What is 'primary prevention' of violence against women?

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    Even though violence against women is widespread and serious, the good news is that it is also preventable.

    A ‘primary prevention’ approach addresses the underlying, gendered drivers of violence against women. The aim of primary prevention is to stop violence before it happens.

    A 'primary prevention' approach

    Primary prevention is different to other kinds of interventions that address violence against women. Interventions that occur when the risk of violence is already there are called ‘early intervention’ or secondary prevention. Doing something about violence that is currently happening is called ‘response’ or tertiary prevention.

    Infographic showing the relationship between primary prevention and other work to address violence against women. The relationship between these is depicted as a pyramid that narrows from broader whole-of-population initiatives to response services for individuals. Primary prevention: whole-of-population initiatives that address the primary (’first’ or underlying) drivers of violence against women. Early intervention (or secondary prevention): aims to change the trajectory for individuals at higher-than-average risk of perpetrating or experiencing violence. Response (or tertiary prevention): supports victim–survivors and holds perpetrators to account, aiming to prevent the recurrence of violence. Recovery: ongoing process that enables victim–survivors to find safety, health, wellbeing, resilience and to thrive in all areas of their life.
    The primary prevention pyramid shows the relationship between primary prevention and other work to address violence against women.

    Because the drivers of violence play out at every level of society, primary prevention activities also need to be implemented at every level of society.

    Prevention requires a holistic approach involving on-the-ground efforts that engage individuals and communities; whole-of-setting approaches in organisations and institutions, and change to laws and government policies.

    Examples of primary prevention initiatives include:

    • an action plan for workplaces to recruit and retain women in leadership positions
    • working with male sports teams to build their understanding of sexual consent
    • a social marketing campaign about why gender stereotyping is limiting
    • advocating for changes to laws that tacitly condone violence against women, for example the ‘affirmative consent’ sexual assault law changes in Victoria.

    While primary prevention may seem difficult to achieve, it is an approach that has been used successfully in the past on a range of other public health issues in Australia – like smoking and road safety.

    Infographic showing the different factors which influence the occurrence of violence against women. The figure represents violence as the outcome of interactions among many factors at four levels. It shows examples of structures, norms and practices found to increase the probability of violence against women, at different levels of the social ecology. The highest level is the societal level: dominant social norms supporting rigid roles and stereotyping, or condoning, excusing and downplaying violence against women. The second level is the system and institutional level: failure of systems, institutions and policies to promote women’s economic, legal and social autonomy, or to adequately address violence against women. The third level is the organisational and community level: organisation and community norms, structures and practices supporting or failing to address gender inequality, stereotyping, discrimination and violence. The fourth and final level is the individual and relationship level: individual adherence to rigid gender roles and identities, weak support for gender equality, social learning of violence against women, male dominance and controlling behaviours in relationships.
    The socio ecological model shows the relationships between structures, norms and practices at the societal, system and institutional, organisational and community, and individual and relationship levels.

    For a full explanation of a primary prevention approach to ending violence against women, please read Change the story.

    What about responding to the current crisis?

    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 future violence from occurring.

    Well-resourced and effective systems and services for responding to ongoing violence are crucial. They protect women and their children from further violence, and hold perpetrators accountable. Response systems also provide the foundation for prevention activity, by sending a message that violence is unacceptable.

    As 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 end 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, promoting equal and respectful relationships, and encouraging respectful, healthy forms of masculinity, 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. For a report on Australia’s national progress towards prevention, please visit Tracking progress in prevention.

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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.

    An Asian Australian woman is sitting in a meeting listening to a male colleage, with another male colleage next to her. She is listening intently.

    Find out more about the gendered drivers of violence against women.