Gender equality and violence against women

What’s the connection?
ACSSA Research Summary No. 7 – June 2014

Introduction

A lack of gender equality is consistently cited as an underlying determinant of violence against women. The United Nations General Assembly, in its 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, noted that this violence is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women. Gender inequality as a cause of violence against women also underpins approaches to prevention by organisations such as the World Health Organization (World Health Organization (WHO), 2010), and, in Australia, VicHealth (VicHealth, 2007), as well as much of the research on the topic (Yodanis, 2004). So it has long been understood that gender inequality is a problem, yet the evidence of the link between gender inequality and violence against women is rarely laid out clearly to illustrate this connection. With whole frameworks based on the premise that prevention of violence against women requires improved gender equality, it is important to summarise and examine the evidence on this correlation.

Achieving gender equality is a key goal in the prevention of violence against women by those aiming to reduce gendered violence (WHO, 2005, 2010; VicHealth, 2007). However, without an existing model of gender equality to demonstrate the end product, and a lack of research and data around whether some aspects of gender equality are more important than others in preventing violence, it is difficult to pin down the impact that gender inequality actually has as a determinant of violence against women, despite the obvious logic in the connection. It appears that the vital element to consider is the gender norms and beliefs surrounding male dominance and male superiority, created by power hierarchies that accord men greater status. However, acknowledging social norms as a key factor means that issues of measurement and definition become more complex. How then do we determine exactly when we have reached or come closer to a position of gender equality? How do we incorporate or measure other sources of disadvantatge that compound inequality?

A key focus of this paper will be to trace the path of research on violence against women to the conclusion that gender inequality is an underlying determinant in the factors that cause it. This research summary will look at the relationship between gender inequality and gendered violence and the evidence that is out there to support this connection. In summarising the literature about gender equality, this paper will consider what is actually meant by gender equality, how it is defined and how it is measured.

What does become clearer in summarising the research on gender equality and violence against women is the importance of using an ecological model of prevention that enables influencing factors at various levels - societal, community and individual - to give greater contextual meaning to how gender inequality plays out in reality. This paper focuses on the societal factors that link to violence against women, rather than community and individual factors that are more easily identified within particular settings.

The acknowledgement of gender inequality as an underlying determinant of violence against women has seen the implementation of gender equality become a strategic policy goal in many countries and international organisations such as the World Health Organization. This is sometimes termed "gender mainstreaming" - a process of updating key concepts to enable an understanding of the world through a gendered lens (Walby, 2005). Though the benefits of this approach are quite obvious in acknowledging the effects of gender disadvantage, there has also been some criticism that it fails to acknowledge other sources of and intersections of disadvantage such as class and race, which may compound gender disadvantage.