Gender Equity & You: a conversation kit

Having a conversation with friends or family about gender equality is one of the most powerful things you can do.

We’ve all been there: a dinner party or a family gathering where there’s an awkward sexist comment. This kit is designed to help you in that moment, because conversations with a friend or family are one of the most accessible and effective ways to change attitudes.

How does it work?

Having conversations with people you know is effective because there is an automatic level of trust — you aren’t a stranger trying to change their mind, you are someone who they recognise as a rational, reasonable person in their lives. And while some forms of communication (a billboard or a TV show) are one-way, a conversation with a friend or relative lets you have a dialogue and explore questions. People often make decisions and form opinions based on feelings, not just facts. Powerful conversations will draw on both.

Before You Start

Pick your battles

If you’re already aware of gender equality and the work that’s needed, you’re one of the ‘committed’ audiences who don’t need convincing. When we plan to have a conversation with someone, it’s important to identify allies (others who are committed to equality) to work closely with, and then focus on the ‘moveable middle’ — people who share some values with you and just need some encouragement, education, or a different perspective to progress their attitudes. This group is where change can most effectively begin.

People who are strongly opposed to gender equality — the entrenched opposition — are the least likely to be influenced by your conversation, and the social norms in our culture reinforce their prejudices. By shifting the existing social norms, the entrenched opposition will start to modernise, and realise how outdated and ill-informed they have become. In other words, you do not have to try to persuade them right now; they will come along when the critical mass of community attitudes changes.

Staying safe

This kind of conversation can be tricky and it’s important to assess your surroundings first. If there’s someone in the room who you know is dealing with violence at home, make sure it’s safe to talk freely or you might want to talk to them alone. Is their abuser also at the party? Maybe now isn’t the time to talk. Also, be careful when confronting abusers directly; you may escalate the situation, and you – or their partner or kids – may be inadvertently put at risk.

With any societal change, there will be some resistance, so don’t be surprised when this happens. Go gently with your gender equality work, remember to care for yourself and allow yourself to receive care from others. Talking to allies, having some fun or accessing support from a service like 1800 RESPECT are all great ways to self-care. If the conversation brings up difficult memories for you or anyone else in the room, let people know that they can call WIRE to debrief: 1300 134 130.

How do I start the conversation?

Getting started can be the most difficult part — or there might be a really obvious point to start, if Uncle Jerry has just made a really problematic comment about his attractive female student or if Grandpa is tickling three-year-old Kira and she’s shrinking away.

But how do you make sure everyone stays calm, and the food all stays on the table?

One way is to check the myth-buster sheet in the kit for good come-backs to common misconceptions.

Another way is to start with very open-ended questions, so that the people you’re speaking with have an opportunity to air their side.

What if I can’t persuade people?

You’re not going to magically shift everyone’s opinion in one sitting, but the conversation you’ve had will have an effect. For people in the room who were already thinking about this, you’ll have given them a powerful reinforcement that they’re on the right path.

For those who are neutral, or have never thought about gender equality before, you’ve flagged that you’re someone to come back to for further discussion.

And for your target, you’ve sowed a seed that may blossom later. TV ads may only last 30 seconds but they run on high rotation for a reason. You might need to have this conversation many times before that seed takes root. Hopefully, this will be the start of something wonderful.


Conversations like this can be tiring, and depending on what you discussed, they can be triggering too. Take care of yourself. Make sure you have a plan for self-care, and feel free to call WIRE on 1300 134 130 weekdays between 9.30am and 4.30pm to debrief.


#1 Why didn’t she just leave?

Fact: From the time that someone starts planning to leave an abusive partner until three months after they have left, the risk of them being killed or seriously injured by the perpetrator is at its highest. The most accurate indicator of risk is the person’s own sense of danger.

#2 All victims are women and all perpetrators are men

Fact: While most violence is perpetrated by men against women, violence can happen in all kinds of relationships, including same-sex relationships, genderqueer relationships, across generations and between adult siblings of any gender. It is based on an imbalance of power across groups of people, only one of which is gender.

#3 It’s because of their culture

Fact: Gendered violence may play out differently across different cultures, but is present in all cultural communities.

#4 Family violence only happens between partners

Fact: Family violence can happen between any combination of family members.

  • Disowning a child because they are gay is family violence
  • Taking money from elderly parents is family violence
  • Adolescents abusing their parents is family violence
  • Adult siblings excluding each other from inheritance can be family violence too

#5 It’s a private matter

Fact: Gendered violence is everyone’s responsibility. It will change when our attitudes change as a society.

#6 There’s nothing I can do

Fact: Simple acts – like not laughing at a sexist joke, supporting someone who is being targeted, or giving someone a supportive space to tell their story – can make a real difference.

#7 Not all men

Fact: While not all men abuse their power, all men receive power through their position in the patriarchy, and are responsible for bringing their awareness to this.

#8 But it’s reverse sexism/straight, white, men can be victims of family violence too

Fact: The economic and social power that straight, white, men are given makes it unlikely for them to be truly controlled and intimidated by anyone without the same privileges.

#9 It wasn’t physical

Fact: Verbal, emotional, psychological, spiritual and economic abuse are all included in the legal definition of family violence (Family Violence Protection Act of 2008).

#10 They shouldn’t have:

  • Dated/gone home with/had sex with the perpetrator/
  • Had a drink/left their drink alone
  • Worn that/been out at night
  • Been mentally ill or had a disability

Fact: Everyone deserves safety and respect, regardless of what they wear, where they go, what they ate or drank or whether they are healthy or able-bodied or not. When it comes to sex, consent must be continuous and enthusiastic. No, or not sure at any time, means no.

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