK President, who was invited to speak at a public event organised by the Congleton Women’s Forum.
Mr Green said: "It’s men’s responsibility to stop gender violence, and since men listen a bit more carefully when other men speak the message, we need to challenge each other to do better.” Chris commented that he was very pleased to see three men in our meeting and that often when he does these talks, the entire audience is women. Herein lies the problem – that it is primarily women campaigning to end male violence against women, but the only people who can end this are men. This is the problem that White Ribbon is tackling. White Ribbon makes it imperative for men to talk to men about violence against and attitudes to women.
One of the men in the room, Richard Walton, initiated a conversation about White Ribbon in Congleton. He approached the Town Council, who agreed to support White Ribbon in early 2019. In May 2019, I became the first Women’s Equality Party Councillor in the UK on Congleton Town Council. Since then, I’ve worked with colleagues to incorporate equality priorities into the Town’s Business Plan, and we have a new Equality and Inclusion Policy. But plans and policies are not enough; we need action! One of our actions early on was to work with Richard to bring forward a concrete proposal that Congleton Town Council should become a White Ribbon Accredited town.
What does White Ribbon Accreditation mean?
An Accredited town council gets a White Ribbon badge which says that we are taking all measures possible to challenge the male attitudes that lead to gender-based violence. It means we have a team of primarily men councillors and public members who are the White Ribbon Ambassadors for Congleton. We are putting in place programmes to spot and call out the attitudes and behaviours that lead to male violence against women and ensuring we never ignore, condone, or fail to condemn such behaviours. We have an Action Plan to take the campaign through our teams into the broader community over four years.
Why is this important?
Male violence against women reached epidemic levels in the UK during the lockdowns. A partner or former partner kills two women a week. This increased to three a week in the first month of the COVID lockdown. Less than 3% of reported rapes lead to a conviction in England and Wales, the lowest rate in Europe, even though studies show less than 1% of accusations could be false. This is because of the attitudes of juries, judges, police officers, the CPS, the media, and the public, including women themselves. Harmful attitudes that ‘full-blooded men can’t help themselves’, that in a ‘he-said, she-said’ debate, we automatically believe the man, that suggests if a woman is attractive or flirtatious, she is ‘asking for it.’ These attitudes blame women for sexual violence against them. White Ribbon seeks to overturn these attitudes and ensure men take responsibility for their actions and that men call each other out if they seem inappropriate or sexist behaviours.
Isn’t White Ribbon a bit sexist?
One of the challenges we have heard is that White Ribbon is about male violence towards women. What about violent women, we hear? What about male-on-male violence? Of course, all violence is unacceptable. But the behaviour that leads to male violence against women is a specifically gendered problem rooted in discrimination and prejudice. White Ribbon is trying to deal with this specific problem. Think of it this way. If I were campaigning for a charity supporting children with asthma, would you say, ‘What about adults with asthma?’ or ‘What about people with diabetes?’ No, you would not. Why, when we advocate for something that might help women, does someone always say, ‘What about the men?’ Think about it. This is a symptom of the problem!
Other campaigns and charities deal with youth violence, racist violence, homophobic violence, and others. Some of them, like the Damilola Taylor Trust and Terence Higgins Trust, are trying to break down the prejudice that leads to violence against specific people by certain other people. White Ribbon UK is doing the same for male violence against women. This violence and the attitudes leading to it can ruin lives, but the underlying factors can be addressed by parents, schools, the media and especially by men. It is about all the good men standing up and saying, ‘not in my name.’
What has Congleton done so far?
We are making the public aware of the issues and the White Ribbon Campaign with street stalls, especially on White Ribbon Day, 25 November. We have had over 150 people in Congleton make the White Ribbon Promise. On White Ribbon Day, we also had a social media takeover with banners on our Council website and posts on Facebook and Twitter.
What’s next for Congleton?
Our Council White Ribbon awareness sessions are underway for staff and councillors. In the next phase, we will reach out to the community, working with sports clubs, schools, employers, and others to ensure this campaign reaches all parts of our town. White Ribbon UK has provided us with support and materials, as well as organised a webinar in which we could learn from other members around the country. We hope there will be more of the same.
I have personally been moved by the people who have come to Make the Promise at our stall and the stories they have told us. Around a third of people have told personal stories; it happened to them, their mother, sister, colleague, or neighbour. I was made aware of just how vital this work is and how if men can use their influence to help change the attitudes and behaviour of some men, it will have a positive impact on us all.