Gender inequality and domestic violence
This committee has previously inquired into domestic violence in
Australia. In that report the committee noted that there is a complex range of
social and personal factors that can contribute to the incidence and severity
of domestic violence. As part of that report, the committee discussed the
gendered nature of domestic violence.
The terms of reference for this present inquiry focus on specific
aspects of that discussion. This committee has been asked in particular to
inquire into and report on:
the role of gender inequality in all spheres of life in contributing to
the prevalence of domestic violence;
This chapter summarises the evidence received that was responsive to
this first part of the terms of reference.
Our Watch explained the term gender inequality:
Gender inequality is a social condition characterised by
unequal value afforded to men and women and an unequal distribution of power,
resources and opportunity between them. It often results from, or has
historical roots in, laws or policies formally constraining the rights and
opportunities of women, and is maintained and perpetuated today through
structures that continue to organise and reinforce an unequal distribution of
economic, social and political power and resources between women and men.
Gender inequality is [also] reinforced and maintained through
more informal mechanisms, many of which are strongly characterized by their
reliance on gender stereotypes. These include, for example, social norms such
as the belief that women are best suited to care for children, practices such
as differences in childrearing practices for boys and girls, and structures
such as pay differences between men and women.
The South Australian Premier's Council for Women expanded further on the
consequences of gender inequality in society:
Social norms and gendered expectations shape the roles of men
and women, defining what is considered appropriate behaviours for each sex. In
many societies, women are viewed as subordinate to men and have a lower social
status, allowing men control over, and greater decision-making power than,
women. These differences in gender roles create inequalities and unless
challenged, over time they become entrenched and we, as a society, begin to
accept that unequal power and status is fair and just the way things are. These
beliefs become values that build attitudes; for example, that girls and women
are less important, that they think less and feel more than men, that men are
leaders, women caregivers. Paying women less for their work or assigning most
or all of child care to them, making it harder for them to get education and
job training, or keeping them out of 'good-paying' jobs (or any jobs at all)
are tactics, sometimes deliberate and sometimes unconscious, to keep the
existing power structures as they are.
Submissions outlined the connection between gender inequality and
Family violence is gendered in nature. While both men and
women can be victims and perpetrators of family violence, the overwhelming
majority of family violence is perpetrated by men against women. Further,
family violence experienced by women is usually more frequent and severe.
Likewise, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) observed:
Gendered violence is rooted in the structural inequalities
between men and women. It is both a cause and consequence of gender inequality.
The AHRC referred to, and quoted from, the United Nations' Declaration
on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993) (Declaration), which
[V]iolence against women is a manifestation of historically
unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination
over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full
advancement of women, and that violence against women is one of the crucial
social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position
compared with men.
VicHealth, the Australian National Research Organisation for Women's
Safety (ANROWS) and Our Watch all referred to the findings on gender inequality
in Change the Story, which is a shared primary prevention framework.
Part of the work for Change the Story involved identifying the drivers
of violence, including gender inequality:
There is now consensus in the international research that
examining the way in which gender relations are structured is key to
understanding violence against women. Studies by the United Nations, European
Commission, World Bank and World Health Organization all locate the underlying
cause or necessary conditions for violence against women in the social context
of gender inequality.
The Tasmanian Government's submission also commented on the connection
between gender inequality and domestic violence:
While there is no single cause of violence against women and
the relationship between gender and violence is complex, it is now widely
recognised that gender inequality is a key driver of family violence, often in
intersection with other social inequalities such as age, race[,] ability and
VicHealth reproduced a graph by the United Nations Development Fund for
Women demonstrating the relationship between the prevalence of violence against
women and gender equality (see Figure 1). The data, based on global indices of
gender equality shows that as equality decreases, prevalence of violence
against women increases.
Figure 1: Physical and/or sexual intimate partner
violence and measures of gender equality
VicHealth explained a socio-ecological model of violence against women
showing the complex interplay between factors at various levels:
For example, at the societal and community levels, the risks
of VAW have been found to be higher when resources such as education and income
are distributed unequally between men and women, when women’s economic, social
and political rights are poorly protected and/or when there are more rigid
distinctions between the roles of men and women and between masculine and
These factors which exist at the various levels of the
socio-ecological approach 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. 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)...
This is shown in Figure 2 below.
Despite the research on the interaction between gender inequality and
domestic violence, according to the South Australian Premier's Council for
Across most sectors there is a poor understanding that gender
inequality in all spheres of life contributes to the prevalence of domestic
violence and other forms of violence against women.
Gendered drivers of violence
Change the story notes:
Research has found that factors associated with gender
inequality are the most consistent predictors of violence against women, and
explain its gendered patterns.
Change the story explains further the effect of these so-called
The gendered drivers arise from gender discriminatory
institutional, social and economic structures, social and cultural norms, and
organisational, community, family and relationship practices that together
create environments in which women and men are not considered equal, and
violence against women is tolerated and even condoned.
Change the story identifies the following drivers as those
consistently associated with higher levels of violence against women:
condoning of violence against women;
men's control of decision-making and limits to women's
rigid gender roles and identities; and
male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect
Change the story also refers to another group of factors, the
[Reinforcing factors] while not sufficient in themselves to
predict violence against women, [can] interact with the gendered drivers to
increase the probability, frequency or severity of such violence.
Those reinforcing factors are:
condoning of violence in general;
experience of, and exposure to, violence;
weakening of pro-social behaviour, especially harmful use of
socio-economic inequality and discrimination; and
backlash factors (when male dominance, power or status is
The Change the Story framework provides more detail on the role of rigid
gender roles and identities:
Levels of violence against women are significantly and
consistently higher in societies, communities and relationships where there are
more rigid distinctions between the roles of men and women – for example, where
men are assumed to be the primary breadwinner and women to be primarily
responsible for childrearing – and between masculine and feminine identities,
or what an ‘ideal’ man or woman is.
Gender inequality in Australia
Women's Health West noted that in 2015, Australia ranked 36 out
of 145 countries on a global index measuring gender equality.
Submissions compared this to previous years when Australia ranked 15th
out of 115 countries in 2006; 24th out of 136 countries in 2013; and
24th out of 142 countries in 2014.
The Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) explained that gender
inequality adversely affects women across all aspects of their lives:
[I]ncluding their educational and training pathways,
employment opportunities, work-life balance, opportunities to take positions of
formal leadership, health and safety, economic security, and social inclusion.
Gender inequality maintains the power and privilege held by men, and reinforces
negative messages about the value and status of women, increasing the
likelihood of experiencing violence.
In financial terms, women continue to do the bulk of unpaid
work across society, including caring for children, older parents or relatives
with disability or long-term health conditions, and housework. As a result
women of all ages have substantially lower labour force participation rates and
when they do engage in work it is more likely to be in part-time, lower paid,
insecure work. Even when working full-time, women earn lower average wages then
men. A gender pay gap of 18 per cent exists between full-time male and female
employees, equivalent to men earning an additional $284.20 per week.
Combined these factors place women at risk of financial and
housing insecurity, both while working and in retirement. Women are more likely
to live in low economic resource households, be unable to raise $2,000 in an
emergency, have little or no superannuation coverage or be financially insecure
The Tasmanian Government referred to the lack of women in senior roles:
Women are underrepresented in leadership roles in both the
private and public sectors, in boardrooms and in parliaments, despite the fact
that women outperform men in higher education.
The AHRC echoed this point, providing the following context:
The percentage of women on ASX 200 boards was 21.9 percent,
as of 31 January 2016. As of 2012, women held 9.7 percent of executive key
management personnel positions in the ASX 200; there were seven female CEOs in
the ASX 200; and in the ASX 200, women's representation in line management
positions was 6.0 percent and in support positions, 22.0 percent.
The Women's Health West added:
In the current Federal parliament, only six of the 21 cabinet
ministers are women. In total, there are more than twice as many male federal
parliamentarians, compared to women (71 per cent male compared to
29 per cent female). The disparity is even wider in the number of men
compared to women holding ministerial positions (83 per cent male compared
to 17 per cent female). In 2015, women held only 39 per cent of the
2570 board positions on Australian Government boards and bodies, and
30 per cent of Chair and Deputy Chair positions on Australian Government
Gender inequality affects all women, but it does not affect all women
The intersection of multiple inequalities creates significantly
different lived experiences for women. Serious efforts to address domestic
violence must place gender inequality against a wider context of power and
multiple forms of inequality, including racial inequalities.
The National Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) informed
the committee that any analysis of gendered stereotypes in family violence must
also pay attention to how gendered stereotypes intersect with racial
Thus when acknowledging oppression associated with gender, it
is vital to also acknowledge that for many women this also intersects with
oppression caused by both historical and contemporary racism, often in
complicated and complex ways. Without such recognition, it is easy to forget
that gender stereotypes are not monolithic and that women from non-dominant
ethnic communities face additional challenges in terms of stereotypes. Assuming
that 'women' have a coherent group identity prior to their entry into social
relations, ignores how the ideologies of masculinity, femininity and sexuality
are inherently racialised.
NATSILS highlighted that gender inequality is a contributing factor to
family violence rates in ATSI communities:
...gender inequality can be a factor which both contributes to
and compounds the victimisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
For example, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are significantly
disadvantaged in terms of entry into and promotion within the labour market,
which can leave these women marginalised, discriminated against and financially
dependent on partners. As has often been acknowledged, economic dependency can
make it extremely difficult for women to leave an abusive partner.
Women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds face
additional barriers in the pursuit of gender equality and a reduction in
domestic violence. The unique challenges facing CALD women were outlined by the
Women's Legal Services Australia, including:
Migration status. Women who are on temporary visas are particularly
vulnerable during domestic violence situations. They are often isolated,
without family support and entirely reliant on their abusive partner. They may
be fearful of leaving a violent relationship because of the consequences for
their migration status. Accessing legal advice, finding employment and
navigating the complexities of an unfamiliar court system are regular
Knowledge of family law, family violence law and child
protection. Women often come from countries where their legal systems are
vastly different. They may have differing understandings on custody of
children, divorce settlements, dowry payments and legal protections against
domestic violence. Without timely access to legal information and advice that
is in a form that is understood by women, women are unable to effectively
Access to interpreters. Women are often unable to access
appropriate interpreters once in the legal system. In some instances the same
interpreter must interpret for both parties. Women who require interpreters of
specific dialects or come from a small community where the interpreter is known
face even greater barriers.
Attitudes to gender inequality and
In its submission, VicHealth referred to the findings of the 2013 National
Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Survey (NCAS):
This research found that the strongest influence on attitudes
towards violence against women among young people is their understanding of the
nature of violence and their attitudes towards gender equality.
The NCAS investigates four areas:
community knowledge of violence against women;
attitudes towards violence against women;
attitudes towards gender roles and relationships; and
responses to witnessing violence and knowledge of resources.
The NCAS' findings in relation to attitudes towards gender roles and
relationships are particularly relevant to the terms of reference for this
inquiry. These findings are summarised below. In addition, Table 1 sets
out the findings for these areas compared to findings in the 2009 NCAS.
Attitudes towards gender roles and
The 2013 NCAS notes some 'encouraging results' in relation to attitudes
towards gender roles and relationships, namely:
Most Australians support gender equality in the public arena
such as workplaces.
Most acknowledge that women still experience inequality in
However, there were also 'areas of concern':
More than a quarter [27 per cent] believe that men make
better political leaders.
Up to 28% of Australians endorse attitudes supportive of male
dominance of decision-making in relationships, a dynamic identified as a risk
factor for partner violence.
Attitudes towards gender
roles in public and private life (% agree)
Men make better political
When jobs are scarce, men
have more right to a job than women
University education is
more important for a boy
A woman has to have
children to be fulfilled
It's okay for a woman to
have a child as a single parent and not want a stable relationship with a man
Attitudes towards decision-making in relationships
Men should take control in
relationships and be the head of the household
Women prefer a man to be in
charge of the relationship
Attitudes towards the status of women (% agree)
women is no longer a problem in the workplace in Australia
Table 1: 2013 NCAS findings on attitudes towards
gender roles and relationships.
Attitudes towards violence against
In terms of the attitudes of violence towards women, the 2013 NCAS noted
Only 4% to 6% of Australians (depending on the scenario)
believe violence against women can be justified.
Since 2009 there has been a decrease in the proportion of
Australians who believe that domestic violence can be excused if the violent
person is regretful afterward.
Most do not believe that women should remain in a violent
relationship to keep the family together or that domestic violence is a private
matter to be handled in the family.
Since 1995 there has been a decrease in those who believe
that women who are sexually harassed should sort it out themselves.
Most support the current policy that the violent person
should be made to leave the family home.
Most agree that violence against women (both physical and
non-physical) is serious.
Since 1995 there has been an increase in the percentage
non-physical forms of control, intimidation and harassment as serious.
There has been a 7% decline since 2009 in the proportion of
young people who hold attitudes that support violence against women at the
extreme end of the spectrum. The decline is 10% in young men. Young people have
been the target of recent efforts to prevent violence against women.
However, the NCAS also identified a number of areas of concern in
relation to attitudes towards violence against women:
Sizeable proportions believe there are circumstances in which
violence can be excused.
There has been an increase in Australians agreeing that rape
results from men not being able to control their need for sex, from 3 in 10 in
2009 to more than 4 in 10 in 2013.
Nearly 8 in 10 agree that it's hard to understand why women
stay in a violent relationship.
More than half agree that 'women could leave a violent
relationship if they really wanted to'.
Compared with physical violence and forced sex, Australians
are less inclined to see non-physical forms of control, intimidation and
harassment as 'serious'.
More than half agree that women often fabricate cases of
domestic violence in order to improve their prospects in family law cases and
nearly 2 in 5 believe that a lot of times women who say they were raped led the
man on and later had regrets.
Up to 1 in 5 believes that there are circumstances in which
women bear some responsibility for violence. There has been no change since
Further information on the findings of the 2013 NCAS on attitudes
towards violence against women, including comparative results from surveys in 1995
and 2009, is set out in Appendix 2.
In summary, the 2013 NCAS made the following observation:
It is important to note that attitudes towards women are
fairly consistent across the population, regardless of your education, where
you live or what job you do. The survey found virtually no differences between
respondents in rural, remote, urban and regional areas or between states and
However, the report continued:
[T]here are some differences in particular groups and places.
Groups who are most likely to endorse violence-supportive attitudes and who
have the poorest understanding of what constitutes violence against women are:
men, especially young men and
those experiencing multiple forms of disadvantage
younger people (16-25)
people from counties in which the
main language spoken is not English, especially those who have recently arrived
In its submission, VicHealth noted the work to be done on improving
attitudes to gender inequality and violence against women:
The research indicates that significant efforts are required
to address young people's beliefs about gender roles in the family, household
and intimate relationships and also to provide skills for the development of
more equal and respectful relationships.
In its previous report on domestic violence in Australia, the committee
set out in detail the National Framework to address domestic and family
violence, specifically the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and
their Children 2010-2022 (the National Plan).
The National Plan was endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments
(COAG) and released in February 2011. It is being delivered through four
three-year action plans. The First Action Plan operated from 2010-2013. The
Second Action Plan: Moving Ahead 2013-2016 was released in June 2014.
The Second Action Plan advanced the issue of gender equality through:
national schemes to improve women's economic independence, such
as paid parental leave and access to child care;
national and local efforts to support women's leadership in
government, business and the community;
male champions and leaders speaking out against domestic and
family violence and sexual assault, and promoting the broader principles of
In its submission, the Department of Social Services (DSS) informed the
committee that work was underway to develop the Third Action Plan, which was
due for release in mid-2016:
The Third Action Plan marks the half-way point for the
National Plan and will progress activities commenced during the First and
Second Action Plans. The Third Action Plan will continue to focus on the
drivers of violence, including gender inequality.
More broadly, in terms of the steps being taken to address domestic
violence, DSS advised the committee of the following government funding
On 24 September 2015, the Australian Government announced
increased funding to address domestic and family violence through the Women's
Safety Package. This $100 million package contains a set of practical measures
to help keep women and children safe. This includes delivering better frontline
services, leveraging innovative technologies and providing education resources
to help change community attitudes to violence.
DSS also reported on a national campaign to influence the attitudes of
young people towards violence:
In addition, a $30 million national campaign, jointly funded
with the states and territories, to reduce violence against women and their
children is expected to be launched in 2016. The campaign will focus on
galvanising the people (such as parents, other family members and peers) and
communities (such as schools, sporting and community groups) that surround
young people to positively influence their attitudes to violence and gender
DSS also mentioned the role of the COAG Advisory Panel:
The issue of domestic violence in Australia was elevated to
the highest political level and reducing violence against women remains a
priority for the Council of Australian Government's (COAG). An Advisory Panel
was established to support COAG, with full membership announced on 14 May 2015.
The COAG Advisory Panel is providing expert advice on how all Australian
governments can address violence against women and their children most
Our Watch indicated its view that the current challenge for governments
at all levels is to:
...scale up and systematise proven and promising, yet
small-scale, programs to the population level – enabling them to reach and
impact far greater numbers of people, and create the potential for the kind of
whole-of-population change that is needed.
Primary prevention framework
As noted above,
in addition to the National Plan, Our Watch, ANROWS and VicHealth have
developed Change the Story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of
violence against women and their children in Australia.
In November 2015, Change the Story was released. The framework:
...reinforces the direction outlined in the National Plan to
Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, and seeks to
consolidate and strengthen the action already occurring around the country to
address the issue.
The framework includes five actions to address the gendered drivers of
violence against women:
challenge condoning of violence against women;
promote women's independence and decision-making in public life
foster positive personal identities and challenge gender
stereotypes and roles;
strengthen positive, equal and respectful relations between and
among women and men, girls and boys;
promote and normalise gender equality in public and private life.
Five supporting actions are also included:
challenge the normalisation of violence as an expression of
masculinity or male dominance;
prevent exposure to violence and support those affected to reduce
address the intersections between social norms relating to
alcohol and gender;
reduce backlash by engaging men and boys in gender equality,
building relationships skills and social connections;
promote broader social equality and address structural
discrimination and disadvantage.
Following the release of the framework, Our Watch has indicated its
intention to develop a dedicated resource to guide the prevention of violence
against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children, which
will be released as a companion document to the framework.
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