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The link between gender inequality and violence against women

2 minutes

Approximately 95% of all victims of violence – whether women or men – experience violence from a male perpetrator. 

Experiences of violence are also different for male and female victims – men experience violence mostly from other men in public spaces, and women experience violence mostly from men they know (usually a current or ex-partner) in private contexts. Women are more likely than men to be afraid of, hospitalised by, or killed by an intimate partner. 

To prevent violence against women, our understandings must account for these ‘gendered’ patterns. 

Gender inequality

Gender inequality is when unequal value is afforded to men and women and there’s an unequal distribution of power, resources and opportunity between them. 

It has historical roots in laws or policies formally constraining the rights and opportunities of women. It is maintained through more informal ways. These include: 

  • 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
  • structures such as pay differences between men and women.

The gendered drivers of violence against women

Violence against women has distinct gendered drivers. Evidence points to four factors that most consistently predict or ‘drive’ violence against women and explain its gendered patterns.

Driver 1: Condoning of violence against women

When societies, institutions or communities support or condone violence against women, levels of such violence are higher. Individual men who hold these beliefs are more likely to perpetrate violence against women. Condoning of violence against women occurs in many ways, through practices that justify, excuse or trivialise this violence or shift blame from the perpetrator to the victim.  

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 in which men control decision-making and limit women’s autonomy, have a sense of ownership of or entitlement to women, and hold rigid ideas on acceptable female behaviour. Constraints on women’s independence and access to decision-making are also evident in the public sphere, where men have greater control over power and resources. This sends a message that women have lower social value and are less worthy of respect.

Driver 3: Rigid gender stereotyping and dominant forms of masculinity

Promoting and enforcing rigid and hierarchical gender stereotypes reproduces the social conditions of gender inequality that underpin violence against women. In particular, socially dominant stereotypes of masculinity play a direct role in driving men’s violence against women.

Driver 4: Male peer relations and cultures of masculinity that emphasise aggression, dominance and control

Male peer relationships (both personal and professional) that are characterised by attitudes, behaviours or norms regarding masculinity that centre on aggression, dominance, control or hypersexuality are associated with violence against women.

Reinforcing factors

There are a range of factors that, while they do not drive violence on their own, 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.

Find the Change the story explainer video with audio description here.

Top resources on violence against women

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