Libby Davies is currently the CEO of White Ribbon Australia, a strong, national organisation playing a leading role in Australia to end men’s violence against women. Educated at Newcastle University followed by postgraduate studies at the University of Sydney, Libby started her working career as a social science teacher before moving into national social policy pursuing her ambition of being part of platforms driving social change. Prior to working at White Ribbon, she held a number of positions including CEO for Family Services Australia, National Director of UnitingCare Australia and Executive Director of the Head Injury Council of Australia (now Brain Injury Australia). In addition to her current role, she is a Director of Lifeline Australia, a member of the NSW Domestic and Family Violence Council, former Chair of UnitingCare NSW.ACT, a member of the NSW Preventing Domestic and Family Violence Social Investment Advisory Group and Ministerial Consultative Roundtable on Prevention of Violence against Women, Victoria.
Libby is a true champion of the campaign to stop violence against women and has turned White Ribbon Australia into a force to be reckoned with. It is now the primary national prevention organisation dedicated to stopping men’s violence against women by changing attitudes and behaviour that results from gender inequality and constructs of masculinity built on male power and privilege.
Libby maintains that key to fighting this global epidemic is the involvement of men. ‘Violence against women will go on unless men are engaged to influence other men,’ she says. White Ribbon currently relies on an outstanding group of male Ambassadors around Australia to play a leadership role in preventing violence against women. They include sportsmen, comedians, politicians (including the Prime Minister and NSW Premier), performers and community members. ‘Women have played a pivotal role in driving the social change agenda, but it is the engagement of men which has been key to the success of White Ribbon’.
White Ribbon, which began in Australia in 2003 as part of UNIFEM (now UN Women), has 75 per cent brand awareness in Australia and reaches over two million Australians through social media despite having only 18 full-time staff. Key to the Campaign’s success is community engagement in prevention, providing the tools to engage and drive change in places critical to achieving and sustaining long term social change.
White Ribbon, is 90% funded by sources other than government, reflecting a community owned grass roots campaign and which has been pivotal to its success. Exemplifying this is the successful ‘Breaking the Silence’ Program in schools. This program is a whole of school approach which equips principals and senior leaders with practical strategies to embed respectful relationship and violence prevention activities in their school. To date over 360 schools have become involved, engaging staff, young people and their communities in this critical primary prevention work. As a former educator she is very encouraged by the capacity of this program to drive measurable social change within school and community.
She is also very proud to have been part of developing and implementing White Ribbon’s Workplace Accreditation Program that is successfully engaging workplaces in prevention. Workplaces are accredited for taking active steps to prevent and respond to violence. Twenty three workplaces have been accredited, a further 90 are undergoing accreditation in 2015 and many more on the waiting list. These organisations range from large corporates such as Telstra, the Royal Australian Navy to small not-for–profit agencies.
Libby says she is solution-focused campaigner for social justice and equality. She has been strongly influenced by her mother, a dux of Fort Street School, who experienced the impact of gender inequality and was obliged to forsake her nursing career when she married.
Libby went to a selective high school and then university before embarking on a diverse career moving through ‘a world of choice’ enabled by the results of two feminist movements that focused on women’s rights and gender equality. Her desire to be part of driving real and lasting change has led to positions of leadership where social advocacy has been key. Her commitment to prevention of violence against women in violence against women was fuelled by a horrific event – the death, as a result of domestic violence, of her daughter’s best friend then aged 8, 23 years ago. ‘This put the issue of men’s violence against women firmly on my radar,’ Libby says.
Libby believes there needs to be greater recognition of the role of men in ending violence against women and respect for the work that has been undertaken in this space. She would like to see more government funding particularly for research into program development and evaluation. She would also like greater acceptance from some feminists of White Ribbon’s achievements in driving gender equality.
As to the future, Libby believes White Ribbon is definitely on the right path to changing the behaviour and attitudes that perpetuate violence. ‘But it is still a young campaign chipping away at a very big iceberg. It will take many hands with many picks over many years to create the change we need. White Ribbon is an innovative, strong and vibrant organisation of which I feel privileged to be a part.’