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Gender Inequality, Domestic Violence, and the Church

On International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, this article is dedicated to:

- All women and girls who experience violence and oppression

- All the women and men working to end discrimination and violence against women

- All the women and men who relate to each other in safe, respectful and loving ways

- All women and girls of future generations who we pray can be set free

Women and girls experience prejudice, discrimination, bias, injustice, harassment, abuse, and violence with a pervasiveness and severity that their male counterparts do not.

Globally, girls are married against their will to older men, female fetuses are aborted when parents would prefer a boy, and women and girls are sold into sexual slavery[1].

Economically, women receive lower rates of pay than their male equivalents, are prevented from working as many hours due to unpaid caring responsibilities, and retire with less superannuation[2].

Professionally, women suffer discrimination and bias, resulting in slower promotions, greater barriers to their work being recognised, and male-dominated boardrooms[3].

Linguistically, women are more frequently and successfully interrupted, and their testimonies and ideas are given less credit[4].

Culturally, women are underrepresented in government, sport, the arts and media[5].

Sexually, women are objectified, resulting in their being viewed as less than human, harassed, and abused[6].

Spiritually, women in organized religions are prevented from occupying roles of leadership or public influence, and are excluded from full participation.

Domestically, while women do the majority of the housework, carry the bulk of the mental load, and shoulder the greater burden of child and elder care, they are more likely to be abused or murdered at the hands of their intimate partner.[7]

Such cumulative discrimination has harmful effects on women’s health[8] [9].

Complementarian churches and families are modeled on the doctrine of male headship; where men occupy roles and functions of leadership and authority that women are prevented from occupying. Viewed by many as a relic from the patriarchal society in which biblical texts were written, numerous conservative churches still enforce male headship today. While complementarians claim that women and men are equal in personhood and dignity, ever-growing stories of abuse and discrimination experienced by women in these churches describes a reality that is anything but equal.

A church or family structure of male-only headship has obvious risks. Unilateral authority is granted to the stronger and more advantaged male, with little tangible accountability. Few avenues of appeal exist for the female when his authority is wielded with incompetence or malice.

Proponents of male headship in the church are quick to attribute domestic and family violence to distortions of biblical teaching and not the teachings themselves[10]. Yet few have examined that male headship, even if benevolent, is still a manifestation of gender based systemic inequality, and lays the groundwork for domestic and family violence.

A well established and persistently growing body of Australian and international evidence clearly makes this link between Gender Inequality and Domestic and Family Violence. The Australian Human Rights Commission Inquiry into Domestic Violence and Gender Inequality (2016) states: “Gendered violence is rooted in the structural inequalities between men and women. It is both a cause and consequence of gender inequality.”[11]

The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women states:

Violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women. Violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.’[12]

The Australian Department of Human Services names ‘restricting spiritual or cultural participation’ as a type of abuse[13].

The supporting evidence continues to roll in: the factor that contributes most significantly to male perpetration of domestic violence against women is gender inequality[14] [15] [16] [17] [18].

So why is it that the complementarian church perpetuates the gender inequality that leads to violence against women, yet expresses consternation for the resulting violence?

Our Watch, an organization working towards an Australia free of violence against women and their children, further breaks down the drivers of violence, including: “Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s decision-making” and “Rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity.”[19] Complementarian churches, via their constructs of headship and submission, are overtly perpetuating these drivers.

So what can we as a church do?

There are three levels at which Violence Against Women can be perpetrated and prevented.

  1. The Primary level encompasses populations and cultures, where prevention focuses on systemic initiatives to target gendered drivers of violence, with the aim of inequality and violence not gaining a foothold.

  2. The Secondary level refers to specific communities, where prevention and early intervention seek to address the risk of violence growing in frequency or severity according to local culture and context.

  3. The Tertiary level operates where violence has occurred. Prevention seeks to minimize its impacts and prevent re-occurrence.[20]

According to recent stories from domestic violence survivors in the church, and the response given by various denominations, the Australian church is currently placed in the tertiary arena. That is, churches are beginning to recognize that violence occurs in Christian communities, and are seeking to respond more effectively. While introductory steps are being taken to address violence against women in churches, there remains great scope for gospel ministry to expand into in primary and secondary prevention.

Complementarian theologian John Piper recently wrote: “Men, everywhere, all the time, bear a burden, under God, to care for the well-being of women.”[21] If advocates of male headship are serious about enacting the full extent of loving and sacrificial headship, they would oppose, not perpetuate, systemic and gender based injustices.


Kylie is a Christian Psychologist whose client demographic includes perpetrators and survivors of Family Violence. Kylie is a graduate of SMBC.


[1] Half The Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for women worldwide. Kristoff, N., and WuDunn, S. 2010.

[2] NSW Women’s Strategy Consultation Paper, NSW Governemnt (2017)


[4] Tannen, Deborah (1990). You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. New York: Harper Collins. And Speer, Susan A. Gender talk: feminism, discourse and conversation analysis. London New York: Routledge.

[5] NSW Women’s Strategy Consultation Paper, NSW Governemnt (2017)

[6] Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research. Dawn M. Szymanski, Lauren B. Moffitt, Erika R. Carr (2010)

[7] ANROWS Personal Safety Survey 2017

[8] Harmful traditional practices affecting the health of women and girls



[11]Australian Human Rights Commission Inquiry into Domestic Violence and Gender Inequality (2016).

[12] The United Nations General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993).


[14]Australian Human Rights Commission Inquiry into Domestic Violence and Gender Inequality (2016).


[16] Gender Equality and Violence Against Women; what’s the connection?




[20] Violence against women in Australia: An overview of research and approaches to primary prevention.


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