Violence against women: prevention through respect and equality
Prevention of violence against women starts with children and helping them learn about respectful relationships, gender equality and positive attitudes towards girls and women.
You can shape your child’s attitudes and behaviour in the short and long term by:
- letting children know that violence towards women is never OK
- teaching your child about gender equality and positive attitudes towards women and girls
- being a role model for respect in your own relationships.
You play a vital part in helping your children develop respectful attitudes. That’s because you are your child’s most important role model.
Violence against women: where it comes from
Violence against women comes from gender inequality and disrespectful and sexist beliefs and attitudes towards women and girls. These include the beliefs that women and girls:
- aren’t as good as men and boys
- don’t deserve the same opportunities or treatment as men and boys
- should or shouldn’t do particular things, just because they’re women and girls.
People don’t always realise that they have these sexist beliefs. Whether they realise, it’s not OK for people to treat women badly or to be emotionally or physically violent towards them.
When you challenge sexist attitudes and promote respect and gender equality, it helps to prevent violence against women. But violence against women, gender equality and respect can be tough topics to talk about with your child. It’s often best to use everyday activities and events to help your child learn about respect.
Teaching children that violence is never OK
It’s important for your child to know that any type of violence – verbal, physical or emotional – is never OK. Here are some everyday ways that you can help your child understand this idea:
- Teach your child how to recognise aggression and violence. For example, teasing, name-calling and bullying in the playground are forms of verbal and emotional violence. Hitting, pushing, punching and smacking others are forms of physical violence.
- Let your child know that there’s no excuse for violent or aggressive behaviour from peers, and they don’t have to put up with it. Teach your child to say, ‘Stop – I don’t like it’.
- Teach your child how to tell peers to stop being violent or aggressive towards others. For example, they could say, ‘Stop it – that’s not OK’.
- Never excuse rough or violent behaviour by saying things like ‘Boys will be boys’ or ‘He didn’t mean to hurt you’.
- Show your child how to resolve conflicts using words and problem-solving skills. And let your child see you using words and problem-solving to sort out conflicts.
- Praise your child when you see them using words and skills to sort out problems. For example, ‘It’s great how you stayed calm and walked away when you were feeling really angry. You didn’t take your anger out by hitting. Well done!’
A child who can say ‘Stop – I don’t like it’ to another child who pushes them at playgroup or calls them names is more likely to grow into a confident young person who can clearly tell others what they want and don’t want in relationships.
Teaching children about gender equality
If children understand gender equality, they’re more likely also to understand that treating women disrespectfully and being violent towards women is not OK.
Here are some everyday ways that you can help your child understand the idea of gender equality:
- Don’t tolerate sexist jokes from friends or family members. A sexist joke is a statement or story that tries to make people laugh by putting women down or suggesting that women aren’t as smart or good as men. If someone makes a joke like this in front of your child, it’s OK to call it out.
- Teach your child that everyone can do and be what they want to be. Point out examples of men and women in ‘non-traditional’ roles and activities. Examples might be women playing cricket, rugby and AFL, and men working in midwifery or child care.
- Avoid gendered roles in your family relationships and domestic chores. This helps your children learn that they don’t have to do things just because of their gender. For example, make sure your children see you and your partner, if you have one, cooking, cleaning, mowing the lawn, taking the rubbish out, changing nappies and so on.
- Tune in to the way your child and other people talk about girls and women. For example, saying that someone ‘runs like a girl’ or is ‘strong for a girl’ is disrespectful because it suggests that girls aren’t physically strong and skilled. You could say, ‘Yep, she runs like a girl – try and keep up’ or ‘She’s not strong for a girl – she’s just strong’.
- Be aware of your own language, and avoid saying things like ‘Don’t act like a girl’ or ‘Man up’ to boys. These statements reinforce unhelpful messages about how boys and girls should feel and behave.
- Consider choosing gender-neutral toys and dress-ups for your children. For example, you might choose teddy bears rather than baby dolls or encourage all your children to dress up as astronauts or prime ministers.
Teaching children about respectful relationships
Respect is about treating ourselves and others with dignity and consideration. Respect is an essential part of forming healthy, happy relationships with friends, family and romantic partners. The best way to teach your child about respectful relationships is to model respect in your own relationships.
Here are some ideas:
- Treat others equally, fairly and in the same way you want to be treated yourself. Make sure your child sees you behaving this way, and talk with your child about it.
- Let your child know that people have diverse views, beliefs, values, religions, cultural practices and so on – and that it’s important to show respect even when you don’t agree with someone’s values or views.
- Let your child know that everyone makes mistakes. For example, if your child forgets to pick up milk on the way home, don’t get angry or overreact. Instead you might say ‘It’s easy to forget – maybe leave a note to remind yourself next time’.
- Respect your child’s boundaries and let them know that it’s OK to say ‘no’ sometimes – for example, ‘No, I don’t want to go to Jack’s house to play’.
- Communicate openly and sort out conflicts fairly – for example, don’t yell or be aggressive towards your child in an argument.
It’s never too early to start talking with your child about respectful relationships. Early conversations and role-modelling will help your child develop and maintain respectful relationships throughout life. And open, early conversations send the message that your child can come to you to talk about their relationships and emotions.