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In schools

Schools have an important role to play in addressing the underlying causes of violence against women. Learn more about how violence affects schools, and what you can do to promote respect and equality in your school.


The size of the problem

Violence against women, which can include domestic violence, family violence, intimate partner violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment, affects a large number of Australians, including staff and students at schools.

1 in 3 women have experienced physical violence and 1 in 5 have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.1 A significant number of young people are already experiencing or living with violence: 
  • Young women (18 – 24 years) experience significantly higher rates of physical and sexual violence than women in older age groups.2 
  • Approximately one quarter of sexually active Australian students in years 10, 11 and 12 reported an experience of unwanted sex.3  
  • 61% of women who had experienced violence had children or young people in their care when the violence occurred.4  

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.

How does violence against women and their children affect schools?

Violence against women and their children affects students, but it also affects staff and the culture of the school.

Many school staff have daily experiences of responding to the needs of students who are witnessing violence at home, experiencing violence in their own intimate relationships or who have been a victim of online gendered violence, like non-consensual distribution of a student’s naked image to other students. These incidents have a negative impact on school culture and staff.

Addressing the culture within the school – and creating an environment where female students are respected and valued equally to the male students – will, in the long term, decrease the impact of these incidents on schools.

Similarly, if schools, as workplaces, are not equitable and respectful environments (for example, if there is workplace sexual harassment), there is likely to be a higher level of team conflict and staff turnover, and lower levels of job satisfaction and morale.5 

Such a workplace culture will also have an impact on the whole school (including students) which is why it is important that respectful relationships education doesn’t end at the classroom door. Schools are ‘mini-communities’ where respect and equality can be modelled.

The important role of schools in preventing violence against women by promoting gender equality and respectful relationships 

Schools play a central role in teaching young people what violence against women looks like and how it can be prevented, as well as creating a safe, equal and respectful workplace culture for school staff. Read more about Respectful Relationships Education. 

School communities, including principals, teachers, and parents can help prevent violence by: 

  • Developing a school culture which promotes equality among staff and students.
  • Teaching students the skills to build respectful relationships, as well as recognise and challenge gender stereotypes and violence supportive attitudes.
  • Creating a safe, equal and inclusive school culture for staff and students.
  • Demonstrating appropriate and respectful behaviour to students.

As part of a whole school approach – which provides in-class education, addresses the school culture, policies and procedures, and promotes gender equity within the staffing body through looking at the school as a workplace which is part of a wider community – students will grow into adults who can have relationships that are safe, respectful and equal.

Want to know more?

For research on the essential elements of a good-practice primary prevention program in schools, have a look at this Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) research.

If you’re working at a school on respectful relationships education, the Partners in Prevention (PiP) network is a great resource. PiP runs quarterly network meetings and sends out a monthly email bulletin which contains the most up-to-date information on respectful relationships education research, resources and projects.

The Line website

Recognising and respecting the line can be confusing for young people. They need guidance from people they look up to. People like you.

You can help students have healthy, happy and respectful relationships, and avoid behaviours that frighten, intimidate or diminish others. See more at The Line website.

1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2012
2. ABS, 2012
3. La Trobe, 2013
4. Australian Institute of Family Studies. Childrens exposure to domestic and family violence. Retrieved 2017.
5. VicHealth, 2012