What is Violence Against Women?
White Ribbon Australia uses the definition of violence against women found in the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women
“Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life”
Violence against women affects women’s well-being and prevents them from fully participating in society. It impacts on families, the community and the nation.
Violence against women is a gendered issue
To prevent violence against women, we must understand its gendered nature:
Violence against women occurs across cultures and communities. It takes many forms, including physical, sexual, social, emotional, cultural, spiritual and financial abuse, and a wide range of controlling, coercive and intimidating behaviour. Regardless of the form it takes, it is understood to be most often used by men and its impact is to limit and control women’s independence
It’s important to understand that violence against women does not always need to involve physical abuse – often other forms of abuse (for example verbal abuse and threats, social isolation, limiting access to money) can be enough to impact a person’s behaviour and cause them to be fearful. Women often describe these non-physical forms of abuse as being severely damaging to their self-esteem, independence and wellbeing
White Ribbon Australia understands that the range of types of violence and their impacts on women and girls occur on a continuum, so that behaviours such as sexist jokes are seen as resulting from the same culture that enables physical and sexual assault, and murder of women and girls. This understanding explains why the impact of various kinds of abuse on women and girls increases with experiences, and can affect their safety and wellbeing in different ways.
White Ribbon Australia joins with men in their own communities to look for opportunities to build a culture where women don’t experience violence and abuse. By doing this we are creating a safer and healthier space for women, men and diverse identities.
What’s the Evidence?
In order to stop violence against women, it’s important to understand the scale, forms and impacts of abuse that women experience in Australia.
In Australia, one in two women have experienced being sexual harassed
, and women are almost three times more likely than men to have experienced violence inflicted by a partner since the age of fifteen
Family violence and/or intimate partner violence is the leading cause of serious injury, disability and death for women in Australia. On average, one woman a week is killed by her intimate male partner.
Women who experience additional inequalities due to race, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or socio-economic status often experience higher rates of violence and face additional barriers to seeking support.
In order to stop violence against women, our social actions need to challenge gender inequality and also other systems of discrimination, such as racism, classism, ableism and homophobia, and the ways these intersect
What do we mean when we say that violence is gendered?
International and national research identifies that the common factor in violence against women, men and people with diverse identities, is that it is overwhelmingly perpetrated by males
While men can also be victim/survivors of violence and abuse, from females and also same-sex male partners, research shows that males and females experience different kinds of violence, in different contexts, and with different impacts.
Frequently, men’s abuse of women includes more than one kind, often used repeatedly and together, causing women to feel undermined, intimidated and afraid for their safety and wellbeing, and that of their children and families. It is also more likely to lead to serious injury, disability or death
In 2017, the Australian Personal Safety Survey found that men are more likely to be physically assaulted by other men, usually strangers, outside of their home. In contrast, most women (92%) reported being assaulted by a man they knew, mainly in their home (65%)
When women do use violent behaviours, research shows that it is usually motivated by fear and is used in self-defence against violence that is already being done to them by their male partners.
This is why addressing family or intimate partner violence is a key element to stopping violence against women.
We also know that when women and people with diverse identities experience violence, the impact is worsened by structural inequalities that limit their access to health care, employment, services and other supports
What enables violence against women?
Across the globe, research has identified two core factors that enable or drive violence against women and girls. These are:
- An adherence to rigidly defined gender roles, or what it means to be (and live as)
masculine or feminine
- The unequal distribution of power and resources between men and women.
Most Australians have a good understanding of, and do not hold attitudes that are supportive of violence against women. However, beliefs that enable gender inequality are more widespread. For example, in 2017 one in five Australians thought ‘men should take control in relationships and be the head of the household’, and more than one in four Australians thought women ‘prefer a man to be in charge’
Inflexible beliefs about gender roles are the most consistent predictor
of attitudes and behaviours that lead to violence against women, and they also result in gendered patterns of violence. These beliefs directly contribute to inequalities in society, like the workplace, and in local communities, and also in relationships
It is these same attitudes or beliefs about gender roles, coupled with structural inequalities that enable a wide range of abusive behaviours towards women and girls.
It can be useful to think of violence against women as a continuum of behaviours – so what may be thought of as less harmful (such as sexist jokes) are points along a line, and are connected to
behaviours that cause women and girls serious harm, disability and even death.