Centennial College staffers Chris Terry (left) and Steve Starr perform at the East York campus’ White Ribbon fundraiser, held on Dec. 3.

Born out of tragedy, white-ribbon campaign seeks transformation

As the Montreal Massacre had its second anniversary in 1991, three men in Toronto sat around their kitchen table.

They decided that men must have a role and responsibility in working to end men’s violence against women.

Back when there wasn’t a ribbon for every cause, they came up with the symbol of a white ribbon and the pledge that is still used today by the White Ribbon Campaign. A pledge for men to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women.

The men were Ron Sluser, Michael Kaufman and Jack Layton.

Todd Minerson, executive manager of the White Ribbon Campaign, says the initiative has grown enormously since its conception 17 years ago.

“We used to be a one-week-a-year awareness campaign, but we now work 365 days a year on men’s engagement to end violence against women,” he said. “During the year we’re really focused on two of our five priority areas, which are raising awareness on the issue of violence against women and one that’s really important to us – working with young people.”

The traditional campaign focus started on Nov. 25, the United Nations Day for the Eradication of Violence Against Women, and ran until Dec. 6, the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre and the Canadian National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

Minerson said the biggest contribution the campaign can make for real transformation around this issue is to work on prevention. Areas of focus for the campaign include challenging men and boys on their actions and attitudes about violence against women, education on the consequences of being silent about such violence and the role men can play in the promotion of gender equality.

“Over the course of the year, we’re also focused on the international role that we play,” he said. “We now have activities that take place in 57 different countries around the world, coordinated out of our office in Toronto with a staff of five.”

Minerson believes the campaign to be an amazing Canadian success story. The idea, arising from tragedy, was a real moment in time for Canada to think about these issues, he said. Almost two decades later, the white ribbon is a symbol used around the globe for men who care about the women in their lives, the amount of violence they face, and who are committed to doing something about it.

Even though the Toronto headquarters supports work being done in other countries, it has a very decentralized motto. Organizers believe men and boys working abroad are in a much better position to deal with their country’s specific issues.

“We think the communities around the world really know best the ways to engage boys in their own community,” Minerson said. “They also know best the dynamics of the issues around and certainly they know best the specific cultural issues and the language requirements to do that work effectively.”

Currently the campaign is working on a collaborative project between Canada and Brazil. Other international projects include exploring possibilities in countries such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Locally, it runs youth education programs and campaigns centered on mentoring and promoting healthy relationships in the lives of young men. To run these programs, the campaign is always in need of financial help from the public.

“Primarily we rely on donations,” Minerson said. “We do have some funding for specific projects that we run from different levels of government. But for the ongoing support of our work, donations from the public are hugely important to us being able to keep doing this.”

Participation from colleges and universities is one of the major ways the campaign works to spread the word. Campuses organize events during the campaign to raise awareness and funding. Centennial College’s campus in East York was one of many to chip in this year.

Aside from selling white ribbons and putting up posters to do its share, the campus also organized a concert for students and faculty to show off their talent and get involved at the same time.

As stage manager, Steve Starr organized the talent and their sets, as well as stage setup, the equipment, and the general flow of the show. In addition to helping people become familiar with the issues, the concert highlights students’ talents, he said.

“It’s to help raise awareness among students and raise a little bit of money for the cause as well by selling food at the concert,” he said. “This is the third year we’ve done this and we’re going to try to make it a yearly thing even though everyone is really busy this time of year.”

Former Centennial College journalism student Ashkon Hobooti, 22, played an acoustic set at the concert for the second year in a row. Hobooti said it was a very rewarding experience for him to know he contributed to an important cause.

“Things like this deserve not only funding but attention,” he said. “I’m really happy I can do my part to help out.”