What actually works to end gender-based violence

Background is a black and white photo of a young woman looking over her shoulder. Text reads, "Blog post. What actually works to end gender-based violence. We just need to do primary prevention. but not just any, it needs to be effective. So, what works?"The answer to ending men’s violence against women is ‘Primary Prevention’, which works to end this violence before it starts, so no woman or girl experiences it ever.  

Primary prevention aims to create a gender equal community where men’s violence against women is unthinkable. It never happens. Rape crisis and women’s aid centres are no longer needed, the government invests the billions spent on this issue elsewhere, and women no longer feel like they have a curfew when the sun goes down.  

This may sound like a fantasy land, but we know it’s achievable.  

We just need to do primary prevention. But not just any, it needs to be effective. So, what works? 

Focusing on widespread culture, attitude, and behaviour change 

Effective primary prevention recognises that men’s violence against women and girls is a structural problem: meaning it is deeply embedded in all structures of our society, such as legal systems, work, and education. The root of the problem is gender inequality.

We need a pro-active, large-scale, and interconnected approach to improve gender equality amongst people, within organisations, and throughout society. This might be challenging gender stereotypes throughout education to change individual’s assumptions. It could also be the government developing policies and practices to minimise gender inequality, such as the gender pay gap, or implementing free childcare.  

Being community specific and informed by the local context 

It is crucial that we work with and tailor primary prevention work and interventions to the community we are working within. Effective prevention empowers individuals, creates positive interpersonal relationships, and views behaviour change as a collective endeavour towards greater equality for all women. Understanding the different needs of everyone within a community is essential.  

Women who are pushed to the edges of society and as a result have no, or very little, power suffer greater inequality and are more vulnerable to men’s violence. Other forms of inequality affect women’s experiences of men’s violence, such as race, ethnicity, class, ableism, religion, sexuality, gender identity, migration status, or poverty. This variance must inform primary prevention work if it’s to end men’s violence for all women and girls.  

Tackling multiple factors that drive men’s violence  

The driving forces that contribute to men’s violence are: 

  • Attitudes in our society that accept violence against women and girls. 

  • Men’s control over decision-making and limiting women’s independence.  

  • The promotion of harmful ways of expressing manhood and enforcing strict gender stereotypes. 

  • Peer relationships and values between men that promote dominance,  control and aggression.  

Addressing these factors is critical for effectively stopping men’s violence against women and girls. Tackling them involves changing social attitudes, supporting women’s independence, ending gender stereotypes, and promoting healthy relationships. 

Including all genders, particularly men and boys 

Research shows that primary prevention approaches that only challenge men or only empower women are not effective. Approaches that both redistribute power and create new and better understandings of gender are most successful. 

Men who do not commit violence are important allies in improving gender equality by challenging harmful gender stereotypes and misogyny. We can do this by promoting positive expressions of being a man. In addition, research suggests that mixed gender groups are the best environment for men and boys to learn about the realities of men’s violence against women and girls. 

Following best practice 

While not just relevant to primary prevention, the following good practice suggestions are vital for effective primary prevention: 

  • Robust planning. 

  • Involve participatory learning methods. 

  • Age-appropriate design, that includes play for children. 

  • User-friendly materials. 

  • Integrated support for survivors. 

  • Workers that are passionate about the issue and are supported.  

An example of effective primary prevention  

Australia’s national approach to prevention, Our Watch Change the Story, is an evidence based, nationwide framework to guide a coordinated approach to ending violence against women and girls. It is a feminist-informed public health approach that involves the ‘whole-of-government’.

At the heart of this approach is an emphasis on tackling deep-seated social, political, and economic inequalities that maintain and reinforce gender inequality. Another significant strength of this approach is that it is intersectional and considers the other forms of oppression and inequality that exacerbate violence against women and girls. 

Our Watch has a clear plan of action for tackling the multiple drivers of violence against women and girls, the underlying social context and supporting actions to reinforce good practice.   

Scotland could follow Australia’s lead and invest in our own feminist informed nationwide primary prevention programme. Why wouldn’t we when it’s the answer to ending men’s violence against women and girls? 

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