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Women and girls, like men and boys, have a role to play in promoting gender equality and challenging gender stereotypes.
Photo of Indigenous woman smiling.

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.
Two women smiling.

Some people think factors like financial pressure, unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse explain why men are violent towards women and their children. 

While it is true that these factors may be present in some situations, it doesn’t explain the whole story. 

Not all people who are unemployed or abuse alcohol are violent, and many people who are employed or do not abuse alcohol are violent.

The common element in incidents of violence against women is the belief that men should control and hold power over women. 

This control can take many forms including physical, sexual, psychological and financial. For more facts and figures around this, please go to Understanding violence (What’s happening in Australia).

To prevent violence against women, we have to challenge the beliefs and behaviours that excuse, justify or condone violence and inequality.

​How can you prevent violence?

  • If you see or hear something sexist – whether it’s an ad or something a friend has said – say so. You’re probably not the only one who thinks it’s wrong. Get comfortable with speaking out against things that are sexist or degrading.
  • If you hear someone blaming a victim of sexual assault by asking: “What was she wearing?” or “Was she drunk?” tell them that those kinds of questions contribute to a society that excuses violence against women.
  • If you think someone is being controlling towards their partner, like stopping them from seeing friends or family, calling them at work excessively, withholding money, tell the victim you’ve noticed and ask what you can do to help. 
  • If a friend, family member or colleague tells you she's experienced violence the most important thing you can do is listen to her, believe her and make sure she knows you're there to support her.
  • If you experience sexual harassment at work, like suggestive jokes, explicit emails, staring, intrusive questions about your personal life, or unwanted requests for sex, report it to your manager. 
  • Talk to the people in your life about your commitment to preventing violence against women and their children and encourage them to say yes to gender equality.