The (Accidental) Primary Prevention Practitioner: Are You Ever Really ‘Not at Work’?

November 25, 2019

As a primary teacher in a country school situated opposite my home, I used to feel like I never really left work. It probably didn’t help that my four children made up almost 10% of the student population at that time, so there was sometimes a bit of grey area between my work and home life. But nothing really prepared me for how much of my life would be taken up with working in the primary prevention of violence against women field.

When you know more, you will want to do more

In March 2016, only a week into my new health promotion role, I was catapulted into the world of primary prevention in the form of a community walk for International Women’s Day. It was a rainy day but fortunately coordinated by a group of incredible women who taught me a lot about violence against women through their speeches, conversations as we walked together and through the messages that they painted on t-shirts.

Over time through active exploration, learning more about the VicHealth Framework and then Change the Story, I found increasingly that what I was learning was filtering into my life. And it wasn’t just that I was sharing this information with the community, or dragging my family and friends to events and activities. I was having important conversations with others and ‘calling out’ things that I was noticing. And the more I learned, the more I felt compelled to do.

If your job is culture change, don’t expect your job to end when your shift does

The thing is, for me and many others in this field, challenging gender inequality and violence against women isn’t just a role that we have at work. After all, it is something that almost everyone is affected by in their personal lives and across both public and private settings. It’s not just something that you think about in the lead up to 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence or for International Women’s Day. You question everything all the time – things you would never have even thought of beforehand!

Why are the there no local statues of females? Why didn’t the media cover the outstanding female cricket achievements? Why isn’t the school board diverse? How come the focus is on what the woman did before she was murdered? What makes that guy think that it’s okay to make a comment like that about his partner? How do you encourage more men to take leave to care for kids/ do more of the household chores/ carry more of the emotional labour? Why did I tell my daughter to ‘be safe’ and what does that mean? Why do I keep seeing a room full of women trying to solve violence against women … where are all the men?

Be authentic, not overwhelmed

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed with so much still to do. Don’t feel like you have to fight every battle – no-one expects you to do this. You are not alone … even if sometimes it feels like it. There are many others in paid and unpaid roles who are walking with you.

The thing is, the nature of primary prevention means that it attracts people who have strong principles of social justice and who seek to make the world a better place. Be your authentic self and you will be creating the change you want to see both through your work role and beyond it. Anyone in the field of primary prevention knows only too well that this work is not just a job, it’s your vision for a fairer, safer and more equal world.

Now that sounds like worthwhile overtime.


Bernadette Duffy is a Health Promotion Officer with Djerriwarrh Health Services, working primarily in an outer metropolitan area of Melbourne, Victoria. Bernadette has worked in the education sector (primary, tertiary, general) and within not for profit health organisations. Bernadette’s work in the primary prevention of violence against women field draws heavily on the skills and knowledge gained from her previous roles in teaching, sexuality education, lecturing, research and resource development, along with her life experiences. Bernadette is continuously seeking to extend her reach. The community members that she has connected with along the way are her greatest source of inspiration.