Violence against women is preventable. Our goal is to stop violence against women before it starts. To do this, we need to understand the drivers of gendered violence and what we can do, as a society, to prevent it.
What drives violence against women?
There is consensus in the international and national research that violence against women must be understood in the social context of gender inequality.
Gender inequality is where women and men do not have equal social status, power, resources or opportunities, and their voices, ideas and work are not valued equally by society.
Gender inequality provides the underlying conditions for violence against women. It exists at many levels in our society – from how we view men and women, to economic factors like the pay gap between men and women, to family and relationship roles and expectations.
The gendered drivers of violence
The broad social context of gender inequality produces specific gendered drivers of violence against women. These include:
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. Trying to shift blame onto the victim is another way violence is often condoned.
Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence in public life and relationships – for example, the idea that men make better leaders than women, or 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 fulfil certain roles.
Male peer relationships or ‘male bonding’ that emphasises aggression and disrespect towards women – for example, the way some groups of men seek to prove their ‘manhood’ or ‘masculinity’ through actions that are disrespectful, hostile or aggressive towards women.
Factors that can make violence worse
There are also reinforcing factors that can contribute to or exacerbate violence against women. These include:
The condoning of violence in general in our society. This makes violence, particularly men’s violence, seem like a normal part of life.
Experience of or exposure to violence. For example, in childhood, or in communities with high levels of violence.
Harmful use of alcohol, and harmful ideas about alcohol and violence. For example, thinking that being drunk is an excuse for violence or a reason to blame the victim of violence.
Socio-economic inequality and discrimination. When women have lower social or economic status and power, or they are treated as less worthy of respect, they are more likely to experience violence. For example, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women (see below), women with disabilities and transgender women.
Backlash. When people push back against positive social change in a hostile way. This can happen when men’s status and privilege is challenged by calls for gender equality.
An intersectional approach to preventing violence against women
The Our Watch intersectional understanding of violence against women acknowledges that while gender inequality is a necessary condition for violence against women, it is not the only or necessarily the most prominent factor in every context. Violence against women is often experienced in combination with other forms of structural inequality and discrimination. Examining how other forms of structural inequality and discrimination intersect with gender inequalities to exacerbate violence is necessary to effectively address the root causes of violence against all women, across the diversity of the Australian population.
Discrimination and inequality such as racism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia, and the ongoing impacts of colonisation must be addressed alongside gender inequality in order to prevent violence against all women in Australia. Key principles for taking an intersectional approach include:
Tailoring initiatives to the context.
Being attentive to privilege and listening to the voices of people who are the most excluded.
People directly affected by an issue must be part of addressing it.
Critical self-reflection regarding assumptions, biases and exclusionary behaviour.
Engaging in respectful and ethical collaboration, partnerships and alliances.
An intersectional lens also means acknowledging that no single initiative will be equally relevant to all groups. This reinforces the need for multiple different, but mutually reinforcing, efforts that will build a national approach to the prevention of violence against all women.
Organisations that specialise in working with people affected by multiple kinds of discrimination and inequality have unique expertise and connection to communities, which is essential to preventing violence against women. This is critical to building a collective national approach.
What about violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience disproportionate rates of violence, and violence that is often more severe. Preventing this violence must be a national priority. It requires us to address the many complex drivers of this violence — not only gender inequality but also the ongoing impacts of colonisation and racism.
Violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is not an ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander problem’. Nor should Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people bear sole responsibility for addressing it. This violence is an Australian problem, and it is perpetrated by men of all cultural backgrounds.
All of us, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and non-Indigenous people, communities, organisations, and all levels of government have a responsibility to work together to prevent violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children.
We know, from a large body of research, that there are clear drivers of violence against women. We know that by addressing these underlying drivers we can prevent this violence from happening in the first place.
Our Watch’s national framework, Change the story, outlines a primary prevention approach. Primary prevention requires changing the social conditions that drive and perpetuate violence against women.
Actions that will prevent violence against women:
Challenge the condoning of violence against women. We do not accept that violence against women is normal or inevitable and we will challenge any social norms, structures or practices that condone or excuse it.
Promote women’s independence and decision-making. We ensure that women have access to the same resources, power and opportunities as men.
Challenge gender stereotypes and roles. We support children, young people and adults to develop positive personal identities free from restrictive gender stereotypes. And we promote gender-equitable roles in parenting, work and other areas.
Strengthen positive, equal and respectful relationships. We challenge disrespectful behaviour towards women, and assumptions that men should have power and control in relationships. And we work with children and young people to promote respect and gender equality.
Promote and normalise gender equality in public and private life. We support women’s social, economic, cultural and political participation, as well as equality in relationships.
What is Our Watch doing to prevent violence against women?
Our Watch works to build a long term and sustainable prevention movement across Australia to stop violence before it starts.
We cannot create the social transformation needed to end violence against women alone. This is why we work with others to build this movement for change.
Our activities include:
Building and promoting an evidence-based approach to preventing violence against all women in Australia.
Leading best-practice monitoring and evaluation of prevention projects, and measuring and analysing progress at the national level.
Supporting and increasing quality prevention work across different settings like sport, media, workplaces and education.
Translating evidence into effective social marketing campaigns to motivate people to take positive action, and to change social norms.
Leading a constructive and ongoing public conversation on violence against women.
What about responding to the crisis of violence that’s already happening?
It’s not a question of either/or. Australia needs to respond to and intervene in the current crisis, and work on longer term initiatives to prevent it into the future.
Well-resourced and effective systems and services for responding to and intervening in our current level of violence are crucial. They protect women and their children from further violence, and hold perpetrators accountable. Response systems also provide the foundation for primary prevention activity, by sending a message that violence is unacceptable.
As primary prevention activity increases, we are likely to see increased numbers of women being able to identify violence in their own lives, and seeking support. Having robust and adequately funded response systems (including support services, police and justice systems) will remain critical to ensure that women are safe and supported.
What does the future look like?
Our goal is the elimination of violence against women and their children in Australia.
To do this, we need to address the underlying drivers using strategies that have been shown to work. And we need to do this on a scale that will create change for the whole of Australia.
By increasing gender equality in our society, and by promoting equal and respectful relationships, we can shift the main drivers of violence against women. Over time, and with sustained investment in prevention, this should result in a decrease in the prevalence of this violence.
For more detail on the projected decrease in violence against women over time, please read our monitoring and evaluation framework, Counting on change.