Women’s Policy Action Tank: The cost of gender inequality and family violence

It has been heartening to see the recent attention that family violence has been receiving at both a Federal and State levels in the past two years.  In today’s policy analysis Supriya Singh argues that this attention is not being translated into meaningful policy responses, and has been sidelined in the current election debates.  In order to effectively tackle family violence, gender inequalities must be addressed in a meaningful way.

Scorecard on Women and Policy provided by Supriya Singh, Professor, Graduate School of Business & Law, RMIT University

Topic:  Federal gender equality policies

Sub-topic: Family violence

Gender inequality and family violence are being sidelined

Gender inequality and family violence are not at the centre of political debate in this national election. Politicians trying to persuade us to give them power to frame our future for the next three years do not think Australian women and men care about equal pay and representation, a safe home, economic abuse, a fairer child care system and women who find themselves poor towards the end of their lives. 

The vivid stories told in the State of Victoria Royal Commission Report into Family Violence have not translated into a political vision for a fair and safe country – equal at work and safe from abuse in the home.

Australia is moving backwards on gender equality

The World Economic Forum ranks Australia as 24th in the world in terms of gender equality in 2014 compared to 15th in 2006.  Nor has this rung alarm bells.

It is noteworthy that politicians do not translate issues of gender equality to the number and percentage of voters.  Nearly two-thirds (65%) of women between 20-74 years were in the labour force, 2014-2015. They are vitally interested that the average female wage is only 87 percent of the annual male wage. Moreover one in five employed women with dependent children did not have leave entitlements in November 2014. This compares with over one in ten employed men. 

Gender inequities underpin violence against women

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were 1.3 million women who experienced violence from a previous partner and 237,100 from a current partner. The numbers for men were correspondingly 336,300 and 119,600 who experienced violence from a previous or current partner in 2012.  These numbers multiply when one counts children and other family and community members who are affected.

Moreover, these numbers only tell part of the story for they count the largest but only one kind of family violence. As the Royal Commission into Family Violence concludes, ‘Family violence disproportionately affects women and children, and the majority of perpetrators are men’ (p. 18).

Gender equality makes economic sense

Politicians do not see money in gender equality at work and home, as they slug it out over the country’s economy. However, placing gender equality as the central platform for designing a fairer Australia would lead to great economic benefits. McKinsey Global Institute has tracked equality in work, essential services and enablers of economic opportunity, legal protection and political voice, and physical security and autonomy for 95 countries. Where women to participate identically in the economy to men, it would add 26 per cent of global GDP, or US$28 trillion between 2014 and 2025. Even a regional best scenario will add US$12 trillion. 

The undervaluing of women should have political urgency

Just as there is no gender equality at work without gender equality in society, family violence too takes place in a society that assumes women are of less value than men. The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence identifies power imbalances that are reinforced by gender stereotypes and norms as the root of family violence. The findings stress the need for more equality and respect between men and women as a prerequisite for preventing family violence. 

The suffering of families due to the abuse of power and control in intimate relationships has been translated to the language of money – and the economic cost is high.  A recent estimate by PricewaterhouseCoopers (2015) indicates that in Australia

…violence against women costs $21.7 billion a year. Victims bear the primary burden of this cost. Governments (national and State and Territory) bear the second biggest cost burden, estimated at $7.8 billion a year, comprising health, administration and social welfare costs (p. 4).

If preventive action is not taken, ‘costs will accumulate to $323.4 billion over a thirty year period from 2014‑15 to 2044‑45’ (p. 4).

Gender equality in Australia ranks as one of the major issues that impacts at a personal, family and community level.  The emotional and economic costs of not dealing with it are high. The measures have to aim for generational change. The political lack of engagement with gender equality translates to voters’ belief that politicians do not live in our everyday world - particularly that of Australian women.


Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2013). 4906.0 - Personal Safety, Australia, 2012. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2016). 4125.0 - Gender Indicators, Australia, Feb 2016. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Jonathan Woetzel, Madgavkar, A., Ellingrud, K., Labaye, E., Devillard, S., Kutcher, E., . . . Krishnan, M. (2015). THE POWER OF PARITY:HOW ADVANCING WOMEN’S EQUALITY CAN ADD $12 TRILLION TO GLOBAL GROWTH: McKinsey Global Institute.

PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia. (2015). A high price to pay: The economic case for preventing violence against women.

State of Victoria Royal Commission into Family Violence. (2016). Summary and Recommendations. In M. Neave, P. Faulkner, & T. Nicholson (Eds.).


 This analysis is a contribution to the Scorecard on Women and Policy project, initiated by the Women's Policy Action Tank.  We invite policy specialists in all areas to provide analysis of public policy using a gender lens:  womenspolicy@goodshep.org.au  Follow us on Twitter: @PolicyforWomen