Interview: Tracey Egan from WHISE

Words by: Emily Schofield-Cox

With a greater governmental and societal focus on violence against women, and domestic violence in general, the work that a not-for-profit women’s agency in Melbourne has been doing is pretty amazing and great for the times. Women’s Health in the South East has recently gained national attention through Clementine Ford’s sharing of one popular aspect of their campaign: a coffee mug distributed in a number of different coffee shops around Melbourne that reads Why doesn’t she leave? Why doesn’t he stop? No excuses.” They are doing fantastic work that allows people to start an open and honest dialogue about a problem that usually accompanies silence.


I recently got to speak to Tracey Egan, the Health Promotion Officer at WHISE, about the work they are doing to combat domestic violence and curb the way people think and talk about it.

What does Women’s Health in the South East do?

Women’s Health in the South East (WHISE) is a not-for-profit women’s health service for the Southern Metropolitan region of Melbourne.

This project was completed by the Southern Melbourne Integrated Family Violence Partnership Network (SMIFVPN) which is a collaboration of local organisations across the Greater Dandenong, Casey and Cardinia regions which work together to roll out the Government family violence reform agenda: Victoria’s Action Plan to Address Violence against Women and Children. WHISE is a part of this Network and they had a 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence working group formed from this larger partnership.

So what does the campaign that WHISE have been undertaking entail?

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is a global campaign to raise awareness about the prevalence of violence against women and the impact on their physical, psychological, social wellbeing and economic security. It is not a single event in any one location but many local, regional, national and international initiatives aimed at uniting us all to end violence against women. The Campaign starts on November 25th – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and finishes on December 10th – International Human Rights Day.

As part of the 16 Days of Activism working group, the Southern Melbourne Integrated Family Violence Partnership undertook a number of activities which are listed below:

1. Key Messages on Posters:  In collaboration with the Partnership and DVVic, three key messages were developed for this year’s 16 Days of Activism campaign. These messages are:

  • All things being equal, there would be no violence against women.
  • Human Rights are Women’s Rights too.
  • Why doesn’t she leave? Why doesn’t he stop? No excuses.

These messages were printed on A1, A2 and A3 size posters and disseminated throughout the region including services, councils, and community centres.

2. Coffee cup campaign: 7 local Cafes in Dandenong participated in 16 Days of Activism this year by using our coffee cups that had the key message ‘Why doesn’t she leave? Why doesn’t he stop? No excuses’ printed on them. The key message was printed on 3,000 takeaway coffee cups. Support information, posters and resources were provided to each of the participating cafes.

3. Story Time at Libraries: We engaged the local libraries in the Greater Dandenong, Casey and Cardinia councils by donating picture books that challenge gender stereotypes. These books provided an excellent opportunity to explore and contest the traditional expectations society holds for boys and girls. These books were read in approximately 10 story time sessions. An example is: My Princess Boy and Belinda the Ninja Ballerina.

4. Social Media Campaign: A social media campaign was developed for organisations to implement during the 16 Days (25th November – 10th December). This provided consistent messaging suited to a number of different platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and Email). It also included a ThunderClap with the key message Human Rights are Women’s Rights too by reaching 140 supporters and over 40,000 social reach. By having an online reach it will reach those that can’t attend other events and assist with having consistent messaging around PVAW.

5. Social Media Toolkit: This toolkit assisted organisations to implement an effective social media campaign utilising messaging on prevention of violence against women. The toolbox provided a range of materials which was delivered using a variety of mediums (Facebook, instagram, twitter and via email) during the 16 day period (Nov 25 to Dec 10). The social media toolkit can be accessed here:

6. Community Stall:  4 December 2015: A community stall was held at the Dandenong Market on the Dec 4.  It included the delivery of key messages using a variety of visual and interactive materials promoting gender equity and the prevention of violence against women.  These included engaging the community to participate in some artwork, and also receiving a tote bag and balloons with the key message ‘Human Rights are Women’s Rights too’ printed on them and information about the campaign.

7. T Light Candles: Battery operated T light candles were provided to 50 local services in the region to be put on their reception desks. The candles also had a small card next to it explaining 16 Days of Activism and stating our three key messages for the campaign. This initiative reached a large number of clients and community members who were required to check in at the reception desk of different services for appointments and meetings.

The message being distilled by the organisation through this campaign is fantastic. What was the inspiration to do them through the cups?

A WHISE colleague had seen that Road to Refuge, (a volunteer, not-for-profit organisation that that runs community education events, workshops and other platforms about asylum seekers and refugees in Australia) had done a similar project for refugee week  earlier this year where they stamped a number of takeaway coffee cups with Take a Road to Refuge  message for a number of local Inner-Melbourne Cafes.

After reading some articles about successful the campaign was, we asked the organisers if we could do something similar for 16 Days of Activism.

After coming up with our three messages for the campaign we thought that the message ‘Why doesn’t she leave? Why doesn’t he stop? No excuses’ is the one message that would get people thinking while they have their morning coffee. We had enough funds to order 3,000 printed coffee cups and distributed them to 7 cafes across the Dandenong area.

Clementine Ford shared a picture of one of the cups to her Facebook group, which made the message further reaching. Have you had a lot of feedback on them, and the campaign as a whole?

With Clementine Ford sharing the picture, it increased our reach on social media dramatically. The WHISE Facebook alone doubled in Followers as well as all the likes and comments on the Photo shared by Clementine Ford were overwhelming. It definitely got the discussion going about this issue.

The SMIFVN also went around to all the cafes late last week to help inform our evaluation of the project. They were all really pleased to have been involved in the campaign and said that they ran out of the cups within 2-5 days. There was no negative comments or feedback by customers and there was a poster explaining the 16 Days campaign and also support information available in each of the campaigns if required. Some of the comments by customers included that they were amazed with the campaign and were very happy that the SMIFVN was trying an innovative approach to prevent violence against women. Other customers wanted to donate their coffee change to the campaign. A few other comments included that they were surprised that promoting key messages on coffee cups hadn’t been done before in the South East region and thought that more organisations should do it to promote important messages.

How do you think people can send these messages about domestic violence within their own local communities?

One of the main successes of the campaign was that we were reaching the wider community with our message as majority of individuals order their morning coffee. It also gave customers something to think about while they sat their drinking their coffee and trying to shift their attitude on the myth of violence against women. Some customers took the coffee back to their work place where another conversation followed.  The coffee cups also stimulated  dialogue and debate on one of the local council’s Facebook page. Social marketing is useful for raising awareness and knowledge. However,  everyone has a role in preventing violence against women by challenging the beliefs and behaviours that excuse, justify or justify violence and inequality. If someone makes a sexist comment or joke, it’s important to speak up and challenge behaviours and attitudes that have an impact on violence and inequality.  Everyone has a role in preventing violence against women.

The work that WHISE is doing is pretty amazing, and gets the message out to people who normally avoid thinking and talking about such confronting, complex issues. I personally can’t wait for this kind of initiative to take hold in Perth and for the conversation to start with gusto here. In the meantime, smaller organisations like WHISE are creating a safe haven for victims of abuse and working to make their lives easier. They are a fantastic organisation and well worth your support.