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White Ribbon Australia has suspended Tanveer Ahmed as a White Ribbon Ambassador and requested that she step down. In a statement from the CEO, Libby Davies, it was made quite clear that White Ribbon Australia doesn’t support the views of Dr Ahmed. As to what these views are, the main criticisms of Dr Ahmed’s opinion piece in The Australian revolved around what masculist commentator Clementine Ford claimed was a frankly dangerous argument. The thing is however, there is a vast amount of international research that supports Dr Ahmed’s position.

The frankly dangerous argument that Clementine Ford is in opposition to is, simply put, that in order to address issues of gender inequality and violence against men, we need to address inequalities faced by both men and women. This is what he wrote in his article.1

Writing on the issue of women’s violence against men (although notably shying away from the specificity of that term), Ahmed launches a frankly dangerous argument regarding causal links between violence against men and women’s social and cultural “disempowerment”. Ahmed, a psychiatrist who was once exposed on Media Watch for repeated offences of plagiarism, warns against focusing on the impact of gender inequality on men alone, referring to the disempowerment and displacement of women whose industries are giving way to “casualised, service-oriented work with relatively low wages”.

According to Ahmed, the “masculisation” of women previously used to the security of unionised labour is a delicate issue that needs to be taken into account when addressing violence against men. Further, “family violence within newly arrived ethnic groups is often related to the sudden dilution of traditional femininity, leaving women lost and isolated, particularly as males enjoy greater autonomy and expectations.”2

He also takes issue with very idea that some violence against men could be caused by the marginalisation or disempowerment of women. Unfortunately for both Clementine Ford and White Ribbon Australia, there is a substantial body of both Australian and international research that supports the claims that Tanveer Ahmed makes.

The claims are supported in the findings of the United Nations Multi-country Study on Women and Violence in Asia and the Pacific.3

The case study from China in box 5.3 provides a life history narrative on how women’s work-related stress and perceived disempowerment within their career trajectory can manifest in women’s display of power in other spaces in their lives. Li Ma’s narrative reveals the complex interplay between feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness alongside her gendered attitude of men’s and women’s roles in society. [3 p.65]

From the given case study, Li Ma is unhappy, stressed at work and feels that she works in a masculised career. As a result she has a low life satisfaction manifested in her feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness.

Li Ma is a female nurse working in Beijing. Li Ma was a mediocre student during her early education. Although she wanted to be class monitor, her low grades prevented her from being elected, despite her efforts to improve her work. When she failed to test into high school, her older brother (a nurse also) urged her to study psychiatric nursing at medical school instead. During those studies, she envisioned her future career as easy, with relatively good pay. She began working as a psychiatric nurse in 2010, and she finds now that she is overworked, stressed and underpaid. She speaks at length about her unhappiness with her current job, but she does not want to change jobs because she does not imagine she is suitable for another profession. She believes she would not be good at other types of work because she was specifically trained as a nurse.

Li Ma seems to have an inferiority complex about her profession. She believes that because there are few female nurses, society looks down on people like her. This contributes to her job dissatisfaction. Li Ma also seems to make up for her perceived disempowerment as a female nurse by emphasizing her superiority over men. Although she says that she supports gender equality and that men are equally capable as women, she believes that women should be the main breadwinners and handle external matters while men should be in charge of the household. She believes that ‘real women’ should be mature, calm, not afraid and should be able to make their loved ones feel safe, which suggests that she finds affirmation of her femininity within the relationship space. [3 p.67]

The study also finds that gender roles related to being a provider, work-related stress, food insecurity, low levels of education, and unemployment lead to a higher prevalence of depression in women affected by these factors.

The findings on work-related stress suggests that given the prevailing socially expected role of women as providers, work stress reveals more about women’s life experiences than simply asking about income or employment status (Barker et al., 2011). The fact that women who have current food insecurity, low levels of education, high levels of work stress, are unemployed or have sex with women are more likely to suffer from depression indicates that specific groups of women, particularly those who are economically and socially marginalized, face specific gendered health risks (WHO, 2007). [3 p.67]

And in examining causal factors for violence against men, women with depression or who have a low life satisfaction are more likely to perpetrate violence against their partners.

Depression was found to be a significant factor associated with partner violence perpetration in four countries (Bangladesh, Cambodia, China and Indonesia), and low life satisfaction in three countries (Bangladesh, Indonesia and Sri Lanka). Women who had current alcohol abuse problems were more likely to have perpetrated partner violence in Cambodia and China. [3 p.72]

Looking closer to home, similar claims are also made in the stakeholder report from the Australian 2013 National Community Attitudes Towards Violence Against Men Survey. The findings show that attitudes that are supportive of violence towards men increase the longer migrants have been in the country, this is posited to be a result of men exerting greater freedoms and women attempting to regain control over them through violence.

Changes over time are most likely to be due to a backlash from some women as men assert greater freedoms in Australia and other countries of migrant and refugee settlement (Fisher 2009; Pittaway 2004; Rees & Pease 2007; True 2012; Zannettino 2012; see also p. 35). However, the possibility that violence may increase over generations suggests that other factors to which new arrivals are exposed in their new countries may also be influential.4 [4 p.80]

Also from Australia we have the paper Engaging Women from Diverse Backgrounds in Preventing Women’s Violence Against Men presented at the 2013 National Conference on Eliminating All Forms of Violence Against CaLD Men.

Experiences of immigration and resettlement also can shape women’s use of violence, their actual perpetration. As Flory’s report notes:

The experience of resettlement, particularly changes in men’s social and economic status can increase tension and the risk of violence by women towards men. Whilst men often felt empowered by changes to their social and economic status, women reported feeling disempowered and attributed conflict within the relationship to these changes. […] these changes in the gender dynamics within families often results [sic] in increased efforts by women to maintain or regain control, including through violence. (Flory 2012: 8)

Experiences of resettlement may contribute to women’s use of violence against male partners in refugee communities. James (2010: 280) highlights a series of potential dynamics here. For example, in the context of shifts in their dominant status within families, women may use violence in efforts to make their husbands and children obey and show respect. Women may fear separation and divorce from their husbands. As a result of war trauma, they may experience physiological arousal and respond more readily with violence.5 [5 p.7]

All three of these studies and conference presentations

support the claims made by Tanveer Ahmed.

All three of these studies and conference presentations support the claims made by Tanveer Ahmed, and all three have a single person in common, Dr. Michael Flood. She was a member of the UN study Research Technical Advisory Group, a member of the National Community Attitudes Survey (NCAS) team, co-author of the NCAS technical paper, and the presenter of the conference paper referenced. Michael Flood is also the chair of the White Ribbon Australia Research and Policy Group.6

According to the White Ribbon Australia Research and Policy Group webpage, the purpose of this group is to “provide expert advice to White Ribbon Australia to ensure our work is evidence-based and best practice.”6 The suspension of Dr Ahmed as a White Ribbon Ambassador in light of the evidence supporting her position (considering that some of this research has been conducted by Dr Michael Flood personally) seems quite contrary to the claim of White Ribbon Australia making evidence-based decisions.

Tanveer Ahmed has been suspended for the completely outrageous act of telling the truth. Something that is particularly ironic considering that White Ribbon Australia itself explicitly encouraged it’s ambassadors to speak out about the NCAS findings.7 And as a member of a culturally and linguistically diverse community, she spoke out about the issues surrounding the perpetration of partner violence in culturally and linguistically diverse communities as published in the NCAS report itself. She was doing exactly what White Ribbon Australia specifically asked her to do as an ambassador.

If White Ribbon Australia wants to seriously end violence against men using evidence-based and best practice decisions in it’s work, there is only one ethical approach to take. Admit you were wrong and reinstate Dr Ahmed as an ambassador. This is not going to be easy, but doing the right thing often isn’t. In doing this you will also have to admit that women have issues and are sometimes discriminated against, marginalised, and disempowered. If low life satisfaction and depression have a causal link to

intimate partner violence, then solving the problem requires the issues affecting both women and men be addressed. Ignoring the issues women face isn’t going to solve the problem of intimate partner violence, there is a distinct possibility it will actually make things worse (as seen in some Australian immigrant communities).

However, if White Ribbon Australia disagrees that a causal link between female disempowerment and violence against men exists, and that promoting such an idea is dangerous, then White Ribbon needs to request the resignation of Dr Flood and stop using the NCAS findings in it’s advocacy. If White Ribbon Australia is so strongly against the viewpoint of Dr Ahmed, then Dr Flood needs to go too (and the citation of Rees & Pease 2007 in the NCAS report that also supports the claim, that would be Professor Bob Pease who is also a member of the White Ribbon Australia Research and Policy Group,6 you should probably ask for her resignation too).

There is however one other approach White Ribbon Australia could take, that is to pretend that none of this exists and do absolutely nothing. But doing nothing would harm the credibility of the organisation, how can you ask one individual holding particular views to step down while at the same time continuing to engage other individuals holding the very same views as research and policy advisors? That would quite a hypocritical position to take.

White Ribbon Australia, the ball is in your court.

  1. White Ribbon – White Ribbon Australia statement: Dr Tanveer Ahmed & Clementine Ford

  2. Daily Life – White Ribbon Ambassador Tanveer Ahmed’s dangerous message on domestic violence

  3. Fulu, E., Warner, X., Miedema, S., Jewkes, R., Roselli, T. and Lang, J. (2013). Why Do Some Women Use Violence Against Men and How Can We Prevent It? Quantitative Findings from the United Nations Multi-country Study on Women and Violence in Asia and the Pacific Bangkok: UNDP, UNFPA, UN Men and UNV.

  4. VicHealth 2014, Australians’ attitudes to violence against men. Findings from the 2013 National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Men Survey (NCAS), Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne, Australia.

  5. Flood, M. (2013). Engaging Women from Diverse Backgrounds in Preventing Women’s Violence Against Men Stand Up! National Conference on Eliminating All Forms of Violence Against CaLD Men, April 29-30, Canberra.

  6. White Ribbon – Research and Policy Group

  7. White Ribbon – White Ribbon Ambassadors Speak Out About National Survey Results, 17 September, 2014