Discussing domestic violence with Our Watch CEO Patty Kinnersly

Topics Gender

To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which falls on November 25th, DCA speaks to Our Watch CEO Patty Kinnersly about how wider attitudes and culture impact the workplace, and we talk prevention.

How can we overcome the attitude that domestic violence is a personal issue, not an economic one, and so should not be tackled at work? 

There has been a huge shift in the community conversation over this issue in recent times. I think for most people now, violence against women is recognised as the serious, and highly prevalent crime that it is. And most people understand that addressing this crisis is a whole-of-community responsibility. 

I do think we have some way to go though, in making that point that this is not just an individual issue. It’s not only about individual attitudes and behaviours. The underlying conditions that drive this violence are associated with gender inequality. Some are part of our social and cultural norms, or our ideas about gender roles, or masculinity, or embedded in language that still too often ‘blames the victim’ or minimises or excuses men’s violence. Many of the drivers of this violence are also structural and embedded in our politics, our institutions and our organisations – and that includes workplaces. 

For these reasons, when it comes to preventing violence against women, we need to take a whole of community approach. This is why Our Watch works with schools, sporting codes, the media, governments and workplaces.  

I speak to many different organisations and overwhelmingly I hear that workplaces want to move towards greater equality. Increasingly, workplaces understand that they have a role to play in addressing the drivers of violence against women. They understand that gender inequality is at the heart of the problem and that gender equality has to be at the heart of the solution.  

Our Watch’s Workplace Equality and Respect Standards package supports a wide variety of workplaces with evidence-based tools and resources to support them to take action to prevent violence against women. 

What is it about Australian culture, which also plays out in the workkplace, that may lead to our currently high DV stats? 

Tragically, Australia is not unique in facing a crisis in violence against women, this is a global crisis. International research tells us that what underpins this violence is gender inequality. Of course, gender inequality plays out in many ways across the world and the workforce. Our national framework for prevention, Change the Story identifies four specific gendered drivers of this violence: 

  • Condoning of violence against women 
  • Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence – in both public life and relationships 
  • Rigid gender roles and stereotypes of masculinity and femininity 
  • Male peer relations that emphasise aggression and disrespect towards women. 

I’m sure we can all think of examples of how each of these play out in Australian culture and life on a daily basis; in communities, in organisations, in the media, in politics, in personal relationships – and in workplaces. 

In an employment context, gender inequality means that women are still being paid less than men, are less likely to be promoted, have less opportunities and still face rigid stereotypes that limit what they can and can’t do. And it means men still dominate decision-making and are far less likely to take time off work for caring responsibilities. 

As it is in other countries, transforming Australian culture into one that truly upholds and values gender equality is the only long-term solution to this crisis. 

What is your recommendation and vision for the future? 

Our Watch will continue to work across the community to address the drivers of violence against women. This is not a question of men versus women, and it’s not women’s business. This is about social change. We all have a role to play and we can all ask ourselves what kind of community we want to see.  

At the heart of the solution is equality and respect, and these are values that most Australians would immediately support. But we need to make this real – it can’t just be about paying lip service to these ideas. We need to take a close look at the structures, norms and attitudes that still need to change, and we need to do the hard work of really challenging and shifting those underlying drivers of violence. 

No one program or change will eliminate violence against women, but we know that each piece will play its part. We also understand that change will be long-term and generational and that we need not just changes in attitudes and behaviours, but also changes in social norms, and in laws and policies. 

There have been clear signs of progress. For example, media reporting on violence against women is much improved. And teachers are telling us how Respectful Relationships Education has driven positive changes for the young people in their classes. 

We know that social change is possible and in fact, Australia has often been a leader in this area, for example compulsory seat belts in cars, the Sun Smart campaign and campaigns raising awareness of the dangers of smoking and alcohol. Not so long ago it was acceptable to drink and drive or smoke around children, but when people understood the dangers, and when campaigns challenged these social norms, we saw significant changes in behaviour.  

We have overwhelming research to tell us about the drivers of violence against women and we will continue to work towards real, lasting change that can stop this violence before it starts.  

Workplaces have a key role to play in this. Read more resources on domestic violence and gender equality

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