White Ribbon chair Nicholas Cowdery resigned over a sexist comment he made regarding child killer Keli Lane.
White Ribbon chair Nicholas Cowdery resigned over a sexist comment he made regarding child killer Keli Lane.

White Ribbon's latest misstep is one too far

Either White Ribbon fully supports women in their decision to have, or not have kids, or it does not, writes SHERELE MOODY.

WHEN White Ribbon Day rolls around next month, it won't be getting a donation from me.

I'll be giving my money to an organisation that fully supports a woman's reproductive rights and I hope you will do the same.

I have long had reservations about White Ribbon but supported it because it shines a very bright light on violence against women and it operates useful school and workplace accreditation programs.

But for me, the relationship is over.

The straw that broke the camel's back - its flip-flopping about abortion.

White Ribbon has removed from its charter a statement that women must have "complete control over their reproductive and sexual health".

"We have withdrawn it (the statement) because we are agnostic until our stakeholders tell us it is important to most of them. My job is to represent a movement of diverse members of a community who range in age and gender and religion and viewpoints," White Ribbon chief executive Tracy McLeod Howe told Buzzfeed on Friday.

Hours later, McLeod Howe issued a statement saying: "We will undergo an immediate and comprehensive consultation process with all members, including ambassadors, advocates, supporters and stakeholders. Whilst the intention had been to remedy the process under which the original statement of support was issued by consulting with a wider body of representatives, this has been misinterpreted as a change in stance around reproductive rights."

The Coast’s LNP MPs will decide their stance on the issue this week Picture: MATHEW FARRELL
Queensland has changed abortion laws.

A woman's right to bodily autonomy is not an issue that an organisation with White Ribbon's remit should be consulting on.

Either it supports women in their decision to have, or not have kids, or it does not.

This is just another mis-step for White Ribbon, which is coming under increased pressure over a range of issues.

Last year, the organisation was roasted for taking donations from a poker machine operator even though gambling can be a serious contributor to family violence.

It back-pedalled after the media criticised it for dipping into the pockets of an industry that researchers have repeatedly shown contributes to family violence.


White Ribbon also cops heat from women's safety advocates and feminists for having females organise its events while the men folk "just turn up to give speeches"; and for anointing formerly abusive blokes as ambassadors because it considers them "powerful, positive role models".

Just this month, White Ribbon chair Nicholas Cowdrey resigned after making an extremely sexist and tone-deaf comment regarding convicted child killer Keli Lane.

Lane is serving 18 years in jail for the murder of her newborn child, Tegan, in 2011. She has never told police where Tegan's body is. Cowdery was the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions at the time Lane went to trial.

Recently he gave an interview to the ABC, during which he claimed Lane was "not a risk to children" but "she seemed to be a bit of a risk to the virile young male portion of the community''.

Cowdery laughed at his own comment, then stated: "That's not grounds for putting her in prison, of course".

Pregnancy, son,daughter, twins concept. Female hands over belly with with BOY and GIRL cards. Expecting a baby, maternity, love and people concept
Reproduction coercion is a major concern for women in violent relationships. Vadym Petrochenko

White Ribbon's decision to sit on the fence over women's sexual health and reproductive rights is outrageous.

Worse still, it is letting vulnerable Australian women down by, unwittingly, reinforcing the rights of abusive men to control their partner's fertility through reproductive coercion. Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows 77,400 people were raped in 2015-16, with most victims being female.

Children by Choice and domestic violence professionals confirm that reproductive coercion is a significant problem in violent relationships.

This type of abuse includes perpetrators raping women until they fall pregnant, sabotaging or removing condoms during sex and preventing partners from having abortions or accessing the contraceptive and morning after pills.

On the flipside, abusers cause miscarriages by violently beating women until the baby dies or forcing them into having abortions.

White Ribbon's stance on reproductive autonomy is also out of step with community expectations.

On Thursday, Queensland dumped archaic laws that made it a crime for women to have abortions. Ironically, the Queensland Government, which was so determined to fix this issue for the state's women, has rolled out White Ribbon workplace accreditation across at least 13 of its agencies.

NSW is now the only jurisdiction in Australia where abortion is considered a crime, but the rest of the country is ensuring women have safe access to a range of pregnancy options and one suspects this anomaly will be rectified soon.

White Ribbon cannot support a woman's right to live her life free of violence but refuse to fully and categorically acknowledge her right to autonomy over her own body.

The two are incompatible and it is time for White Ribbon to recognise this. Until then, it won't get a red cent from me.

*For 24-hour domestic violence support, phone the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.
News Corp journalist Sherele Moody is the recipient of the 2018 BandT Women in Media Social Change Maker Award and has multiple Clarion and Walkley Our Watch journalism excellence awards for her work reducing violence against women and children. She is also the founder of The RED HEART Campaign and the creator of the Femicide Australia Map.