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Parents & caregivers

Parents and carers are key sources of information for their children and can promote positive messages and modelling about issues like respect, equality, gender, consent and violence. 

A father and a daughter making a bed together. Teaching children how to have equal and respectful relationships and how to challenge harmful gender stereotypes will have a long lasting, positive impact on the prevalence of violence against women in Australia.

Young people are, from an early age, exposed to harmful messages, attitudes and behaviours that can support violence and stereotype men and women. Many young people witness violence at home, and may experience or even perpetrate violence in their own intimate relationships. 

Exposure to negative messages, attitudes and behaviours related to gender, consent and violence means that some young people accept violence as normal in their daily lives. This can take the form of victim-blaming or thinking that some violent acts are not serious. 

Compared to the rest of the population, young people aged 16 – 24:
  • are less likely to understand the dynamics of violence against women
  • are less likely to reject violence supportive attitudes
  • are more likely to hold attitudes that support men having greater power than women in relationships.1

A mother and a daughter

What drives violence against women?

Violence against women is serious and prevalent. It is primarily driven by gender inequality, and reinforced or exacerbated by a number of other factors. 
Gender inequality is a situation in which women and men do not have equal power, resources or opportunities, and that their voices, ideas and work are not valued equally by society. 

Gender inequality provides the underlying social conditions for violence against women. It operates at many levels – from social and cultural norms (the dominant ideas about men and women in a society), to economic structures (such as the pay gap between men and women), to organisational, community, family and relationship practices. 

This broad social context of gender inequality produces a number of specific gendered drivers of violence against women. The strongest of these are:

  • Condoning of violence against women – for example, the idea that it is excusable for men to use violence in certain circumstances, that they cannot always be held responsible, or that some kinds of violence (such as sexual harassment) are not serious.
  • Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence in public life and relationships – for example, the idea that men should be the head of the household and decide how money is spent.
  • Rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity – the idea that women and men and girls and boys should act in certain ways or fulfill certain roles.
  • Disrespect towards women and male peer relations that emphasise aggression – for example, the way some groups of men ‘bond’ or seek to prove their ‘manhood’ or ‘masculinity’ through actions that are disrespectful, hostile or aggressive towards women.

While the broad social context of gender inequality provides the underlying conditions and drivers of violence against women, a number of reinforcing factors can contribute to or exacerbate this violence. These include:

  • The condoning of violence in general, which sees violence normalised or valorised as an expression of masculinity.
  • Experience of or exposure to violence (such as in childhood, or in communities with high levels of violence).
  • Situations in which the social norms associated with alcohol use weaken positive social behavior (for example drinking cultures that emphasise male conquest and aggression and social norms and attitudes that position men’s drinking as an excuse for violence, or women’s drinking as a form of victim blaming).
  • Socio-economic inequality and discrimination.
  • The ‘backlash’ that sometimes comes from men when their existing male privilege or status is challenged.

Violence against women is preventable, but such a significant social problem needs a large scale response, and we must all work together to achieve the social transformation required.

To prevent violence against women we need to promote gender equality in public and private life, particularly through the following actions:

  • Challenge condoning of violence against women.
  • Promote women’s independence and decision-making in public life and relationships.
  • Challenge gender stereotypes and roles.
  • Strengthen positive, equal and respectful relationships between and among women and men, girls and boys.

Prevention efforts will be strengthened if these essential actions are supported by actions address the reinforcing factors, such as:

  • Challenging the normalisation of violence as an expression of masculinity or male dominance.
  • Preventing exposure to violence and supporting those affected to reduce its consequences.
  • Addressing social norms relating to alcohol particularly by challenging drinking cultures that emphasise male conquest and aggression or excuse men’s violence.
  • Reducing backlash by developing positive ways to engage men and boys in gender equality, building relationship skills and social connection and challenging restrictive and rigid gender roles and identities for both men and women.

What can you do as a parent?

  • Educate yourself about the warning signs of violence in young people’s relationships.
  • Show your children both male and female role models who are succeeding in non-traditional careers.
  • Model equality at home and in your own relationship – make sure your child sees you talking through problems in an open and respectful way and sharing jobs at home equally.
  • Try not to reinforce gender stereotypes when you talk to your child about things around them – ask yourself, would I say the same thing to her if she was a boy (or to him if he was a girl)?

1. Download the report Young Australians’ attitudes to violence against women: Findings from the 2013 National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Survey for respondents 16–24 years from VicHealth, 2014.