The White Ribbon Campaign

July 26th, 2012 1:30 am

Tuval Dinner

The beginning

Too often it takes a tragedy of shocking proportions to galvanise communities, act as a catalyst for change, and to shed light on the dark corners of our society.

On December 6th, 1989, Canada experienced just such a tragedy.

Shortly after 5pm a man walked into Montréal’s École Polytechnique engineering school, killed 14 women, injured dozens more, and traumatised a nation before turning the gun on himself.

It was subsequently discovered that this event was a calculated femicidal rampage. The killer attributed feminism for his life’s troubles. He yelled ‘I hate feminists’ as he stalked the halls looking for female victims. He blamed his rejection to the school on ‘affirmative action’ for women and left a vitriolic, misogynist, suicide note to ensure his motives were understood.

While women’s organisations had been working to end violence against women for decades, it took the December 6th Montréal Massacre to bring these issues to the forefront of Canadian consciousness. What resulted was a difficult national discourse on issues we had been reluctant to acknowledge and address as a society, particularly men’s violence against women and gun control. What also resulted was action for social change.

As the second anniversary of December 6th approached in 1991, a handful of men in Canada decided they had a responsibility to speak out and act against men’s violence against women. In the time before the proliferation of symbolic ribbons we know today, they decided that wearing a white ribbon would be a symbol of men’s opposition to men’s violence against women.

After only six weeks preparation, as many as one hundred thousand men across Canada wore a white ribbon. Many others were drawn into the discussion and debate on the issue of men’s violence for the very first time. There was an outpouring of media attention and support for the ‘novelty’ of this approach to the issue.

The concept of the White Ribbon was affirmed; it is a man’s pledge to never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women. It quickly became apparent that there was a desire for this kind of venue for men to express their will to end violence against women, as the concept spread to several countries, including the United States, the UK, and Scandinavia.

An evolving campaign

In the following years, the White Ribbon Campaign in Canada evolved mostly as a volunteer driven organisation, focusing its efforts between November 25 (the UN International Day to End Violence Against Women) and December 6th, which remains a national day of remembrance for all women affected by violence in Canada.

The transition from conceptual statement to social movement did not come without challenges and mistakes. After the initial media swoon and donor support, funding the work became the perpetual challenge as for all social causes. This initial attention also caused some real friction with the women’s movement in Canada, who were appropriately frustrated that a men’s group suddenly could claim the space and support they had been working in for years. Finally, in its enthusiasm and ambition, the campaign suffered from a lack of focus and strategic direction.

As we approach our 20th year, the White Ribbon Campaign has made real efforts to address these challenges and learn from these mistakes. We have learned by listening to the women’s movement that we need to do things differently as a men’s organisation in this field of work, and we have become a strong ally and partner with many amazing women’s organisations in Canada and beyond. Our commitment to them is to prove our dedication through our partnerships and actions towards ending men’s violence against women.

Strategically we have determined that our efforts are best focused on three specific areas: the development of our national campaign in Canada, education and awareness work with young men and boys, and our historical role as a catalyst and facilitator for White Ribbon Campaigns across the globe. To these ends we have a national presence in Canada, our education resources are widely recognised as unique and important tools for promoting equity, healthy gender relationships, and anti-violence options, and there are White Ribbon Campaigns now in over 60 countries on six continents around the world.

We have also learned to interrogate the social norms that dictate what it means to be a man, a real man, in today’s world. We take a strength-based approach and believe that, although men perpetrate most of the world’s violence, most men are not violent and do not want to be violent. But those non-violent men are too often silent about the violence that other men use. We work to activate, inspire, and engage this silent majority of men to address their own concepts of masculinity and stand up against violence against women and girls in their homes, schools, communities, countries, and globally.

We hold no proprietary notions that the only way to work towards ending men’s violence against women is by wearing the White Ribbon. We cannot tell other communities the most appropriate strategies for their own context. What we can do is share our experiences, provide resources, and facilitate connections for this work to happen. It is this approach that has led to the education of Canadian teens, the change of domestic violence laws in Sweden, and an emerging White Ribbon movement in Pakistan, among other small steps towards a future that has no violence against women.

To find out how you can get involved please visit

Tuval Dinner made his first feminist friend in 1996 and has never been the same since. He currently works for the White Ribbon Campaign, encouraging, supporting, and challenging boys and young men to care and work for gender justice. He’s a new dad and lives communally with his partner, child, and three other adults.


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