Chapter 2 - Power Subchapter: Gender & power

Gender inequality and abuse

Equality is the goal

Gender equality means that the wants, needs and rights of boys and men and girls and women are considered to be equal.

Gender inequality exists when the wants, needs and rights of one gender is seen to be more important than another.

In our society, males can often have their rights privileged above females. This privilege gives them unearned benefits, rights, and advantages in society. These privileges are often times invisible—it’s just the way it’s always been. You don’t tend to notice what stays the same. But you do notice change.


A panel of five illustrated characters each with a microphone sit under a sign saying, "Panel of experts". Four out of the five are men.


Gender stereotypes create a situation of gender inequality in which girls and women and boys and men do not have equal power, resources or opportunities, and their voices, ideas and work are not valued equally by society.

We all have different views and opinions about others. When we form an opinion about a person based on what we know of them and how they behave towards us, based on evidence, that’s one thing.

But when there’s a collective opinion and social structures aimed at one group based on their gender, that’s discrimination. Discrimination underpins inequality.

  • Social and gender norms: the dominant ideas about the roles that men and women are capable of playing in a society.
  • Economic structures: the pay gap between men and women, the difference in superannuation levels for men and women.
  • Organisational opportunities: males are more likely to be promoted or appointed as managers within organisations.
  • Community structures: males tend to be in the foreground of community organisations and events and women are more often relegated to behind-the-scenes roles.
  • Family and relationship responsibilities: Females are expected to take on unpaid care and household work within the family whereas males are expected to provide financially for the family through paid work. 


Gender inequality and violence against girls and women

Gender inequality is the key driver of violence against women. These include:

  • Control of decision-making by boys and men and limits to girls' and women’s independence in public life and relationships—for example, the idea that boys and men should be the head of the household and decide how money is spent.
  • Rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity—for example, the idea that girls or women and boys or men should act in certain ways or fulfil certain roles.
  • Disrespect towards girls and women and male peer relations that emphasise aggression—for example, the way some groups of boys and men ‘bond’ or seek to prove their ‘manhood’ or ‘masculinity’ through actions that are disrespectful, hostile or aggressive towards women.


A common element in many incidents of violence against girls and women is the belief that boys and men should control and hold power over girls and women. This control can take many forms including physical, sexual, psychological and financial.

By breaking down and challenging the assumption that boys and men should have power and control in relationships, and creating the belief that healthy and respectful relationships are based on equal power and shared decisions, we can go some way to ending the cycle of violence against girls and women.

Everyone has a role to play in promoting gender equality and challenging gender stereotypes.


Gendered abuse and violence

In Australia, domestic, family and sexual violence is found across all cultures, ages and socio-economic groups, but the majority of those who experience these forms of violence are girls and women.

Gender inequality drives violence and abuse against girls and women. Remember, gender inequality exists when the wants, needs and rights of one gender are seen to be more important than another.

When girls and women are seen to be of less value, there’s a greater risk that boys and men will be disrespectful and violent towards them.

Individuals (male or female) who do not believe boys and men and girls and women are equal, or see them as having specific roles in society or particular characteristics, are more likely to condone, tolerate or excuse violence against girls and women.


We all would like to think we are all treated equally, but the facts show a very different picture.

  • Eight out of ten women aged 18 to 24 were harassed on the street in the past year.
  • One in three Australian girls and women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15.
  • One in four Australian girls and  women has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.
  • One in four Australian girls and women has experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.
  • Girls and Women are five times more likely than boys and men to require medical attention or hospitalisation as a result of intimate partner violence, and five times more likely to report fearing for their lives.
  • Young girls and  women (aged 18 – 24 years) experience significantly higher rates of physical and sexual violence than women in older age groups.
  • Of those girls and women who experience violence, more than half have children in their care.
  • On average, at least one girl or woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia.


Find out more on the Our Watch website.


Gendered abuse online

Six illustrated characters are shown, three are female and three are male. Each character is holding a phone and has an emoji above them indicating what they are experiencing on their phone. All three of the female characters look disturbed and have a troll-face emoji above them. Only one of the three male characters has the troll-face and looks disturbed, the other two have a happy expression with a love heart emoji above them.


Online abuse is not a girls' or women’s issue; it is a societal issue that disproportionately affects girls and women.

Harassment and abuse online can include behaviours such as:

  • name calling
  • social embarrassment and offensive language
  • sexual harassment
  • unwanted sexual behaviours
  • exploitation or abuse (taking or distributing intimate or sexually explicit images without permission)
  • threats
  • cyberstalking.

Technology is often blamed for the harassment and abuse that women experience online. However, it is important to remember that it is not technology that is harming girls and women, it is people using technology to harm girls and women.

Technology is not doing more harm than good. It is the people who choose to harass, threaten, stalk and abuse that are doing the harm. And much (though not all) of the harassment and abuse girls and women experience via technology is at the hands of male perpetrators.

Online violence against girls and women can often be an expression of the same gender discrimination and inequality that exists offline. Online, it can be amplified. A female making a comment on social media can be abused by users from all over the world. Online, abuse is not limited to the people that we know in real life. Abuse can come from anyone.

The good news is that if technology is a tool, then it can be used by people to challenge disrespect, harassment and abuse to make online spaces a more respectful and equal place for everyone.