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​Change the story: Questions and answers

What is the framework? What will it do?
Change the story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia is the first of its kind in the world. It outlines a consistent and integrated national approach to prevent violence against women and their children. 

Change the story brings together the international research, and nationwide experience, on what works to prevent violence against women and children. Rather than prescribe specific actions, it presents a shared understanding of the evidence and principles of effective prevention, and provides a guide to assist governments and other stakeholders to develop their own appropriate policies, strategies and programs to prevent violence against women.

Why do we need a framework? What will it change?
Governments, organisations and communities have been working to prevent violence against women and their children for many years. Until now, that work has been limited to one-off initiatives or place-based projects, often with time-limited funding. 

To end violence, we need to reach everyone, everywhere, with activities that reinforce each other over time. Change the story shows how to design and stage activities so they have maximum reach, and are sustainable over the long term, creating effective and lasting change.

Who will use it?
Change the story provides evidence-based guidance for governments, civil society, the private sector, and communities, and any other organisation involved in:
  • developing policy and legislation on prevention and gender equality
  • designing, coordinating, implementing and evaluating prevention strategies, programs and activities
  • advocating for the prevention of violence against women. 

Who had input into it?
Change the story is informed by extensive consultations with more than 400 diverse stakeholders – researchers, practitioners and policy makers – from community and non-government organisations, services and networks, and government agencies at all levels. 

It draws on their ideas, input and feedback, and articulates a shared understanding, approach and vision.
 
The generous input and high level of active engagement that informed the development of  Change the story is a sign of the deep and genuine commitment of so many in the Australian community to address this critical issue.

Does government support the framework?
Change the story was developed as part of a cross-party national political agenda, and contributes to the Second Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022.

National, state and local governments were consulted and provided input to the framework, which was guided by a National Technical Advisory Group that included government members.

Our Watch, ANROWS and VicHealth will be supporting governments at all levels to implement the evidence-based guidance of the framework over the coming years.

Is the framework an official government document?
No – Change the story is not a policy document, but a roadmap for collective action. It presents cutting edge international research and a shared framework for action that has been agreed by stakeholders across the country: both government and non-government organisations.

Change the story is designed to remain relevant, through changes of government, for years to come. 

That being said, governments have the opportunity to show their commitment and leadership to ending violence against women by endorsing, and, more importantly, implementing, the framework through their own policies.

What causes violence against women?
There is no single cause of violence against women. But current international evidence tells us that it is more likely to occur where gender inequality is ingrained in social, cultural and organisational structures and practices.

According to this evidence, higher levels of violence against women is most commonly expressed through:
  • Social norms (attitudes, beliefs) and institutional practices that excuse, justify or tolerate violence against women.
  • Men’s control of decision making in relationships and public life, and limits to women’s economic and social independence.
  • Rigid and stereotypical gender roles and identities.
  • Male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women.
Gender inequality is always influential as a driver of violence against women, but it is not experienced in the same way by every woman. Other forms of social, political and economic inequalities can affect how gender inequality is expressed.

In some cases, the severity or frequency of violence can be increased by other factors that reinforce gender inequality, although none of these factors predict or drive violence against women on their own.

What is the evidence proving gender inequality causes violence against women?
There is a strong and consistent association in the international evidence between gender inequality and levels of violence against women.

Most recently, a 2015 study in medical journal The Lancet found factors relating to gender inequality predict the prevalence of intimate partner violence across 44 countries.1 A United Nations review found significantly and consistently higher rates of violence against women in countries where women’s economic, social and political rights are poorly protected, and where power and resources are unequally distributed between men and women.2 This is true on the broad social scale, but also within intimate relationships, where male dominance and control of wealth is a significant predictor of higher levels of violence against women.3

Gender inequality isn’t only expressed through imbalances in economic or political power and rights – it’s also found in individual and community beliefs about what men and women are like, and how they are ‘supposed’ to behave. 

World Health Organisation research has found individuals (both men and women) who don’t believe men and women are equal, and/or see them as having specific roles or characteristics, were also more likely to condone, tolerate or excuse violence against women. 

Australian research has confirmed the most consistent predictor for support of violence against women by men is their agreement with sexist, patriarchal and/or sexually hostile attitudes.4
 
Is gender equality and changing roles for women in our society leading to violence?
On the contrary – increasing gender equality is the only way we will sustainably reduce violence. It means creating more positive and respectful relationships between men and women, equalising decision-making, and promoting independent personal identities that are not constrained by stereotypical ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman. 

What role does alcohol/socio-economic status/mental health/drugs play in violence against women?
These are a number of reinforcing factors that don’t predict or drive violence on their own, however they may increase the likelihood of violence against women among people who already hold low support for gender equality, and have violence-supportive attitudes.

Harmful use of alcohol is one reinforcing factor, but alcohol itself does not drive violence against women. Not all people who drink are violent, and many people who do not drink are violent. However, in cultures that emphasise harmful gender stereotypes – such as male conquest and aggression – alcohol has contributed to the increased occurrence or severity of violence.

Research is limited on the impact of other drugs on violence against women, however it’s possible certain drugs could have a similar effect to alcohol. 

Socio-economic factors themselves do not drive violence against women. However if these factors reinforce or worsen existing gender inequalities, they can become useful in predicting the probability of violence against women. For example, women who have particularly limited access to wealth and resources may find themselves financially dependent on their partner and therefore restricted when making choices about if or when to leave an abusive partner. 

Do sexist jokes lead to violence against women?
A sexist attitude is the most consistent predictor for a man’s support of violence.5 Sexist jokes reflect and reinforce sexist attitudes. They excuse and perpetuate the gender stereotyping and discrimination against women that underpins violence. Sexist jokes may seem ‘harmless’ or ‘just a bit of fun’, however they are based in disrespect for women and are ultimately a way of expressing a belief that women are not equal to men. 

Is violence against women really preventable?
Violence against women and their children is definitely preventable.

By drawing on Change the story as our roadmap, it is possible to create a future without violence against women and their children.

To build a future without violence, we now know we must change the gender inequalities that drive violence against women. We must also address the role that the reinforcing factors play in exacerbating these inequalities. 

The drivers of violence against women are both simple and complex. What Change the story makes clear is Australia can choose a future where women and their children live free from violence. But to do so, we must challenge the historically-entrenched beliefs and behaviours that have put gender inequality firmly in place, and the social, political and economic structures, practices and systems that support it. 

Other harmful behaviours, like dangerous driving and smoking, have been reduced by applying these methods – we can do the same for violence against women.

What works to prevent violence against women?
There are many examples of prevention projects that have worked to reduce future violence. 

Just four years after it was implemented, students in the USA’s Safe Dates school program said they experienced up to 92% less physical and sexual dating violence victimisation and perpetration than students who did not participate . 

Prevention projects in Australian schools, workplaces, sporting clubs and other settings have also seen positive changes in attitudes, practices and behaviours.

We know we can’t end violence ‘project by project’. The evidence shows we need to reach everyone, everywhere, with activities that reinforce each other – otherwise the reach of prevention is too limited to achieve social change, and the impact on participants risks being ‘dampened’ over time.

For example, whole school respectful relationships education should be reinforced by programs for young people in sporting clubs and through social media. Adults also need to be engaged in multiple ways - in workplaces, in communities, and in social spaces.

A comprehensive and successful approach would mean every place we live, learn, work and play is inclusive, equitable and safe for all.

What will the future look like?
In an Australia free of violence against women and their children, relationships will be healthier and happier, with decisions between partners made jointly, and independent of stereotypical gender roles and identities. Our public and social spaces will be inclusive, safe, and accessible to everybody. Our schools and workplaces will model and promote non-violence and gender equality.  

We will recognise and understand the gender stereotypes, inequality and disrespect that drive violence against women and their children. We will open doors for conversations about violence with our neighbours, colleagues or friends. We will believe and support women and their children who disclose violence. We will have the courage to speak out against sexism, victim-blaming or justifications for perpetration.
 
How long will this change take?
An Australia where women and their children live free from violence is an achievable long-term goal. It requires challenging the drivers of this violence which are deeply embedded in our culture, society, communities and daily lives. This means change will need to occur across generations, but we will still see key changes along the way.

In the short term, we should see a significantly more support and investment in activities that prevent violence against women and their children. We should also see an increase in the number and range of people, organisations and governments who want to work together to shift the drivers of violence against women and their children.

Is a backlash inevitable as part of this change?
Change is always challenging, and change to deeply held beliefs doubly so. Research has shown a ‘backlash’ effect’ from men who adhere strongly to stereotypical notions of dominant masculinity. These men can react with hostility, aggression and even violence when these are challenged.

There will be groups and individuals within the community who are resistant to supporting the changes required to see an end to violence against women and their children. The so-called ‘men’s rights’ groups are one example. This is to be expected, particularly given that creating an Australia where women and children live free from violence means challenging deeply held beliefs and attitudes about the roles and contributions of women and men – topics which can trigger strong reactions.

This backlash effect’ should not deter us from pursuing a more gender-equal society. We know that challenging harmful gender stereotypes and promoting greater respect and equality between women and men will reduce violence against women and their children. Being aware of this means that we can work together to respond to and manage any backlash. We can draw on the strong evidence base in Change the story to contribute to and encourage informed public discussion.

Non-violent men can help by supporting those working to end violence against women, speaking out against attempts to undermine this effort, challenging backlash and talking about the issue with friends, peers and colleagues.

How much will this cost?
Violence against women and their children is costing the Australian economy an estimated $13.6 billion a year.6 Without appropriate action to address the issue, this figure is expected to rise to $15.6 billion by 2021.

Increased investment in preventing violence against women is necessary. The widespread change required to create an Australia free from violence against women can only happen if multiple, reinforcing, long-term prevention initiatives receive sufficient funding.

While it is critical all levels of government invest in preventing violence against women, it is also fundamental that industries, workplaces, companies, philanthropic organisations and others seek to direct their resources toward prevention initiatives.

Funding shouldn’t only be directed to prevention, but also to further investment in the services and systems which respond to and support women and children experiencing violence.

What about violence against men?
All violence is wrong, regardless of the sex of the victim or perpetrator.

However both sexes are more likely to experience violence at the hands of men.8 Men are more likely to experience violence by other men in public places, women are more likely to experience violence from men they know, often in the home.

Women are far more likely than men to experience sexual violence and violence from an intimate partner, and with more severe impacts. Women are more likely to be afraid of, hospitalised by, or killed by an intimate partner than men.10 

This doesn’t negate the experiences of male victims. But it identifies the need for a prevention approach that addresses the gendered dynamics of violence.

What role can men play in this change?
Men have a major role to play in challenging gender stereotypes and championing gender equality to prevent violence against women. Our everyday words and actions matter – they are what help to build a society where women are respected as equals and violence against women is not tolerated. 

Practical everyday actions men can take include:
  • Never letting anyone blame a victim because of what they were wearing, how much they’d had to drink, were behaving in a ‘suggestive’ manner, or for any other reason.
  • Never letting anyone make excuses for a perpetrator (because he was angry, drunk or had money problems, for example) because this contributes to a society that excuses violence against women.
  • Speaking out if someone makes a sexist joke or catcalls a women on the street. These things might seem unimportant but they are based in disrespect for women, and chances are you’re not the only one who thinks this kind of behaviour is wrong.
  • Checking in with a woman and asking her if she’s okay if you think she is being treated in a controlling manner.
  • Considering whether your own attitudes and behaviours towards women and men, girls and boys, might be reinforcing gender stereotypes or unconsciously condoning disrespect for women.
Men in positions of leadership can also use their role and influence to drive change by:
  • Role modelling respect for women.
  • Ensuring that women are part of decision-making processes.
  • Implementing initiatives, policies and practices that promote gender equality.  

What role can the community play?
Communities can play a central role in facilitating informed discussions about what drives violence against women and in dispelling the common myths around violence. 

Communities can also lead or participate in campaigns and initiatives that seek to prevent violence against women and their children. In addition, community members can advocate for others to invest in and lead action to end violence against women. 

What does government need to do to end this crisis?
Governments at all levels have responsibility for ensuring the health, safety and equality of women as part of their international human rights obligations:
  • To support and sustain the commitments under the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022, governments at all levels have a critical role to play in leading and coordinating prevention activity across sectors and settings and over time.
  • The Federal Government has a role to play in coordinating and maintaining leadership across states and territories, and in establishing strong and agreed mechanisms that allow for a consistent and shared approach to prevention from the national to local levels.
  • State and territory governments can reinforce individual prevention programs with long-term, whole-of-government prevention plans and associated investment, ideally with bipartisan support. 
  • Local governments can influence social and community change by leading local and community-led prevention efforts.

What is Our Watch doing to prevent violence against women?
Our Watch is a national and independent organisation dedicated to the prevention of violence against women and their children. Our Watch led the development of Change the story, and has a key leadership role in driving and supporting the implementation of the national approach.

We commit to working in collaboration and partnership with other organisations, providing the support and coordination needed to meet our shared aim of ending violence against women and their children.
Our Watch commits to:
  • Engaging and liaising with governments and policy makers at all levels to encourage and support specific action on prevention, provide policy advice, analysis and input into public inquiries and policy and legislative reform processes.
  • Undertaking campaigns and social marketing to encourage attitude and behaviour change in relation to violence against women, challenge damaging social norms and attitudes and promote gender equality.  
  • Developing our practice leadership role by providing guidance and support for practitioners and producing resources, tools and training activity to prevent violence against women and their children. 
  • Creating a series of resources to support the implementation of Change the story, including a specific dedicated resource to prevent violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, tools and resources to support implementation and evaluation and workforce development, and a monitoring and reporting framework for Australia’s national prevention efforts.

Who else needs to lead this change and how?
Every sector, institution, organisation, community and individual has a role to play in preventing violence against women.

Sector associations of all kinds, as well as national and peak bodies working on violence against women and other social issues, can play an important leadership role in their fields, and high profile or influential leaders can make valuable contributions to public debate and act as champions or ambassadors for change.


1. Heise, L & Kotsadam, A (2015). Cross-national and multi-level correlates of partner violence: An analysis of data from population-based surveys. Lancet Global Health, vol. 3, pp. 332–340. See ‘Factors that increase the likelihood of violence against women’ in this Section, and Framework Foundations 2 for further detail.
2. UN Women (2011) In Pursuit of Justice. Progress of the World’s Women,  
3. World Health Organization (2010) Preventing intimate partner and sexual violence against women: Taking action and generating evidence
4. VicHealth (2014) Australians’ attitudes towards violence against women. Findings from the 2013 community attitudes towards violence against women survey.
5. VicHealth (2014) Australians’ attitudes towards violence against women. Findings from the 2013 community attitudes towards violence against women survey.
6. National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children (2009) The cost of violence against women and their children, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Canberra, p. 4
7. National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children (2009) The cost of violence against women and their children, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Canberra, p. 4
8. Cox, P. (2015) Violence against women: Additional analysis of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Personal Safety Survey, 2012, Horizons Research Report, Issue 1, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), New South Wales, p. 28
9. Cox, P. (2015) Violence against women: Additional analysis of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Personal Safety Survey, 2012, Horizons Research Report, Issue 1, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), New South Wales, p. 37
10. Women are three times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than men, according to Cussen, T., Bryant, W. (2015) Research in Practice No. 38: Domestic/Family Violence Homicide in Australia. The Australian Institute of Criminology. 
11. Foshee VA et al. (1996) ‘The Safe Dates Project: theoretical basis, evaluation design, and selected baseline findings’, American Journal of Preventive Medicine 12 (5 ): 39 – 47; Foshee VA et al. (1998) ‘An evaluation of Safe Dates, an adolescent dating violence prevention program,’ American Journal of Public Health, 88(1):45–50; Foshee VA et al. (2000) ‘The Safe Dates program: 1-year follow-up results,’ American Journal of Public Health, 90 (10):1619 –1622; Foshee VA et al. (2004) ‘Assessing the long-term effects of the Safe Dates program and a booster in preventing and reducing adolescent dating violence victimization and perpetration,’ American Journal of Public Health, 94(4):619–624; and Foshee VA et al. (2005) ‘Assessing the effects of the dating violence prevention program “Safe Dates” using random coefficient regression modelling,’ Prevention Science, 6: 245–258.