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Understanding the issue

Violence against women affects women’s well-being and prevents them from fully participating in society.

The National Plan’s vision is an Australia free from all forms of violence and abuse against women and children. This is every woman’s and child’s right and everyone’s responsibility.
The fourth action plan of The National Plan to reduce violence against women and their children 2010-2022 outlines the Government’s agenda to achieve change and reduce violence against women and their children. “The National Plan is unprecedented in the way it focuses on preventing violence by raising awareness and building respectful relationships.... The aim is to bring attitudinal and behavioural change at the cultural, institutional and individual levels...”[i]
White Ribbon Australia understands the complexities that drive enforced gendered violence, structural inequalities, affirm attitudes and behaviours that enable violence against women.
White Ribbon Australia knows that the foundation for changing social attitudes, behaviours and systems lies in being curious, getting informed, and promoting and delivering evidence-based actions for change. 
White Ribbon is a global movement that focuses on making personal and community change to prevent violence against women and children.


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[1].
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[2].
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[3], and women are almost three times more likely than men to have experienced violence inflicted by a partner since the age of fifteen[4].
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.[5]
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.[6]
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[7].


Gendered Violence

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[8].
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[9].
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%)[10].
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.[11] 
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[12].

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[13].

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’[14].
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[15].

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.



[1] Vichealth. (2017). Violence against women in Australia. An overview of research and approaches to primary prevention. https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/-/media/ResourceCentre/Publicationsand

[2] Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs (DAIP), https://www.theduluthmodel.org/wheels/

[3] Meaning “has been subjected to one or more selected behaviours which they found improper or unwanted, which made them feel uncomfortable, and/or were offensive due to their sexual nature”

[4]ANROWS https://d2rn9gno7zhxqg.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/19030556/ANROWS_VAW-Accurate-Use-of-Key-Statistics.1.pdf

[5]In the 10 years from mid 2002 to mid-2012, 488 women in Australia were killed by their intimate partner (Cussen & Bryant, 2015; Bryant & Bricknell, 2017). ANROWS https://d2rn9gno7zhxqg.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/19030556/ANROWS_VAW-Accurate-Use-of-Key-Statistics.1.pdf

[6] Victorian Government. (2017). Summary report: Primary prevention of family violence against people from LGBTI communities https://d2bb010tdzqaq7.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/11/07033421/Summary-report_Preventing-FV-against-people-in-LGBTI-communities-Accessible-PDF.pdf; ANROWS;  https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/legal/submission/violence-against-women-australia-2017

[7] Our Watch, 2019 p.16

[8] INCLUDE REFERENCE FROM FLOOD ETC. & ANROWS https://handbook.ourwatch.org.au/resource-topic/the-link-between-gender-inequality-and-violence-against-women

[9] Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). Personal safety, Australia, 2016. Canberra, ACT: Author. Retrieved from: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4906.0

[10] Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). Personal safety, Australia, 2016. Canberra, ACT: Author. Retrieved from: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4906.0

[11] WHO 2002; Swan et al. 2008

[12] Vichealth 2017 https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/-/media/ResourceCentre/Publicationsand

[13] ANROWS, (2015) https://d2rn9gno7zhxqg.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/19030338/ANROWS-Insights-The-international-drive-to-achieve-gender-equality-and-the-elimination-of-gender-based-violence-against-women-and-girls.pdf; Vichealth 2017 https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/-/media/ResourceCentre/Publicationsand

[14] Vichealth 2017 https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/-/media/ResourceCentre/Publicationsand

[15] Our Watch, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety and VicHealth (2015) Change the story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia. Our Watch, Melbourne. https://www.ourwatch.org.au/change-the-story/