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Responding to common questions

2 minutes

Questions that often come up in discussions about gender equality and violence against women are provided, here, with some suggested evidence-based responses.

You don’t need to respond word for word, but it is good to understand the evidence and prepare yourself to respond by knowing the facts. 

What causes violence against women?

There is no single cause of violence against women. Violence against women is more likely to occur where gender inequality is ingrained in social, cultural and organisational structures and practices. 

The following  expressions of gender inequality have been shown in the international evidence to be most consistently associated with higher levels of violence against women: 

  • social norms (attitudes and beliefs) and institutional practices that excuse, justify or tolerate violence against women  
  • men’s control of decision making in relationships and public life, and limits to women’s economic and social independence  
  • rigid and stereotypical gender and social roles and identities  
  • male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women.  

Other factors interact with gender inequality and contribute to increased frequency and severity of violence against women, but do not drive violence themselves.

These include:

  • condoning of violence
  • experiences of, and exposure to, violence
  • weakening of pro-social behaviour, especially harmful use of alcohol
  • socio-economic inequality and discrimination
  • backlash.

What is the international evidence to prove that gender inequality causes violence against women?

  • There is a strong and consistent association in the international evidence between gender inequality and levels of violence against women.  
  • A 2015 study in medical journal The Lancet found factors relating to gender inequality predict the prevalence of intimate partner violence across 44 countries. 
  • A United Nations review found significantly and consistently higher rates of violence against women in countries where women’s economic, social and political rights are poorly protected, and where power and resources are unequally distributed between men and women. 
  • World Health Organisation research has found that individuals (both men and women) who do not believe men and women are equal, and/or see them as having specific roles or characteristics, were also more likely to condone, tolerate or excuse violence against women.  
  • Australian research has confirmed that, at the individual level, the most consistent predictor for support of violence against women by men is their agreement with sexist, patriarchal and/or sexually hostile attitudes. 

Haven’t we already achieved gender equality in Australia?

  • Unfortunately, we are still progressing towards true gender equality in Australia.  
  • Currently, Australia’s national gender pay gap is 13.9%. This is not accounted for by the fact that women work part-time, or work in different industries. At November 2019, women’s average weekly ordinary full-time earnings, across all industries and occupations, was $1,508.50, compared to men’s average weekly ordinary full-time earnings of $1,751.40. 
  • Women around the world traditionally devote more time in unpaid care work than men and data from Australia confirms that unpaid care work is distributed unequally between women and men, with women providing the largest amount of unpaid care. In Australian, women spend 64.4% of their average weekly working time on unpaid care work compared to 36.1% for men. This is a ‘gender time gap in unpaid care work’ of on average two hours and 19 minutes per day. 
  • We are yet to see a representative number of women reach the highest echelons of business and politics in Australia. Women make up 35% of federal parliamentarians and only 14 CEOs of Australia’s top 200 ASX-listed companies are women. 

Is gender equality and changing roles for women in our society leading to violence?

  • Increasing gender equality is the only way we will sustainably reduce violence.  
  • Change is always challenging and change to deeply held beliefs doubly so. 
  • Challenging gender inequity and increasing community awareness can often lead to increased reports of violence, in the short term. This is because recognition of the issue is greater. 
  • The existence of backlash should not be a deterrent to pursuing a more gender equal society 
  • Challenging harmful gender stereotypes and promoting greater respect and equality between women and men will eventually lead to a reduction in violence against women and their children. 

Are you saying sexist jokes lead to violence against women?

  • The most consistent predictor for support of violence by men is their agreement with sexist attitudes. 
  • Sexist jokes reflect and reinforce sexist attitudes.  
  • Sexist jokes may seem ‘harmless’ or ‘just a bit of fun’, however, they are based in disrespect for women and are ultimately a way of expressing a belief that women are not equal to men. 
  • While speaking out if someone makes a sexist joke or catcalls a woman on the street may seem unimportant, it is key to putting an end to violence against women.  
  • Our everyday words and actions matter — they are what help to build a society where women and men are respected as equals, and violence against women is not tolerated. 

Facts and framing

Strategies for backlash and resistance

Women and work


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