November 25 is the International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women – not White Ribbon Day

November 25th was first chosen as the date for an annual day of protest of male violence in 1981. This occurred at the first Feminist Conference for Latin American and Caribbean Women in Bogota. It was chosen in memory of Patria, Maria Teresa and Minerva Mirabel.

The Mirabel sisters were political activists who fought the fascist government of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. They stood up to a genocidal regime that used torture, rape and kidnapping and they were murdered for it. This is why November 25th was chosen as an international day of activism that “denounced all forms men’s violence against women from domestic violence, rape and sexual harassment to state violence including torture and abuse of women political prisoners.”

November 25th received official recognition as an international day to raise awareness of violence against women from United Nations on December 17, 1999.

None of this information is out with the public realm. Even Wikipedia, not known for its accuracy, manages to get the facts right. Yet, November 25th is rarely referred to as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women anymore. Instead, it is called White Ribbon day after a campaign started by men in Canada.

The origins of the White Ribbon campaign are important. It was created by pro-feminist men in 1991 in response to the massacre of women at the Polytechnique in Montreal on December 6 1989. A man killed 14 women because they were women. Men stood up to take responsibility for men’s violence. We need men to take responsibility for the violence they perpetuate and perpetrate.

Yet, somehow, White Ribbon no longer occurs on December 6th (although still recognised in Canada as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women). Now, White Ribbon day is November 25th – a day started by women of colour in Latin American and the Caribbean about the murder of 3 women in the Dominican Republic.

As Karen Ingala Smith points out, there is something extremely questionable about an event created by white men eclipsing a day of action and remembrance created by women of colour. It is quite surprising just how many men involved in the White Ribbon campaign don’t know the origins or the actual date of their own campaign. One even ran a panel at Feminism in London and looked shocked that no women’s organisation had raised the issue before. The fact that men just hadn’t been listening (or bothered to google) didn’t seem to occur to him.

White Ribbon Day is December 6th. Co-opting a day celebrating the activism and work of women to make it all about the men – and check out this comment from a white ribbon ‘supporter’ – isn’t about men taking responsibility for their role in supporting a global war against women. It’s about being seen to be doing something.

These are the names of the women murdered at the Polytechnique:

  • Geneviève Bergeron
  • Hélène Colgan
  • Nathalie Croteau
  • Barbara Daigneault
  • Anne-Marie Edward
  • Maud Haviernick
  • Maryse Laganière
  • Maryse Leclair
  • Anne-Marie Lemay
  • Sonia Pelletier
  • Michèle Richard
  • Annie St-Arneault
  • Annie Turcotte
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz

The anniversary of their massacre deserves to be remembered. Their names deserve to be remembered – as do the names of Patria, Maria Teresa and Minerva Mirabel. We need to remember all the women who are raped, tortured, abused, and killed by men. And, we need to remember all the women who stood up and said enough.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women isn’t about men. Speaking over and erasing women’s activism isn’t proof that men are committed to ending violence against women and girls. It’s just the opposite.

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