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Understanding violence against women

5 minutes

This is for people new to preventing violence against women and provides key facts.

All violence is unacceptable, whether it occurs in the home or the workplace, and whether it is perpetrated by men or women. Research shows that violence against women is prevalent and driven by gender inequality.

Violence against women is prevalent but preventable. By understanding what drives violence against women and taking action to change the structures, norms and practices that allow it to occur, workplaces can help create an Australia free from violence.

Violence against women in Australia

Violence against women takes many forms: physical, sexual, psychological and financial.

  • One in four women has experienced violence by an intimate partner.
  • Women are nearly three times more likely to have experienced violence from a former or current partner than men.1
  • One in five Australian women has experienced sexual violence compared to one in 20 Australian men.2
  • Many women who experience family/domestic violence are employed, 30% of workers in a national survey reported having experienced domestic violence during their lifetime.3
  • In addition to violence experienced at home, women experience significant rates of violence in the workplace. A Victorian survey reported 64% of women have experienced bullying, harassment or violence in their workplace.4

If you, a child, or another person is in immediate danger, call 000. For sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service call 1800 RESPECT 1800 737 732 for 24/7 phone and online services.

What drives violence against women?

Graphic of an iceberg showing violence against women above water and the drivers of violence against women below the surface.
Gender inequality is what lies below the surface driving violence against women. Image adapted from Gippsland Women's Health.

Evidence shows that violence against women is much more likely to occur when power, opportunities and resources are not shared equally between men and women in society, and when women are not valued and respected as much as men.5

Research tells us that there are four key drivers of violence against women.6

Condoning of violence against women

Attitudes, words and actions that trivialise, make light of or justify violence against women allow people to think violence is acceptable or excusable.

Comments, questions and jokes that reinforce stereotypes and downplay or justify violence against women – whether intentional or not – are still very common and are often laughed off or not treated seriously. Everyone has a role in creating a workplace where violence is never excused or accepted.

Men’s control of decision making and limits to women’s independence

When men control decisions and resources in the home, workplace or community, they have an opportunity to abuse power with violence, while women have less power to stop it, call it out, or leave.

Women continue to earn less than men, are under-represented in political and workplace leadership roles, and are less likely to spend as long in the workforce. Biases, assumptions and structures in your workplace can either limit or enhance women’s opportunities, financial independence and roles in decision making.

Rigid gender roles and stereotypes about masculinity and femininity

Strict ideas about women and men’s roles, identities and relationships can contribute to a culture that supports violence. When male power is the norm, violence including harassment, criticism and verbal abuse can be used to ‘punish’ women who step out of their expected roles.

Common ideas of how men and women ‘should’ think and act influence the types of roles they are expected to fulfill at work. Gender norms can be particularly harmful for female employees as traditional female roles are commonly less valued. When an employee steps outside what is considered the ‘norm’, such as men taking on a traditionally female role or vice versa, this can negatively impact their experiences at work, such as being criticised, excluded or overlooked.

Men disrespecting women to bond with other men

When aggression and disrespect towards women is seen as natural parts of being ‘one of the boys’, it is more likely that violence towards women will be excused – by the perpetrator, their peers and the wider community.

For some men, making jokes and comments that reinforce the idea that women should be less powerful than them is a way of bonding and gaining the approval and respect of their peers. This can be especially problematic when workplace leadership teams become ‘boys’ clubs’, as this can limit women’s full and equal participation in the workforce.


What's next?

Understand the power of workplaces to make positive change.

How might it look in my workplace?

Hear from leaders
Woman with work folders using a wheelchair.