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A socio-ecological model for prevention

The socio-ecological model views violence against women as the outcome of interactions among many factors at different levels. 

These are: 

  • the individual and relationship level 
  • the organisational and community level 
  • the system and institutional level 
  • the societal level. 

In the past, attempts to understand violence against women have focused on individual-level causes, such as the perpetrator’s mental health, life experiences (such as childhood exposure to violence), behaviour (such as alcohol use) or personal circumstances (such as unemployment). 

While such factors may well be relevant, we need to explain why most men to whom they apply are not violent, and why other men not exposed to any of these factors are violent. 

The notion of a ‘social ecology’ is a useful way of understanding individual behaviour in a social context. 

Factors associated with higher levels of violence against women include the ideas, values or beliefs that are common or dominant in a society or community – called social or cultural norms. These norms are reflected in our institutional or community practices or behaviours, and are supported by social structures, both formal (such as legislation) and informal (such as hierarchies within a family or community). 

Learn more about how gender inequality is the social context for violence against women. 

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 for prevention.