Implications for policy and practice
Attitudes are one way of measuring progress in addressing the factors leading to violence against women. Positive change in people’s understanding of violence against women, attitudes to gender equality and attitudes to violence against women suggests that Australia is ‘on-track’ to achieving positive changes in these factors.
Continued effort is needed to ensure that these changes are ultimately reflected in reductions in violence, and that gains are not lost to negative influences. As a range of factors influence violence against women, not just attitudes, there is a need for a coordinated approach using many different strategies to prevent violence against women.
The NCAS findings provide some cause for optimism, although certainly not for complacency. Although knowledge and attitudes are tracking in the direction of positive change, there are areas investigated in the NCAS that raise cause for concern. The NCAS findings will be useful to guide future action to identify and address these areas, with the aim of building cultures of safety, respect and equality for all Australians.
Future directions for policy-makers, practitioners and service providers:
In prioritising effort to strengthen knowledge, attitudes and bystander intentions, there would be benefits in:
- addressing the gaps in knowledge of violence against women, in particular, information about help-seeking, the gendered nature and dynamics of intimate partner violence, and the greater risk of sexual assault by a known person, compared to sexual assault by a stranger;
- addressing all aspects of gender inequality, with a focus on challenging rigid gender roles and identities and the idea that gender inequality is no longer a problem;
- a greater focus in prevention programming on achieving gender equality in the private sphere;
- promoting attitudes that foster a mutually respectful approach to consent in sexual relations, and challenging the idea that women use claims of violence to gain tactical advantage;
- addressing barriers to bystander action by informing people that they are likely to be supported by more of their friends than they might think;
- addressing attitudes that ‘condone male peer relations involving aggression and disrespect of women’ to encourage bystander action, as this is the gender equality theme most strongly predicting people’s intention to act (especially among men).
Implications for policy and practice relating to attitudes
The strongest predictors of attitudinal support for violence against women in order of influence are having:
- low level of support for gender equality;
- low understanding of violence against women;
- prejudicial attitudes towards people based on other attributes; and
- high level of support for violence in general.
This suggests that these attitudes, and the norms, cultures and practices supporting them, should have greater emphasis in prevention than factors associated with a person’s demographic characteristics (e.g. their age or gender).
The influence of attitudes to gender equality on attitudes to violence against women supports the recommendation of expert bodies that a gender transformative approach to preventing violence against women is needed. The approach is one that promotes equal and respectful relationships between men and women as a key to reducing this violence.
Implications for policy and practice relating to prevention strategies
The fact that there were relatively small differences between people based on their demographic characteristics suggests the need for prevention strategies that reach the whole population. However, the survey does show some grounds for targeting:
- men and boys;
- men and women in male dominated workplaces and social networks;
- older people; and
- people with a low level of education and/or experiencing other forms of disadvantage.
Of course, people’s knowledge, attitudes and bystander intentions are not the only factors linked to violence against women, and therefore are not the only rationale for targeting. Other criteria are necessary to determine where to target prevention effort, such as whether violence against women is more prevalent in a particular group, or whether a group is affected by other conditions linked to violence against women.
There is a need for further research, in particular qualitative research, to better understand why certain attitudes are held or are changing. Longitudinal designs would help to foster understanding of factors influencing knowledge and attitudes. Many other research questions could be explored using the NCAS data base – coming in 2019.
There is also scope to improve NCAS’s capacity to meet its aims. People’s behaviour is strongly influenced by their beliefs about what they believe is expected of them. Referred to as social norms, these could be measured in future surveys. Other possibilities include questions to assess:
- the wider community’s attitudes towards violence and inequality affecting particular groups of women, such as young women or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women;
- the influence of other factors on attitudes (e.g. people’s media consumption habits and preferences or measures of social cohesion); and
- attitudes within and towards particular organisational contexts such as sporting clubs, schools or universities.
World Health Organization. (2013). 16 ideas for addressing violence against women in the context of the HIV epidemic – a programming tool. Retrieved 20