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The link between gender inequality and violence against women

What is gender equality?

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

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.  

In 2022, women’s average full-time earnings are 14% less than men’s. Just 14 CEOs of Australia’s top 200 companies are women. 

Gender inequality also persists in the private domain. In fact, one in 5 Australians think men should take control in relationships and be the head of the household.  

What causes violence against women

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

Read more about gender inequity and violence against women in Change the story, the national framework for preventing violence against women in Australia. 

Driver 1: 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?’ 

Driver 2: 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. 

Driver 3: 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. 

Driver 4: 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. 

The link between gender inequality and violence 

Men and women both experience violence – but they experience it differently.  About 95% of all victims of violence, whether women or men, experience violence from a male perpetrator. 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. In Australia, one in four women has experienced violence by a partner* compared to one in 13 men. On average, one woman a week is killed by her current or former partner. 

The ways different 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. 

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. 

Change the story explainer video

Change the story is Our Watch’s evidence-based framework to guide a coordinated and effective national approach to preventing violence against women. Learn about Change the story in the video below.

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