Young women most vulnerable amid gender equality backlash

New research confirms a dangerous reality for young women.

Almost one in four young men think women find it flattering to be persistently pursued, even if they aren’t interested and one in seven young people believe a man would be justified to force sex if the woman initiated it, but then changed her mind and pushed him away.

National research body ANROWS in partnership with VicHealth have released their latest research report Young Australian’s Attitudes to Violence against Women and Gender Equality (the Report) which surveyed 1,761 young Australians aged 16 to 24 about their views on violence against women and gender equality. This was part of the larger 2017 survey National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women, the world’s longest running research into community attitudes to violence against women.

Women aged 18-24 are most likely to have experienced violence in the previous 12 months, and experience sexual violence at twice the national average.

While the ANROWS study showed an increased understanding of the physical manifestations of violence against women among young people, young women remain vulnerable at the hands of men.

It’s not just physical violence that harms young women. Everyday sexism and harassment create barriers to fully participating in private and public life and prevent young women from achieving their full potential.

The research points to a lack of awareness among young people when it comes to non-physical forms of violence including stalking, using technology to track a partner’s movements and harassment over social media.

  • More than one in five young men (22%) think men should take control of relationships and be the head of the household
  • Over two in five young Australians (43%) support the statement ‘I think it’s natural for a man to want to appear in control of his partner in front of his male friends’.
  • Young people were confused about the non-consensual sharing of nude images, with over a quarter blaming the women for sending the image instead of her partner for sharing it without her consent.

Alarmingly, this latest research from ANROWS shows low support for gender equality among young people.

Almost half of young people in Australia believe that many women exaggerate gender inequality in Australia, with young men more likely to hold this belief than young women.

This research supports what those working in the gender and violence prevention sectors have known for a long time – which is that gender inequality is a key driver of violence against women. Young people are more likely to reject violence against women if they support gender equality, whereas young people who agree with rigid gender roles are more likely to hold attitudes supportive of violence against women.

Too often a slight shift toward gender equality in public life is being confused with full equality having been achieved for women. With this misunderstanding comes a perception that men and women are equal in their perpetration and victimisation of violence.

“A lot of young people believe it’s a gender-neutral issue where men and women are equally using violence, but we know from police statistics and surveys this is largely a problem of men’s violence against women.”

Anastasia Powell, researcher and author of the report

Young people don’t fully understand that men are mostly perpetrators of violence and women are victims, experiencing intimate partner violence at three times the rate of men.

Violence against women is the leading cause of death and disability for women aged 15-44 in Australia, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Encouragingly, the research shows most young Australians are concerned by sexism and disrespect towards women but don’t necessarily have the confidence or skills to take action. Young men in particular need more support to challenge rigid gender roles and speak out against sexism.

Ending violence against women comes down to education, and the empowerment that comes from obtaining the knowledge, skills and confidence to overcome social pressures and participate in respectful relationships. We need to educate all young people about consent, power and gender inequality so they know controlling behaviour and violence in all forms are not part of respectful relationships.

“We must continue to invest in prevention strategies to continue to make ground on these attitudes and to make this the generation that ends violence against women.”

Anastasia Powell, researcher and author of the report

YWCA Australia runs a number of primary prevention of violence programs that aim to change the structures, norms and practices that drive gender-based violence.This includes delivering respectful relationships education in schools, Bystander Intervention workshops and our Gender Equity Matters program in workplaces. Our prevention work is evidence based and uses best practice models.

I take this opportunity to call on the Coalition Government to affirm their commitment to keeping women, young women and girls safe. Our 2019 Election Platform called for an investment in programs relating to primary prevention of gender-based violence. The Opposition committed funding to this pre-election – now is the time for the Coalition to do the same.

According to a 2016 Our Watch report violence against women and their children costs the Australian economy over $21 billion per year – a cost which shows no rate of slowing. If the state and federal governments, as well as the private sector invested a fraction of this $21 billion into increasing the delivery of respectful relationships education across the country, we could transform Australia’s culture of disrespect and violence and save young women’s lives.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on (1800) 737 732 or visit In an emergency call 000.

This article was originally published on Women’s Agenda and is written by Sarah Hill, Young Women’s Development Manager at YWCA Australia.

Sarah Hill is the Young Women’s Development Manager at YWCA Australia. Sarah has a Bachelor of Arts, Masters of International Relations and is currently completing Graduate Diploma in Business. When she’s not championing the rights of young women you can find her ranting at feminist book clubs across Melbourne, at the football (go AFLW!) or binging every food show available on Netflix.

YWCA Australia wishes to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we work, live and play and pay our respects to Elders past and present. We recognise First Nations people as the custodians of the lands, seas and skies, with more than 60,000 years of wisdom, connection and relationship in caring for Country.

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