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​Changing the prevention story

June 24 2016 By Dr Emma Partridge, Our Watch

Developed by Our Watch, VicHealth and ANROWS, Change the story is a world-first framework for the primary prevention of violence against women. This evidence-based guide aims to change the story of violence against women.

In brief:

  • There is consensus in the international research that gender inequality, in both public life and personal relationships, is key to understanding violence against women.
  • Change the story identifies four specific, gendered drivers of violence against women, along with a list of actions that can work to lower the probability of violence against women.
  • A whole-of-population approach to prevention is required that is consistent and comprehensive, and which can reach and engage everyone.
In Australia, one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner. By now, these horrifying murders are all too familiar. But these extreme cases of physical violence are just a small part of the bigger story, the tip of a much larger and much less visible iceberg. Hundreds of thousands more women are physically and psychologically harmed by men’s violence, threats and controlling behaviour. Many suffer long-term trauma and other harmful impacts on their health, wellbeing and life chances. Many live in fear.

But violence against women is not inevitable. Rather, it is driven by a series of complex and entrenched but changeable social and environmental factors. In other words, violence against women is preventable. We can change this terrible story. A new national framework shows how.

A framework for prevention Change the story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia was developed by Our Watch, the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) and Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS). It follows, and builds upon, the 2007 VicHealth framework, which will be familiar to many Victorian readers, but updates and develops this initial work significantly, and lifts the focus to a national level.

The framework draws upon the latest international evidence on what drives violence against women and what works to prevent it. It is also informed by national consultations undertaken by Our Watch in 2015 involving over 400 stakeholders from across civil society and all levels of government. Change the story uses this research and practice expertise to demonstrate how, by working together, we can create an Australia where women live free from violence. The framework supports a coordinated approach to policy and programming across jurisdictions and sectors. It also aims to improve the effectiveness of initiatives and guide the allocation of resources, by articulating principles of good practice and promoting successful strategies. It provides evidence and guidance to assist diverse stakeholders to develop appropriate policies, strategies and programs as part of a consistent, coordinated national prevention effort. 

Although there is no single cause of violence against women, Change the story points to substantial evidence that the heart of the problem is gender inequality, in both public life and personal relationships.

Indeed, there is now consensus in the international research that examining the way in which gender relations are structured is key to understanding violence against women. Studies by the United Nations, European Commission, World Bank and World Health Organisation all locate the underlying cause of, or necessary conditions for, violence against women in the social context of gender inequality.

Gender inequality is a social condition characterised by unequal value afforded to men and women and an unequal distribution of power, resources and opportunity between them. It often results from, or has historical roots in, laws or policies formally constraining the rights and opportunities of women, and is maintained and perpetuated today through formal and informal structures, social norms and practices that continue to organise and reinforce an unequal distribution of economic, social and political power and resources between women and men. Gender inequality is also reinforced and maintained through more informal mechanisms, including social and cultural norms and beliefs about men and women, girls and boys, masculinity and femininity.

Gendered drivers of violence against women

Within this broader context, Change the story identifies four specific, gendered drivers of violence against women. These factors are the most consistent predictors of violence against women, and explain its gendered patterns. The four gendered drivers outlined in the framework are:
  • Condoning violence against women, particularly by excusing or trivialising it, or ‘blaming the victim’.
  • Men’s control of decision-making, and limits to women’s independence in public life and relationships.
  • Rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity.
  • Male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women.
Change the story makes it clear we can’t just focus on violence itself, because violence against women is a symptom of a deeper problem—it is more likely to occur where gender inequality is ingrained in social and cultural norms, structures and practices. To prevent this violence we must therefore change the bigger story behind it. We must challenge the social, political and economic structures, practices and systems that have created gender inequality, and the social and cultural norms, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that continue to support and normalise it. The framework shows that to end violence against women we need to work towards social transformation. To this end, it outlines a series of essential actions to address these gendered drivers.

While gender inequality is key, Change the story stresses that it must always be considered in the context of other forms of discrimination and disadvantage, and that a range of other ‘reinforcing factors’ can interact with the gendered drivers to exacerbate or increase the severity of violence against women in some cases. Change the story outlines a range of supporting actions that can be taken to address these ‘reinforcing factors’—from alcohol used in ways that weaken people’s positive behaviours, to the exposure to, or normalisation of, other kinds of violence in society.

The essential and supporting actions that will in turn address the gendered drivers and reinforcing factors are illustrated in Figure 5.

Consistent, integrated and evidence-based

The framework provides evidence-based guidance to government, organisations and communities on how to prevent violence against women. It outlines a strategic approach that will provide effective leadership, coordination, resourcing and support for prevention efforts across Australia. It calls for complementary initiatives that engage people throughout their life course, and in the different settings in which they live, work, learn, socialise and play; including schools and other education institutions, sporting, social and leisure spaces, workplaces, the media, popular culture, advertising and entertainment, faith-based contexts, and transport and public spaces. It calls for a whole-of-population approach that reaches everyone, everywhere. It also points out that prevention activities should reinforce each other. For example, best-practice respectful relationships education programs are those that involve the whole school, engaging not just students, but teachers, staff and the wider school community in conversations about gender equality, respect and non-violence. These can then be reinforced by other programs, such as through sporting clubs or social media. Similarly, adults should also be engaged in multiple ways—in workplaces, communities, and social spaces. Our media, popular culture, policy and legislation should all support and reinforce the aim of gender equality.

It is this kind of consistent, comprehensive approach, which reaches and engages everyone, that is needed to prevent violence against women in Australia. A one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to be effective; prevention efforts must be tailored to the diverse contexts of people’s lives. Greater effort and resources are required for groups affected by multiple forms of discrimination and disadvantage, or who experience the cumulative impact of many negative factors—particularly, for example, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


Small steps can make a significant difference. Research by Cadilhac et al (2009) shows that, if we reduced the prevalence of intimate partner violence in Australia (affecting 27 per cent of women across their lifetime) to that of Denmark (22 per cent), this small 5 per cent reduction would prevent 6,000 new cases of violence-related injury, illness and disability, and save many millions of dollars in health sector and productivity costs.

Change the story is the first of its kind in the world; the first time any country has outlined a consistent and integrated national approach to prevent violence against women. With it, Australia is poised to lead the world by demonstrating the kind of nationwide, cultural and structural change necessary to forever change the story of violence against women.

Our Watch is currently undertaking a number of complementary projects to support the framework, including the development of:
  • A guide to prevention monitoring at the national level.
  • A practical ‘how-to’ guide to implementation and evaluation for existing and emerging prevention practitioners in multiple settings.
  • A separate resource focused on the prevention of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.


Cadilhac, DA, Magnus, A, Cumming, T, Sheppard, L, Pearce, D & Carter, R (2009) The Health and Economic Benefits of Reducing Disease Risk Factors—Research report, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne.

Find out more about Change the story here, along with two Foundations papers summarising the background research and consultation undertaken to inform the framework, a short video illustrating the link between gender inequality and violence against women, and a number of other resources. The framework partners encourage the wide use and distribution of all these resources, and the use and reproduction of images, diagrams and text (with appropriate acknowledgement).

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2016 edition of Advocate by Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria (DVRCV).