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Culture and violence

Myth: Violence against women is accepted in some cultures.

Fact: Violence against women is common in all cultures, races, and societies. The fact that it may be a common occurrence does not lessen the suffering and damage it causes to the woman, the family and the society, nor does it lessen its significance as a crime. Violence against women, including sexual violence, is a breach of human rights.

Myth: Women from some cultures are more passive and submissive that is why they are more likely to become victims of violence.

Fact: Women may be relegated to specific roles and they may be repressed by state or religious laws, but this does not mean they are themselves passive or submissive.  Violence against women is a social construction that reflects and reinforces the unequal distribution of power between men and women in society generally. Being passive and submissive does not invite violence or give anyone the right to perpetrate violence against them.

Myth: Cultural traditions must be respected and remain unchallenged.

Fact: A woman's basic human rights must be upheld regardless of cultural values and traditions.  Violence must be challenged and discussed at every opportunity with the woman.  Promoting discussion with the woman about her cultural traditions allows women to think and reconsider traditional cultural norms that foster violence towards women and children.

Myth: Women from that culture are more passive and submissive that is why they are more likely to become victims of violence.

Fact: Violence is a social construction that generally places men in positions of power and designates women as subordinate. Being passive and submissive does not invite violence.

How many Australians identify with the stereotype of the beer drinking, football loving Aussie? 

Myth: Domestic and sexual violence against women does not happen in our community.

Fact: Secrecy and silence are part of the violence perpetrated against women. Women's experiences of violence are minimised, dismissed and disbelieved by the community. There may be a tendency to justify violence as part of the cultural norms within that community.

Myth: Women’s refuges are not culturally appropriate.

Fact: This myth discourages women from leaving violent relationships. Although cultural inappropriateness may be the case the priority is for the woman and her children to feel safe. Information about refuges and options for safe accommodation must be given to the woman for her to make an informed choice.

Myth: Conciliation and marriage counselling are the most culturally appropriate forms of intervention.

Fact: Perpetrator and victim are held equally responsible for the violence. This myth also negates power imbalances in the relationship for the woman. Although conciliation and marriage counselling may be options women wish to take, the options must encompass both parties. However, often women are given or expected to take greater responsibility for keeping  the relationship together.

Myth: Our culture allows force to be used as a means of disciplining women.

Fact: A woman's behaviour is seen as a cause of violence and their views and opinions are not considered. Violence is condoned. This myth does not acknowledge that this cultural value reinforces the power disparity between men and women.

Myth: Cultural traditions must be respected and remain unchallenged.

Fact: Violence must be challenged and discussed at every opportunity with the woman; not doing so disregards the woman's basic human rights. Promoting discussion with the woman about her cultural traditions would allow women to think and re-consider traditional cultural norms that foster violence towards women and children.

Myth: All women from the same cultural background have the same values and beliefs.

Fact: This myth negates the differences between individuals within a community. In addition political, social, educational and geographical influences also inform the values and beliefs of people. This myth tends to create stereotypes of women.

Myth: Their religion tells them it is okay for a husband to assert his sexual needs and that a woman is there to satisfy the sexual needs of her husband.

Fact: All religions and religious texts discuss sexuality, marriage, and the duties of husbands and wives. However, all religions and religious texts also speak of the importance of respect and honour between men and women, and husbands and wives. For a man to treat a woman without honoring and respecting her needs is to reinterpret religious texts out of context and from a self-interested viewpoint. No religious text (Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu) either advocates or provides for the sexual abuse of women, even when they are wives.

Myth: Women in that culture believe they are there to service the needs of their husbands. Therefore rape in marriage cannot occur.

Fact: Women also have their own needs. Many women and men are not aware that rape in marriage is a crime in the same way that rape anywhere is a crime. The law applies to all people in Australia regardless of their ethnic background.

Myth: The promotion of women’s rights endangers the social stability of communities.

Fact: Breaking the silence and secrecy of violence transforms responsibility for the issue into a community responsibility. Perpetrators of violence are threatened by public discussion and acknowledgement of the human rights of women and children and their rights to safety. Stopping violence in a community can only strengthen its social fabric and stability.


Desperately Seeking Justice - A Resource & Training Manual on Violence Against Women in a Culturally Diverse Community, 1992, CASA House.
Copyright © Migrant Women's Emergency Support Service Inc. 1998
The copying of all or part of this report is permitted provided acknowledgement is made to the Migrant Women's Emergency Support Service Inc.

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