Event: Agency and activism – experiences of countering backlash against gender justice

Gender-progressive policies around the world are facing significant backlash. Gender justice activists and women’s rights organisations are having to mobilise quickly to counter these attacks.  

The rise of racist, misogynist, populist and neo-nationalist governments, ideas, and political practices in the last decade has only further incited this backlash against gender-progressive policies. This is also leading to an increase in physical, verbal, and digital violence against women, those in the LGBTQI+ community, and human rights defenders. 

This backlash is being challenged, documented, and researched by  Countering Backlash and SuPWR – both hosted by the Institute for Development Studiesin several countries of Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America. Research of backlash against gender-equality policy gains in the focus countries include Uganda’s 2019 Sexual Offences Bill, Bangladesh’s Domestic Violence Act, and discrimination against transwomen in Peru’s labour market. They also look at Pakistan’s laws (and non-existent laws) about un-paid work for home-based women workers and India’s Shaheen Bagh protests.  

This event for International Women’s Day 2023 discussed how organisations, informal collectives and individuals are standing up and fighting to protect and further gender-progressive policies. We were joined by those working in the midst of national and regional struggles in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Uganda, and Peru.  

By watching this event, you will understand the nature and source of obstacles that gender justice actors face, what it looks like in policy areas, and how they are attempting to counter this backlash.  


  • Maheen Sultan, Senior Fellow of Practice and Head of Gender and Social Development Cluster, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD)
  • Pragyna Mahpara, Senior Research Associate, BIGD 
  • Amon Mwiine, Researcher, Centre for Basic Research 
  • Zehra Khan, General Secretary, Home Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) 
  • Deepta Chopra, Research Fellow, Institute of Development Studies (IDS)
  • Maria Grados Bueno, Post Graduate Researcher, IDS 


Event recording

Research Grant
Our Stories – Our Voices – Our Right: Mitigating misogyny and GBV


Feminist groups in Pakistan are demanding economic, reproductive and environmental justice, leading annual protests on International Women’s Day since 2018. These groups have come under in-tense pressure from conservative forces in Pakistan, sparking counter-movements by right-wing groups. Despite intense back-lash and violent threats, the groups continue in their demands.

Purpose of research

This research will explore backlash against feminists and human rights activists in Pakistan. It will examine the different sites and sources of the backlash, focusing on how language and counter-strategies (such as the Hayya (Modesty) March by women from the religious right) are used. It will include meetings between a younger generation of feminists and the older generation of feminists from the Women’s Action Forum for an exchange of ideas and views. There will also be focus group discussions and interviews.

Research Grant
Between Reforms and Reprisals: Permutations of Patriarchy in Pakistan


Activism for gender justice in Pakistan has long faced hostile backlash from political and social movements. Women’s activism has been documented and analysed by looking at attacks on women. There is a need for more focus on the types of attacks, how they are changing, or how they are part of, ongoing gender backlash. In recent years, the surveillance of women has increased and become a key gender backlash tool, such as cyber-crimes, spying and sexual harassment have increased. Honour crimes have also adapted to new laws, and pressure from women’s rights activists and movements.

Purpose of research

This research will aim to illustrate to women’s rights activists and advocates that systems are not blocked to them, and offer insights for identifying mutating forms of violence. It will explore changing patterns of violence against women, focusing on Sindh Province between 2012 to 2021, using crime statistics as a data source. It will also focus on honour killings, delving into the resurgence of this crime and how it has changed. Interviews will be conducted with women and men to corroborate findings.