Universities seek to shift the dial on gendered violence in society 

29 March 2019

Professor Margaret Gardner AO, Chair, Universities Australia

Margaret Gardner HSIn 2016, more than 30,000 university students took part in Australia’s first national survey on their experiences of sexual assault and sexual harassment – whether in their homes, at their part-time jobs, on campus, at social events or on public transport.

We remain deeply grateful to everyone who shared their stories.

Sadly, their experiences echo an all-too-common story. In Australia, one-in-five women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. One-in-three will experience family violence.

But violence against women right across our society is preventable. And the experts in this field argue that gender equality is the heart of the solution.

That’s why Australia’s 39 universities, through Universities Australia, will partner with Our Watch and the Victorian Government to develop a whole-of-institution approach to prevent gendered violence in society — the Respect and Equality Program.

This will include the development of a next-generation respectful relationships education program.

The program will be tailored specifically for students in Australian universities, drawing on insights from violence prevention and online learning experts.

Student education is important. Yet we also know the most effective measures to prevent violence against women are those that shape wider society.

Institutions that model respect and gender equality deliver a strong message: respect and equality are expected from — and for — every member of their community.

Indeed respect and equality — the treatment of others as we would wish to be treated — is foundational for preventing violence against any vulnerable member of our society, whatever their gender.

The Respect and Equality Program will also deliver enhanced workplace standards, training packages, resources and toolkits for university leaders, for lecturers and tutors, for professional staff, as well as students to promote equality and prevent violence.

This work will grow the confidence of everyone in our university community to challenge sexism, stereotypes, and those who would condone or excuse violence against women.

Changing deeply-engrained, unacceptable attitudes across a society is no small task.

But universities play a powerful role to change attitudes that enable violence — and to equip our students with the skills and confidence to build a more equal world.

We will pilot this model in a small group of universities over the next two years.

Following the pilot, the resources developed will be provided to all universities and to any post-secondary institution that seeks them.

As we embark on this next phase of our work, I have once again been thinking about the survivors who have shared their own experiences with us.

It is no small thing to disclose something so devastating.

We are thankful to those who shared their stories with us and all those who are working hard to make the necessary changes in behaviour and culture.

You are front and centre in our minds as we take this next step.