Gender inequality and violence against women: a story that needs to be told

By Annie Blatchford
Thu 9 June 14:12 AEST
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This article contains references to domestic and sexual violence.

"In Australia today we are telling a very different story about violence against women. We are telling the story of its underlying causes and sometimes, in a dark place too often dominated by tragedy, we are telling an optimistic story about prevention." - Mary Barry, Our Watch CEO

Our Watch CEO Mary Barry has called on the media to help write a new story linking gender inequality to violence against women to ultimately create long-lasting generational change.

In a keynote address at the Walkley’s CommsDirect conference this morning, Ms Barry spoke about the battle fought by violence against women experts who have been stressing the importance of tackling gender inequality. It's a theory which has, until recently, received very little support.

Instead, the story of violence against women has been littered with myths and misconceptions, including notions that jealousy or alcohol drives men’s violence.

Ms Barry told the conference we all have the power to change those narratives.

“The attitudes and beliefs are all around us, they find voice around the barbeque, in our popular media and what we tell boys and girls is normal for them and how they should behave," she said.

"We are no longer accepting this narrative and its unhappy endings.”

As laid out in Our Watch’s Change the Story framework , there is international evidence to show there is no single cause of violence against women.

But Ms Barry said beliefs and behaviours which reflect disrespect, low support for gender equality and an adherence to rigid gender roles are the main issues that underlie and cause violence.

Australians and politicians are now starting to take a more “clear-eyed” look at the social and cultural context in which violence arises, as can be seen in the new ‘Stop It At The Start’ campaign which has the full backing of the federal, state and territory governments.

“The narrative that shows the link between gender inequality and violence against women is not one previously promoted by government campaigns," Ms Barry said.

"It tells the story of this inequality and lack of respect, that if it is repeated consistently in a number of different ways, in a number of different settings over time it supports violence and can, in some instances, result in violence against women.”

Ms Barry added that this story has not been accepted wholeheartedly, and many individuals and groups are still reluctant to tackle the issue of gender inequality.

However, as an evidence-based organisation, Our Watch has the proof to challenge these attitudes and show that gender inequality is the root cause of this problem - and at the heart of the solution.

And this is where the media can play a key role, according to Ms Barry.

Ms Barry said if we want to shift the national conversation to one that acknowledges violence against women as a pressing social issue that we have the power to stop before it starts, we need the support of the media.

National and international research has shown time and time again the way violence against women is portrayed in the news is influential," she said.

The media play an important role in dispelling myths and reinforcing the nature and extent of the problem."

The recently released Our Watch and ANROWS report on the media’s representation of violence against women found a number of problems such as sensationalism and victim blaming are still appearing in media coverage.

Ms Barry referred to the ‘ Stanford Survivor ’ story, in which a rape victim’s devastating impact statement was published in full on Buzzfeed and has since received over 12 million hits worldwide.

She said this was a powerful news story and reinforced the need to give a voice to victims in order to oppose the way perpetrators - who in this case was a privileged and athletically prestigious male - are often excused of their violent actions.

In response to a question from the audience about the sometimes gendered nature of journalism, Ms Barry said that Our Watch is already working with the some sections of the media as part of its National Media Engagement Program .

The initiative aims to increase quality reporting on violence against women and raise awareness about the impact of gender stereotyping and inequality.

The program includes the upcoming Our Watch Awards for exemplary reporting to end violence against women.

The awards, which received over 170 entries in its inaugural year, honour journalists who tell the story in an ethical and balanced way and provide context about violence against women - including its causes and prevention.

Entries close on July 7, with the ceremony planned to take place in September.