8 December 2023

Preventing violence against women is everyone’s business

Small, courageous actions can create a significant cultural shift

By Robyn Andreo-Boosey

5 November 2020

Most of us want to stop violence against women. A deep shift is needed to address the culture and social enablers underpinning and driving men’s violence against women, and prevent it from occurring. However, culture change can seem big and overwhelming. Where do we begin? What will it take? 

What if I told you that by taking small, courageous actions in our daily life, we can create a significant cultural shift?

That is where the active bystander approach comes in. It is proving to be a powerful tool enabling each of us to begin right where we are – and the diocese has a history of bystander action to build upon. 

A bystander is a person who witnesses or hears about a harmful incident or situation but is not directly involved in it. An “active bystander” is someone who, upon witnessing or hearing such an incident or situation, responds with some sort of action that communicates their disapproval. When it comes to preventing violence against women, it is about taking action in response to everyday sexism, gender stereotypes, disrespect towards women and anything that excuses or trivialises violence against women. For instance, it could be challenging a casual sexist joke, disparaging language, a stereotyping comment or unfair or disrespectful treatment of someone. It can also be identifying and seeking to change discriminatory policies and practices. 

Bystander action can take many forms. It includes speaking up, signalling disapproval through body language or facial expression, or reporting an incident – either during or afterwards. Engaging others to speak out and take action is also a form of bystander action. The action you take depends on a range of factors, including the situation and how confident, calm and safe you feel to act.

We often want to take action but can get stuck because we do not know what to say or do – and we can even doubt whether it is our place to intervene: “What is the point? It won’t change anything.”

Our shaky inner thoughts could not be further from the truth. Research shows that constructive bystander action is a critical contribution to creating positive culture change. When we challenge sexist or disrespectful comments or behaviour, we start to disrupt the current culture by sending a loud, clear signal that this is not acceptable and that we will not stand for it. This discourages harmful attitudes and behaviour by establishing social consequences for them. When we do this collectively, our call for change gains strength and momentum. Our bystander action functions as a catalyst for cultivating a safe, fair, respectful and inclusive environment, where everyone can thrive. 

In the Gospels, we see how Jesus, time and again, challenges the culture around him in both words and actions. We are called to follow His example.

This year, for the United Nations’ 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence (25 November – 10 December), the diocese’s Preventing Violence Against Women Program invites you to find out more about how to be an active bystander, and how to promote and support bystander action in our churches.

The diocese’s Preventing Violence Against Women Program will be providing resources, sharing stories and facilitating an online discussion to equip you with strategies and ideas to feel more confident to take bystander action – and to start conversations about the importance of bystander action in our church communities. 

Preventing violence against women is everyone’s business. Let us be intentional and learn to use our daily actions and interactions to create and reinforce the culture we long to see – one where everyone can flourish and know life in its fullness.

To keep updated on our 16 Days activities, sign up to our Program newsletter and like our Facebook page here: http://www.melbourneanglican.org.au/pvaw/ and @MelbDiocesePVAW.

 Robyn Andréo-Boosey is the Program Manager of the Diocese of Melbourne’s Preventing Violence Against Women Program

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