Men and Boys Creating a Culture of Nonviolence
It was December 6, 1989. Angry that he’d failed to get into engineering school, a lone gunman strode into a lecture hall at the University of Montréal and murdered 14 women whom he blamed for his academic failure. A shock wave pulsed through every segment of Canadian society—from the classroom to the barroom. Two years later, challenged by the women in their lives to respond to all forms of men’s violence against women, three men—the late Jack Layton (see sidebar), Michael Kaufman, and Ron Sluser (with others)—launched the White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) as a way for men to begin to take a stand against men’s violence against women. That first year, 1991, 100,000 wore ribbons across Canada. Today, the campaign has spread to at least 70 countries and several million men have signed pledges not to commit, condone, or remain silent in the face of domestic or sexual violence.
At its heart an educational campaign, WRC is politically nonpartisan, seeking to reach a wide swath of men. Some serve as informal ambassadors spreading the word. In the U.S., the campaign has been growing in recent years in, among other places, Massachusetts. It is spearheaded there by the Men’s Initiative for Jane Doe Inc. (JDI), the Boston-based statewide coalition of battered women’s shelters and rape crisis centers. It coordinates 60 local member programs around Massachusetts working with allies on lasting solutions that promote safety, liberty, and dignity for victims and survivors of sexual and domestic violence.
The 2012 Massachusetts White Ribbon Day, the fifth such commemoration, included a gathering at the state house, and a separate first-ever White Ribbon Campaign by members of the military. Since launching the campaign in Massachusetts in 2008, Jane Doe Inc. has recruited more than 400 White Ribbon Day Ambassadors and tens of thousands of men and boys have signed the pledge. JDI led efforts for Massachusetts to join this international effort for human rights to engage men to help end violence against women, men and children. “Our approach celebrates positive masculinity, invites men and boys to be leaders to help end violence against women, and encourages men and boys to contribute to a solution in any number of ways,” said Craig Norberg-Bohm, Jane Doe’s men’s initiative coordinator who directs White Ribbon Day.
In 2012 the campaign added a new component, a tool kit to help male high school athletic teams across the Commonwealth. “Young Men 4 Change” encourages male youth to demonstrate leadership in addressing violence against females in the school community. “Since many coaches and student athletes are leaders in their wider communities,” Norberg-Bohm said, “emphasizing working with male athletic teams is a powerful way to both invite and inspire other men and boys to make a public and private commitment to promote respectful, safe, and healthy relationships.”
High schools, Norberg-Bohm acknowledges, are not immune to issues of sexual and domestic violence. “Whether the violence occurs among students or is experienced at home, at work, or in the community, sexual and domestic violence affects everyone—including athletes.” As leaders in their communities, athletes taking a stand challenging violence against women can inspire others in other schools and different communities to do the same. Coaches can be instrumental in helping athletes they are training to become involved in White Ribbon Day and to assist them to be responsible people on the field and off. What could the impact be of hundreds of male coaches and student athletes across the state declaring their commitment to this principle of non-violence? Among other possibilities, Norberg-Bohm says, consider these:
• Creates a clear, loud and visible statement from male athletes about building a school social climate that promotes positive masculinity and healthy relationships
• Promotes safety and respect in all relationships and situations
• Fosters a positive image of manhood and invites coaches and athletes to join in a celebration of personal peace and cooperation
• Builds a network of resounding voices to support and advance the White Ribbon Day Campaign initiative
To learn more about White Ribbon efforts in Massachusetts go to www.whiteribbonday.janedoe.org. For more on the White Ribbon Campaign, visit www.whiteribbon.ca.