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Understand the issue

TAFEs and universities can help create an Australia free from gender-based violence.

By understanding what drives gender-based violence, TAFEs and universities can take action to change the structures, norms and practices that allow it to occur.

All violence is unacceptable, no matter who perpetrates it and who experiences it. But the scale and nature of gender-based violence requires our immediate attention.

Focusing on gender-based violence recognises that it is one of the most common forms of violence in our society and that to prevent it we need to focus on the specific things that drive it.

What is gender-based violence?

Gender-based violence is defined by the United Nations as any act 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 deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.

Gender-based violence can include physical, sexual, emotional or psychological abuse and acts of family and domestic violence, sexual violence and sexual harassment.

There is significant overlap between the drivers of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people and the drivers of violence against women.

In particular, rigid, binary and hierarchical constructions of sex, gender and sexuality have a significant impact on the violence that women and LGBTIQ people and communities experience. Actions to prevent gender-based violence will not be enough to prevent all forms of violence against LGBTIQ people, but they provide a foundation for further work. 

What drives gender-based violence?

Research shows that gender-based violence is prevalent and driven by gender inequality. 

Gender-based violence 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.

Evidence points to four factors that most consistently predict or ‘drive’ gender-based violence and harassment:

  • Condoning of violence against women
  • Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence in public and private life
  • Rigid gender stereotyping and dominant forms of masculinity
  • Male peer relations and cultures of masculinity that emphasise aggression, dominance and control.
An iceberg showing violence against women above water – 'murder, rape and sexual assault', physical and emotional abuse, sexual harassment' and the drivers of violence against women below the surface (disrespect of women, sexist jokes, unequal pay, harmful gender stereotypes, sexist language'.
Gender inequality is what lies below the surface driving violence against women. Image adapted from Gippsland Women's Health.

Why do people experience gender inequality differently?

While gender inequality is always a driver of gender-based violence, it is not the only or most prominent factor in every situation. Not all women, men, non-binary and gender diverse people experience gender inequality in the same way. 

For example, a woman who is a professor at a university may have a different experience of sexism to an 18-year-old international student. A non-binary VCAL student may have a different experience to a mature-aged TAFE student with a disability. 

While gender equality needs to remain at the centre of efforts to prevent gender-based violence, it must be addressed concurrently with other forms of discrimination and disadvantage such as racism, colonisation, ableism, homo- and trans- phobia. These other forms of inequality ‘intersect’ with people’s experiences of gender inequality, meaning that some people experience different forms of violence, and experience it more frequently or more severely than other people. 

Preventing violence and responding to violence

Work to prevent gender-based violence should be complemented and supported by other actions to respond when violence occurs and support the recovery of those who experience violence.

Primary prevention is about whole-of-population initiatives that address the primary (‘first’ or ‘underlying’) drivers of violence against women. 

Early intervention  or secondary prevention – aims to change the trajectory for individuals at higher-than-average risk of perpetrating or experiencing violence. 

Response or tertiary prevention – supports victim-survivors and holds perpetrators to account, aiming to prevent the recurrence of violence. 

Recovery is the ongoing process that enables victim-survivors to find safety, health, wellbeing, resilience and to thrive in all areas of the their lives. 

The diagram below shows the four different levels of prevention, early intervention, response and recovery.

Infographic showing the relationship between primary prevention and other work to address violence against women. The relationship between these is depicted as a pyramid that narrows from broader whole-of-population initiatives to response services for individuals. Primary prevention: whole-of-population initiatives that address the primary (’first’ or underlying) drivers of violence against women. Early intervention (or secondary prevention): aims to change the trajectory for individuals at higher-than-average risk of perpetrating or experiencing violence. Response (or tertiary prevention): supports victim–survivors and holds perpetrators to account, aiming to prevent the recurrence of violence. Recovery: ongoing process that enables victim–survivors to find safety, health, wellbeing, resilience and to thrive in all areas of their life.
The relationship between primary prevention and other work to address violence against women.

Primary prevention complements work undertaken in the response system and aims to stop violence before it starts by addressing the structural causes and underlying drivers of violence. 

Preventing gender-based violence involves more than just changing people’s minds. It’s about changing the society and culture in which individuals develop attitudes and behaviours related to gender, power and violence. 

Primary prevention takes a whole-of-population approach which requires engaging and collaborating with people from all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, and of all races, ages, religions, and abilities.

The role of tertiary education

As education institutions, workplaces and community hubs, universities and TAFEs have the power to promote gender equality and prevent violence. 

There are many ways TAFEs and universities can support change. These include:

  • Addressing the context and culture in which students and staff study, work and socialise to foster a safe and supportive environment.
  • Promoting gender equality in practices, policies and processes across the institution.
  • Reinforcing key messages across departments and campuses.

What's next?

How to prevent violence in TAFEs

What's next?

How to prevent violence in universities

About Our Watch

Our Watch is a national leader in the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia. We work to embed gender equality and prevent violence where Australians live, learn, work and socialise.

Learn more about Our Watch
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