MEN don't deserve a medal for being kind to women.

They shouldn't be praised for not bashing them, destroying them financially and emotionally, or snuffing out their life altogether.

Yet this is what the White Ribbon campaign would have us do.

Men who don't perpetrate violence against women are held up as heroes, as white knights protecting the weaker sex.

They're men standing up and speaking out. How very noble of them.

Working on the premise that men will only listen to other men when it comes to how to behave, White Ribbon sends a dangerous message - that women's voices are less important and don't have cut through.

The campaign urges men to take an oath, to wear T-shirts, wrist bands and ribbons, to host fundraisers and donate money - to the campaign coffers and not frontline services such as women's shelters - and to become "ambassadors".

Even men who have a history of abusing women are eligible because they are considered "very powerful, positive role models". Ambassadors still abusing women may be "temporarily suspended from the program" - you think? - but can be reinstated if seen to be "making genuine efforts to reform and make a contribution to violence prevention".

This is wrong on so many levels.

The key to ending violence against women is gender equality.

Reinforcing stereotypes that men are more powerful, influential or deserving than women is counter-productive.

Teaching mutual respect would be far more helpful.

Macquire Fields Police officers will be taking part in this year’s White Ribbon Day. (Pic: Matthew Vasilescu)
Macquire Fields Police officers will be taking part in this year’s White Ribbon Day. (Pic: Matthew Vasilescu)

What White Ribbon has done, very successfully since it began in Australia in 2003, is raise awareness. This in itself is a good thing but when awareness becomes trendy, meaningful change is compromised.

Many of the events in the lead up to tomorrow's White Ribbon Day smack more of a party than a plan to tackle a societal scourge.

Today at Gundiah State School, in Queensland's Fraser Coast region, primary students will "celebrate" with white cupcakes. In Burleigh Heads there is a "positive activity challenge" that encourages men to go for a run, a surf, a bike ride and boast of their achievements on social media with the hashtag #wrdchallenge2017.

In Charters Towers there is a sausage sizzle and balloon giveaway in the park, while in Weipa on the Cape York Peninsula, mining giant Rio Tinto is partnering with earthmoving equipment supplier Hastings Deering to paint a site rear tipper black with a white ribbon decal.

Amid this avalanche of awareness, where is the action?

Family violence is getting worse.

Latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that since the age of 15, one in three women has experienced physical violence, one in five sexual violence, and one in four emotional abuse by a current or former partner.

Of women who have experienced violence from an ex-partner, 61 per cent have had children in their care when the violence occurred.

You don't need a high IQ to know where this is heading.

MP David Harris and Lake Haven Centre Radio Rentals manager Trevor McLean wear high heels to help raise awareness for White Ribbon Day. (Pic: Troy Snook)
MP David Harris and Lake Haven Centre Radio Rentals manager Trevor McLean wear high heels to help raise awareness for White Ribbon Day. (Pic: Troy Snook)

According to Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety, an independent organisation jointly funded by the Commonwealth and state and territory governments, "growing up with violence can have a profound impact on a child's capacity to learn, future relationships, health, emotional wellbeing and engagement in work and community life".

Not only that, family violence has wider economic impacts.

It is estimated to cost the Australian economy $13.6 billion each year and ANROWS says that if the issue is not addressed, this will rise to $15.6 billion by 2022.

A 2013 Australian Institute of Criminology report found one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner, and there are concerns that this figure is rising.

These are sobering statistics - leaving aside the 80 per cent of incidents that the ABS says goes unreported - yet awareness is at an almighty high.

Brand recognition for White Ribbon is impressive - almost three-quarters of Australians are aware of it - and an online "brand tool kit" ensures communication is "well-designed" and that the "look and logo" are "always polished and refined".

Meanwhile, women are dying.

In her book Ribbon Culture: Charity, Compassion and Public Awareness, Sarah Moore says the symbolic purchase and wearing of a ribbon has allowed charities to become commercialised by commodifying compassion.

The ribbon has become more of a fashion statement than a call to action, Moore says.

Certainly, White Ribbon's goal is worthy - and it has been effective in elevating a once taboo subject into the national conversation - but eradicating violence will take more than men standing up, speaking out and slapping each other on the back.

Kylie Lang is an associate editor of the Courier-Mail.

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