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Men’s control of decision making

Men’s control of decision making

Gender inequality creates the social conditions for violence against women to occur. There are four key expressions of gender inequality that have been found to predict or drive this violence. To prevent violence against women, we must focus our efforts on addressing these drivers. Men's control of decision making and limits to women's independence in public life and relationships is one of these drivers, where women's autonomy in both public life and private relationships is constrained. This can include undermining women's decision making and leadership in public life, or relationships where men control a woman's personal, financial or social independence.

Findings from the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (2017) support and reinforce this driver of violence against women. For example, many Australians:

  • agree that men make better leaders, decision makers or are more suited to holding positions of responsibility (14% agree).
  • agree that men have greater 'natural' authority, decision making and control in the private realm of intimate relationships and should have the ultimate say over what happens in a relationship or how a family and household are run (25% agree).

Men's control of decision making and resources in the home, workplace or community can have serious consequences for women. Within public life, the overrepresentation of men in leadership positions and their control of decision making in the workplace has a flow on effect for women, whereby women:

  • continue to be overlooked for leadership roles, and
  • continue to be underrepresented in business.

Women in professions such as STEM, banking and finance, law, medicine and emergency services face strong cultural and institutional obstacles to leadership. This is despite the fact that women often have far higher postgraduate qualifications and are more likely to be overqualified for their work and wage than men in the same work.1

Men's control over decision making within the private realm of heterosexual relationships and the family can limit women's participation in public life. For example, the 'man of the house' can have the power to determine whether or not a woman can work and have economic independence. Women's financial dependence on men is a barrier to them seeking safety from violence.2

Normalised control of decision making in relationships can also normalise controlling behaviours that increase the risk of intimate partner and family violence. This imbalance in power means that men have more opportunity to abuse that power with violence. Women, in turn, have less power to stop violence, call it out or leave.3

The socio-ecological model

Men's control of decision making and limits to women's independence play a major role in shaping the way individuals, organisations and communities respond to violence. The socio-ecological model is used to help explain how violence is a product of multiple, interacting factors at the individual, organisational, systemic and societal levels.

The four gendered drivers exist at all of these levels and are the social conditions which predict, or 'drive', higher levels of violence against women.

Adapted from Change the Story, Our Watch (2015)

The socio-ecological model helps us understand how men's control of decision making and limits to women's independence manifest within different settings where people live, learn, work, socialise and play. Understanding this can help us plan prevention approaches to address violence against women within these spheres of life.

The more that women's independence and decision making is promoted in public and private life as well as across society, the more influence and positive change we will see.

Men's control of decision making and limits to women's independence takes many shapes and forms.

At an individual or relationship level, men's control of decision making and limits to women's independence can look like:

"The man of the house is the breadwinner and controls the finances."

At an organisational or community level, men's control of decision-making and limits to women's independence can look like:

"Men dominate leadership roles."

At an institutional or systemic level, men's control of decision making and limits to women's independence can look like:

"The gender pay gap."

At a societal level, men's control of decision making and limits to women's independence can look like:

The objectification and narrow representation of women in film and media.

What are some actions you can take to promote women's independence and decision making in public life and in their relationships?

To address men's control in decision making and limits to women's independence we must promote women's independence and decision making in public life and in their relationships. This means supporting women's leadership (in all its forms), autonomy and social connectedness, and challenging the norms, practices and structures that enable and perpetuate men's control and dominance across different levels of society. Promoting alternatives could include:

  • offering leadership training and mentoring programs for women both in communities and in workplaces
  • providing opportunities for women to establish social networks
  • implementing workplace gender equality strategies, such as promoting flexible work arrangements for both men and women
  • introducing workplace gender quotas for leadership.

What you can do:

  • DVRCV has developed a series of tip sheets on the four gendered drivers. This resource is a great primary prevention tool that can be used to increase understanding about how men’s control of decision making and limits to women’s independence drive violence against women. Read about the tipsheets.
  • Australia has a national framework for preventing violence against women and their children, published by Our Watch, ANROWS and VicHealth in 2015. Read Change the Story and How to Change the Story.
  • Our Watch has an excellent range of ‘Workplace Equality and Respect’ tools and resources including standards for workplaces to implement.
  • Get connected. DVRCV’s Partners in Prevention network connects people working in the primary prevention of violence against women and family violence in Victoria.
  • The Equality Rights Alliance is Australia’s largest network advocating for women’s equality, women’s leadership and recognition of women’s diversity.
  • Learn about women’s financial capability. Wire and Women’s Health in the North have developed many resources aimed at increasing women’s financial literacy and independence.
  • Read Victoria’s statewide gender equality strategy: Safe and Strong: A Victorian Gender Equality Strategy.  
  • Build your knowledge. DVRCV is soon set to launch its free foundational elearning package. Stay tuned!
  • Strengthen your skills. DVRCV offers a range of training in the primary prevention of violence against women, all catered to where you’re at in your prevention career. 

[1] Victorian Government, Department of Premier and Cabinet, 2016: Safe and Strong: A Victorian Gender Equality Strategy

[2] Our Watch, 2018: Workplace Equality and Respect Standards

[3] ibid