What is primary prevention?

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Primary prevention is critical to achieving the vision in our Strategic Plan 2021-2024 of a world beyond family and gender-based violence, where women, children and people from marginalised communities are safe, thriving and respected. 

This is a shared vision supported and underpinned by a national strategy for preventing violence against women, Change the Story, and the Victorian strategy for preventing family violence and all forms of violence against women, Free from Violence. 

A primary prevention approach works to change the underlying social conditions that produce and drive violence against women, and that excuse, justify or even promote it. It works across the whole population to address the attitudes, norms, practices, structures and power imbalances that drive violence against women. (Change the Story, Our Watch, 2021) 

Change the Story, has established that men’s violence against women is driven by: 

  1. Condoning of violence against women 
  2. Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence in public and private life 
  3. Rigid gender stereotyping and dominant forms of masculinity 
  4. Male peer relations and cultures of masculinity that emphasise aggression, dominance and control 

The socio-ecological model in Change the Story is used widely to show how these drivers operate at different levels – individual and relationship, community and organisational, system and institutional, and societal. 

The gendered drivers of men’s violence against women are well-recognised and described, but preventing all family and gender-based violence means looking at other drivers of violence as well. These include inequality, stigma, discrimination and marginalisation experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from migrant and refugee communities, people of colour, LGBTIQ+ communities, and people with disabilities, amongst others.

A number of other complementary frameworks address these issues directly, such as:

Changing the Picture
A national resource to support the prevention of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children.

Changing the Landscape
Our Watch and Women with Disabilities Victoria’s national, evidence-based resource to guide the prevention of violence against women and girls with disabilities.

Pride in Prevention
Rainbow Health Australia’s guide to primary prevention of family violence experienced by LGBTIQ+ communities.

Intersectionality Matters
Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health’s guide to engaging immigrant and refugee communities to prevent violence against women.

Principles underlying all our work


A commitment to intersectionality is a guiding principle of our work, and includes a commitment to deepen our understanding of the family violence evidence base, build coalitions and partnerships, and engage in critical reflection. 

An intersectional lens in prevention means looking at how violence occurs in the context of both gender inequality and multiple other forms of structural and systemic inequality, oppression and discrimination.  

An intersectional approach ensures that primary prevention programs, systems and policies recognise and address multiple forms of oppression and disadvantage that exacerbate experiences of gender inequality and gender-based violence. 

Through ongoing partnerships with key organisations working with particular communities, we demonstrate our commitment to intersectionality in practice – integrating this into our work and taking meaningful action to prevent family violence, in solidarity with communities leading this work. 

Aboriginal self-determination 

In prevention, as in all of our work, we are committed to the principle of Aboriginal self-determination and will work towards stronger relationships with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, Elders and communities.  

This includes supporting and advocating for primary prevention that is led and driven by Aboriginal communities. It means developing partnerships that inform our own primary prevention work, and committing to strengthening cultural safety across the family violence sector. 

Lived experience in prevention 

We are ultimately accountable to victim survivors of family violence and our work is fundamentally shaped by their voices. 

Primary prevention seeks to change norms, structures and practices across the socio-ecological model and is targeted at broad social change. This work is informed by lived experience because it is firmly grounded in an evidence base drawn from research conducted with thousands of victim-survivors. 

Involving those with lived experience is also important in informing and delivering effective prevention messaging and initiatives in ways that are convincing and do no harm. We will continue to embed lived experience, and integrate primary prevention into Safe and Equal’s ongoing work in this space. 

Focus on systems and structures – not identity

Intersectionality helps us ‘see’ inequalities better. It also encourages us to see how intersecting systems give rise to certain identities (or categories) and unequally distributes power and privilege along those lines.  

It’s systems and structures that make people more or less vulnerable to violence or disadvantage—not their identities, culture, or individual circumstances. 

Intersectionality is not primarily about identity. It’s about how structures make certain identities the consequence of, [and] the vehicle for, vulnerability.


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