Last week, White Ribbon’s new chief executive Tracy McLeod Howe removed the organisation’s support of reproductive rights from its website.

Support that said:

  • We are opposed to all forms of control, violence and abuse. Restricting or denying a woman the autonomy to make decisions about her body is an attempt to maintain power and control over a woman. This is also known as reproductive coercion[i].
  • Sexual and reproductive rights are basic human rights. Denying a woman access to contraception and abortion is a denial of basic rights to health care. It impacts on a woman achieving economic and sexual self-determination and having full access to education and employment[ii]. It is a woman’s right to choose if and when she gets pregnant. It is a woman’s right to seek an abortion.

As an organisation focused on improving community health, we condemn this removal. No woman should be denied her basic right to health care.

White Ribbon was quick to turn around and reinstate its support, after public backlash. But too little, too late. For an organisation supposedly committed to improving the lives of women by ending male violence, this decision to remove support for reproductive rights was dangerous, out of touch and inexcusable.

This isn’t White Ribbon’s first misstep. Their ambassador recruitment process has, for a long time, been severely lacking. White Ribbon day has constantly failed to engage with new migrant and refugee communities and recruit ambassadors from diverse backgrounds. If White Ribbon only appeals to white rich men, then what hope is there for ending violence against women across the entire community? Inclusive recruitment with more rigorous testing would be a great first step to rectify some of the damage done by this very public organisation taking such a thoughtless stand.

Although we can understand the complaints writer Jenna Price puts forth in her piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, we do remember the origins of White Ribbon and the good the organisation has done. Their actions are truly appalling; however, the best way forward is for White Ribbon to focus on their core values – better engage men who will act as true ambassadors for the cause – and stop telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies.

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