The link between gender inequality and violence against women

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    What is gender equality?

    Gender inequality is when men are valued more than women, and have more power, resources and opportunities.

    Public life in Australia is still marked by gender inequality. In our legal and political systems, and in workplaces and the community, men continue to hold the majority of power and influence. Gender inequality also persists in the private domain, for example, at home and in relationships.

    What causes violence against women?

    Gender inequality sets the underlying context for violence against women. There are 4 factors that consistently predict or ‘drive’ violence against women.

    Condoning of violence against women

    When we support or condone violence against women, levels of violence are higher. Condoning violence against women occurs in many ways, such as when we justify, excuse or trivialise violence – ‘boys will be boys’ – or blame the victim – ‘what did she expect, going out dressed like that?’

    Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence in public and private life

    Violence is more common in relationships where men make all the decisions, feel they ‘own’ their partners or hold rigid ideas about how women should behave. In the public sphere, when women have less independence and power, this sends the message that women are less valuable or worthy of respect – making violence against them more likely.

    Rigid gender stereotyping and dominant forms of masculinity

    Gender stereotyping is when we promote the idea that there are natural or innate ways for women and men to behave – such as that men are naturally aggressive and dominant, and women are naturally passive and submissive.

    This drives violence against women because it can result in punishment for women, men and people of other genders when they don’t conform to expected roles. It also contributes to the idea that men should have more power than women and others in public, and in their relationships.

    Male peer relations and cultures of masculinity that emphasise aggression, dominance and control

    Men’s relationships with other men can be a source of support and comfort for men. But, when they are used to promote aggression, dominance, control or ‘hypersexuality’ (through things like sexual boasting), they are associated with higher levels of violence against women.

    Iceberg illustration showing the words 'harmful gender stereotypes, disprespect of women, coercive control and threats, unequal pay, sexist language, sexist jokes and trolling' below the water line/surface and the words 'rape, murder, stalking, sexual harassment, and physical and emotional abuse' above the water line/surface.
    The iceberg illustration shows what lies below the surface driving violence against women.

    Gender and violence

    Men and women both experience violence – but they experience it differently. Men are more commonly the perpetrators of physical violence, sexual harassment and sexual violence. Men experience violence mostly from male strangers, in public, and women experience violence mostly from men they know, at home (usually a current or ex-partner).

    Women are more likely than men to fear, and be seriously harmed or killed by, a partner. On average, one woman is killed every nine days by a current or former partner.

    Read more facts and statistics on our quick facts page.

    The ways women experience violence are also different. Gender inequality ‘intersects’ with other systems of discrimination and oppression, such as ableism, racism and homophobia, to shape women’s experiences of violence.

    Read more about how to prevent violence against different groups here.

    Reinforcing factors

    There are 4 ‘reinforcing’ factors that do not drive violence on their own but can contribute to violence against women or make it worse.

    • Condoning of violence in general, which can lead to the ‘normalisation’ of violence.
    • Experience of, and exposure to, violence (particularly during childhood).
    • Factors that can weaken prosocial behaviour (such as stress, environmental/neighbourhood factors, natural disasters and crises, male-dominated settings and heavy alcohol consumption) and therefore reduce empathy, respect and concern for women.
    • Backlash and resistance to prevention and gender equality (actions that seek to block change, uphold the status quo of gender relations, or re-establish male privilege and power), which creates an environment in which there is a heightened risk of violence.

    For more information about the drivers of violence against women, please read Change the story.

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    Change the story outlines the essential actions needed at all levels of society to address the underlying drivers of violence against women.

    Pregnant women sitting in a group together, they are talking and being friendly with one another.

    Find out more about the essential actions to address the gendered drivers of violence against women.