What is Primary Prevention?

Primary Prevention

Primary prevention of violence against women stops violence before it starts by addressing its main driver – gender inequality. It is a long-term strategy to prevent violence from ever happening by challenging the attitudes, values and structures that sustain it (1).

Effective primary prevention:

  • Works with all people, across all levels: individual, interpersonal, community and society – making preventing VAW everyone’s responsibility.
  • Considers how gendered power dynamics function at the individual, community and political levels, to drive gender inequality and violence against women.
  • Works across the intersecting identities that shape women’s everyday lives and experiences of violence.
  • Is attentive to privilege and listening to the voices of people who are the most excluded.
  • Challenges traditional ideas of what gender is or should be so all people can feel comfortable, accepted and equal in society.
  • Acknowledges that efforts to end one form of violence will not be successful without tackling all forms of violence, oppression and discrimination.
  • Works through ethical and respectful collaboration, partnerships and alliances to build coordinated challenges to gender inequality, racism, ableism, ageism, classism, homophobia and transphobia.

Over time, and with sustained investment in prevention, this should result in a decrease in the prevalence of violence (2).

Why Primary Prevention?

VAWG is extremely harmful to women and children. It can cause severe and long-lasting physical and mental health problems, reduced participation in the workforce, substance abuse and death.

We must be ready to respond to VAWG when it happens, but we should also be working to prevent it from happening in the first place. Similarly, to how we seek to prevent a medical epidemic through preventative measures such as vaccination programmes and sanitation plans, violence against women can be prevented by increasing gender equality in our society, and by promoting equal and respectful relationships.

The pandemic and measures to mitigate it will have short- and long-term consequences on gender inequality and VAWG, increasing the existing risk to women and girls. Only by taking a primary prevention approach to tackle VAWG can we mitigate the consequences of the pandemic and prevent VAWG.

Violence against women and girls also carries significant economic costs, with both households and national economies paying in terms of lost productivity and the financial burden on health and justice services.

From an economic standpoint, primary prevention is a more efficient use of resources than dealing with the many serious, long-term consequences of violence against women and girls.

What does Zero Tolerance do?

Zero Tolerance is a Scottish charity working to end men’s violence against women by promoting gender equality and challenging attitudes that normalise violence and abuse. We do this through raising public and political awareness of the causes of VAWG and promoting action on prevention. Our policy and campaign work focus on mainstreaming gender equality, specifically with children and young people, and in the media. We also work directly with key sectors, organisations and individuals to develop their skills, capacity, and understanding regarding the prevention of VAWG.

What can you do?

Ending violence against women requires every person, every part of the community and every organisation to do their part.

At individual level

  • Be curious and learn more about issues which affect women and gender diverse people - learn more about violence against women
  • Be aware of, and challenge, your unconscious bias - read this article
  • Be intersectional - read this article

At the interpersonal level

  • Educate yourself and share that knowledge with others. See our FAQ’s and share our - It’s Time for Prevention Animation.
  • Shut down sexist remarks – simply ask the person to explain what they meant.
  • Challenge gender stereotypes with the children in your life - see our You Can Be Campaign for Parents, early years practitioners and carers of school children, for more information.
  • Be inclusive of gender-diverse people – check Stonewall’s Come Out for LGBT Campaign.
  • Start a conversation with the men in your life - ask them to join White Ribbon campaign.
  • Share the mental and domestic workload - read this article to find out how.

At the community level

  • Promote gender equality in professional relationships and workplaces.
  • Tackle occupational segregation and the pay gap check Close the Gap resources.
  • Provide career development opportunities for women.
  • Support and donate to women-led organisations and brands.
  • Offer and promote parental leave policies to both women and men.
  • Amplify voices from marginalised communities - use your power, privilege and position to advocate for the inclusion and amplification of these voices and demand organisations and government bodies do the same.

At society level

  • Vote for women and leaders who take action to advance gender equality
  • Push for media to be held accountable in their reporting of violence against women – contact media outlets and share our Media Guidelines with them, make a complaint to press regulators if you see an article that reports violence irresponsibly.
  • Lobby for better laws to advance gender equality - write to your local members asking them what they’re doing to advance gender equality and tell them why this matters to you.

How to champion primary prevention as a Member of the Scottish Parliament?

To build a Scotland where VAWG is no longer tolerated, we need MSPs’ support as for primary prevention. To ensure long-term equality and safety for women and girls, we urge you to take action.

What can you do now?


  • Support the continued implementation and evaluation of Equally Safe and the Gender Pay Gap Action Plan.
  • Support the delivery of manifesto promises for women and the gender equality.
  • Support work to make tackling gender stereotyping and inequality a priority within early years care and education.
  • Show support for the women’s sector by advocating for our asks and attending our events.
  • Consult the women’s sector on any new policy.
  • Focus Covid-19 recovery on recognising, reducing and redistributing unpaid care work; developing and supporting equal family policies; robustly and sustainably funding local and national response systems for VAWG; and targeting support for employment most affected by Covid 19.
  • Support the primary prevention work in your local authority – ask political leads to prioritise primary prevention by using the Primary Prevention Guidance for Community Planning Partners to help ensure that local community planning partners are working to tackle the causes of VAWG and gender inequality. The Coronavirus Supplementary National Violence Against Women Guidance provides guidance on planning primary prevention as part of local COVID-19 responses.
  • Share and discuss our primary prevention briefing with your party colleagues.

What can you do throughout your term and beyond?

  • Speak publicly about the continuum of VAWG and how to prevent it by driving greater public understanding of the links between gender inequality and VAWG.
  • Support policies and initiatives grounded in feminist understanding of gender inequality as the root cause of violence against women.
  • Integrate attention to gender equality into other sectors, such as health, education and infrastructure to create a multi-sectoral coordinated approach to tackling gender inequality and VAWG.
  • Vote for improved legislation to advance gender equality and to protect women and gender diverse people from discrimination.
  • Commit to the long and continuous work to tackle all forms of social, political and cultural discrimination, inequality and disadvantage.
  • Connect with and support Women's Organisations in Scotland. Download Women's Organisation's Directory for more information.


Get in touch with Zero Tolerance for more information on


  1. Hester and Westermand, 2005, p15, cited in Ellis Jane Literature Review: Better outcomes for children and young People Experiencing Domestic Abuse – Directions for good Practice
  2. United Nations Development Fund for Women, no date




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