Gender, Power, Violence: Creating a better normal (Speech, Parliament House)

Summary talking points

  • It is possible to prevent and reduce sexual and domestic violence. Well-designed prevention strategies can lessen the social conditions that breed perpetration and victimisation.
  • It is vital to engage men and boys in this work: because traditional notions of masculinity and sexist masculine cultures shape the violence that some males perpetrate, and because men and boys can help to build fair, respectful communities.
  • Male political leaders and policy-makers must be engaged as agents of positive change, addressing sexism and abuse in their own institutions and supporting robust agendas of primary prevention.


Prevention is possible

Over the past few weeks, the nation has been convulsed by stories of men’s and boys’ sexual violence against women and girls: in schools, in homes, and in Parliament. And the past decade has seen increasing community attention to sexual and domestic violence.

My first point is this: We can end this violence. Sexual violence and domestic violence can be reduced, and they can be prevented.

I say it because there is evidence. There is data. There is statistically significant, methodologically robust, data.

There is now solid evidence that violence prevention efforts can make a difference.

  • Well-designed programs in schools, and in universities, can shift young people’s attitudes towards rape, domestic violence, and harassment. And most importantly, they can lower rates of violence perpetration and victimisation.
  • Education programs among professionals – police, faith leaders, and judges – can mean that they respond more appropriately to victims and to perpetrators.
  • Communications and social marketing campaigns can shift the social norms that make sexual violence seem excusable, acceptable, even sexy and desirable.
  • Community-based campaigns, involving community development and community mobilisation, can reduce the risk factors for violence including rigid gender roles and gender inequalities.

We are in Parliament, so I should also emphasise:

  • Funding and policies make a difference. US studies show that states with more funding addressing violence against women then show lower levels of this violence. And national policies have been shown to produce long-term declines in rates of violence.

Men must be engaged in the work

This is my second point: Men and boys must be part of the solution. Because this violence is a men’s problem. Male violence is a problem for women, as they are impacted by it, but is it a problem of men, as they perpetrate it. It is men’s behaviour that is the problem (Dembele, pers. comm., March 22 2021).

You may say, “Not all men”, and of course, it’s not all men. But it is more men than many people think, especially once we recognise the wide range of behaviours that are abusive, coercive, controlling, or harassing.

Sexual violence and domestic violence also are a men’s problem because they are tied to masculinity – to the outdated, sexist ideas about manhood that still circulate in Australia. Because sexist notions of masculinity and sexist masculine cultures shape the violence that some males perpetrate.

Men in general must take responsibility for the problem. Lots of women already are working hard to challenge the gender stereotypes and inequalities that feed into this violence, and to minimise their own risks of being assaulted. While most men have stayed silent.

But on a more hopeful note: Men and boys have a vital role to play. Men and boys can help to build fair, respectful communities.

Men can do three things. First, put our own houses in order. Look at how we treat the women and girls in our own lives: in the bedroom, the kitchen, in the workplace, and on the street.

Second, challenge other men’s sexist and abusive behaviour.

And third, support public action to end this violence. Which brings me to my final point.

Male political leaders, policy-makers, and parties must get on board

If we are to reduce levels of sexual violence and domestic violence in Australia, then male political leaders, party members, and policy-makers must get on board.

First, governments must do more to support primary prevention.

Australia’s Change The Story framework, developed by the national violence prevention organisation Our Watch, is described internationally as best practice. But at the moment, the Federal government and most state governments are not doing enough to support primary prevention, the strategies that aim to stop initial victimisation, initial perpetration. Prevention efforts are under-funded, they lack national coordination, and they need both capacity-building and scaling up.

Second, male politicians must literally get their ‘house in order’. They must address sexism and abuse in Parliament House, and in politics more widely. Male politicians must get with the twenty-first century. They must hold each other to account, breaking ranks with boys’ clubs and codes of silence and impunity. And they must endorse and champion initiatives to foster a more gender-equal, respectful, and democratic culture in politics.

So the question is not, Can we prevent sexual violence and domestic violence? The question is instead, Will we prevent it? Will political leaders, parties, and others take the necessary action to make a difference?



The Parliamentary Friends of Social Sciences group hosted an event at Parliament House titled “Gender, Power, Violence: Creating a better normal”, on March 23 2021. The event was organised by Members of Parliament Andrew Leigh, Dave Sharma, and Adam Bandt. It featured a panel comprising Professor Pauline Grosjean, Associate Professor Michael Flood, and Professor JaneMaree Maher, and hosted by Michelle Grattan.

The above is the text of Michael’s remarks.

Andrew Leigh then spoke about these issues in the House of Representatives on March 24. His remarks are here.

Citation: Flood, M. (2021). Panel presentation, Gender, Power, Violence: Creating a better normal. Parliamentary Friends of Social Sciences event, Parliament House, March 23, Canberra.