Respectful Relationships and Violence Against Women

8 December 2017

As part of our 16 Days of Activism blog series, Heidi Zajac, Respectful Relationships Program Coordinator, contributed the following article. It outlines the importance of respectful relationships education to reduce violence against women and family violence.

No doubt you have heard expressions uttered in movies, on the street, or even in your home, such as ‘’You run like a girl’’ and “Boys don’t cry”. We grow up surrounded by seemingly casual comments such as these, that can have a lasting effect on how we perceive the role and value of girls and boys, and of women and men, in our communities.

While comments like these may seem harmless, internalised beliefs about women and men can inform our most intimate relationships. The National Survey of Community Attitudes on Violence Against Women found that 1 in 5 Australians believe that men should take control in a relationship, despite controlling behaviour being a consistent factor in abusive relationships.

Shockingly, when we look at relationship beliefs for younger people, the National Survey shows that 22 per cent of respondents think men should take control in relationships, compared to 16 per cent of respondents aged 35–64 years. These are startling statistics for a society and a young generation that many believe, or at least hope, is closing the gender gap.

Infographic source:

Connecting Respectful Relationships with preventing Violence Against Women

In recent years, Australia has seen increased discussion around violence against women and family violence. The community leadership shown by activists such as 2015 Australian of the Year Rosie Batty, have been instrumental in greater media coverage and conversations in our communities.

We have also had the Victorian Government’s Royal Commission into Family Violence, and from 2010, the Triennial National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and the Children by the Federal Government Department of Social Services.

Both the Royal Commission and National Plan recognise gendered attitudes, norms, and beliefs in young people must be redressed if we are to overcome violence against women. The 2016-2019 Third Action Plan under the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and the Children, recommends that such behaviour and attitudinal change be instigated by programs teaching respectful relationships.

Specifically, the Third Action Plan calls for prevention and early intervention initiatives that will:

  • support schools and teachers to deliver age-appropriate and evidence-based respectful relationships education to all school children covering sexual violence, gender equality issues and a range of other relationship issues and tailored to vulnerable cohorts
  • drive nationwide change in the culture, behaviours and attitudes that lead to violence against women and their children.

The Respectful Relationships program has been rolled out in the ACT by YWCA Canberra, as well as across most schools in Victoria, to do just this. Delivered to primary and high school students by teachers or external facilitators, Respectful Relationships teaches children and young people how to show and to expect respect in their relationships. Through subjects such as consent, self-respect, and conflict resolution, participants are empowered with skills, knowledge, and attitudes that are respectful.

Victorian based advocacy organisation, Our Watch, also develops resources that aim to transform the attitudes and behaviours that lead to violence against women. Our Watch completed an evaluation of respectful relationships programs in schools across Victoria.

The RREiS Evaluation showed that of the schools who delivered Respectful Relationships:

  • students’ knowledge of, attitudes towards, and confidence in discussing issues of domestic violence, gender equality and respectful relationships improved across all survey questions
  • improved classroom behaviour was observed with close to two-thirds of teachers surveyed reporting that they had observed an improvement
  • all schools reviewed and began updating their policies and procedures to promote gender equality and respectful relationships.

A suite of Respectful Relationships programs is delivered by YWCA Canberra for schools, community groups, and workplaces. Creating attitudes and beliefs among children, young people, communities and workplaces is vital if we are going to overcome violence against women in the ACT.

What can you do? 

We can all take actions that contribute to alleviating violence against women. By understanding more about the kinds of attitudes, beliefs, and norms that contribute to controlling behaviours in relationships, you are taking steps to stand up for respectful relationships. When you call out a sexist joke or disrespectful behaviour, you are promoting safe and consensual behaviour in your community.

Have a look at this list for some tips and ideas on what you can do to take a stand to prevent violence against women.  Remember, before acting or intervening, your physical and emotional safety should be assessed first.

  1. If you see or hear something sexist – whether it’s an ad or something a friend has said – say so. You’re probably not the only one who thinks it’s wrong.
  2. If you hear someone blaming a victim of sexual assault by asking ‘what was she wearing’ or ‘was she drunk’, point out that those kinds of questions contribute to a society that excuses violence against women.
  3. If you think someone is being controlling towards their partner, like stopping them from seeing family or friends, withholding money, tell the person experiencing the violence you’ve noticed this and ask what you can do to help.
  4. If a friend, family member or colleague tells you she has or is experiencing violence, believe her and make sure she knows you’re there to support her. Avoid telling her to leave – this can increase her level of risk.
  5. If you experience sexual harassment in the street like offensive comments or catcalling, call it out by sharing your story at Everyday Sexism. In the workplace, report these behaviours to your Manager or HR.
Source: Our Watch, 2017

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