Gender equality and violence against women

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

Some conceptual definitions


The concept of gender is used here in reference to the social configuration of men and women's identities, interactions and relationships rather than the biological differences of sex that are male and female (Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Flood, & Pease, 2006). Gender systems refer to the socio-cultural environments whereby expectations of and values for each gender are determined within the cultural context (UN Office of the Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women [OSAGI], n.d.). These gender systems are constructed and maintained through institutional and political structures such as policy, legislation and economic requirements. Gender roles are then learned through the process of socialisation and cultural expectations (OSAGI, n.d.).

Gender equality

The United Nations, UNICEF and the World Health Organization, among others, use gender equality as their preferred terminology. The term "gender equality" does not mean that men and women are necessarily exactly the same or that differences don't exist, but that they have equal rights, opportunities, responsibilities and access to resources as well as the enjoyment of them. It means that differences in roles and biology, that may impact on equal enjoyment of these rights and responsibilities are taken into account by ensuring that men and women's perceptions, interests, needs and priorities are given equal weight (OSAGI, n.d.). Therefore, the term gender equality (or inequality) will be referred to throughout this paper as the issue under examination when considering underlying determinants of violence against women.

Gender equity

A search of the term "gender equity" indicates it is less clear in meaning than the term gender equality and is sometimes used interchangeably and sometimes only in the context of economics, for example in gender pay equity. United Nations' definitions indicate that gender equity is about interpreting policy and political and other social processes within a frame of historical disadvantage for women, to ensure fairness (UNFPA United Nations Population Fund, 2008). Equitable strategies must be able to accommodate differences between men and women and balance out the disadvantages that women have historically suffered. This enables a basis for women and men to equally enjoy social benefits, for example in terms of opportunities, economic benefits, power and decision-making and resources. Therefore, gender equity will be the pathway to gender equality (UNFPA United Nations Population Fund, 2008; OSAGI, n.d.).


In a public health sense or prevention sense, a determinant is a "foundational" cause of a particular health issue or social problem (Hankivsky & Christoffersen, 2008). Determinants can include the social conditions in which people live that impact and shape their experience of a health or social issue. They can be referred to as the causes behind the cause (Quadara, Nagy, Higgins, & Siegal, 2014), or the set of underlying conditions that enable the risk factors for experiencing a particular health issue such as violence against women.