Global progress on gender justice is under threat. We are living in an age where major political and social shifts are resulting in new forces that are visibly pushing back to reverse the many gains made for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights and to shrink civic space.

The focus of this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) calls for ‘accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls…’. This ‘acceleration’ would be welcome indeed. We are not so much worried about slow progress but rather by the regress in a tidal wave of patriarchal – or gender – backlash, with major rollbacks of earlier advances for women’s equality and rights, as well as by a plethora of attacks on feminist, social justice and LGBTQ+ activists, civic space and vulnerable groups of many stripes.

The Countering Backlash programme explores this backlash against rights in a timely and important IDS Bulletin titled ‘Understanding Gender Backlash: Southern Perspectives’. In it, we ask ‘how can we better understand the contemporary swell of anti-feminist (or patriarchal) backlash across diverse settings?’. We present a range of perspectives and emerging evidence from our programme partners from Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Kenya, Lebanon, Uganda, and the United Kingdom.

Here’s what you can find in our special issue of the IDS Bulletin.

Why we need to understand gender backlash

‘Anti-gender backlash’, at its simplest, it refers to strong negative reactions against gender justice and those seeking it. Two widely known contemporary examples, from different contexts, are Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill (passed in 2023), and the United States Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe vs Wade (which gave women the constitutional right to abortion) in 2022.

The term ‘backlash’ was first used in Susan Faludi’s (1991) analysis of the pushback against feminist ideas in 1980s in the United States, and historically, understandings of anti-gender backlash have been predominantly based on experiences and theorising about developments in the global north. More recent scholarship has afforded insights on and from Latin America and Eastern Europe.

Much explanatory work to date, if it does not implicitly generalise from global north experience, often fails to adequately engage with the ways these locally specific phenomena operate transnationally, including across the global south, and with its complex imbrication in a broader dismantling of democracy.

New ways of analysing gender backlash

The Issue presents new ways of analysing backlash relevant to diverse development contexts, grounded examples, and evidence of anti-gender dynamics. It aims to push this topic out of the ‘gender corner’ to connect it to contemporary shifts in relationships between faith, identity and state, governance, and the broader politics of democracy and economics, as seen from across the global south.

The articles in this special issue are grouped into three themes: one, on ‘voice and tactics’, including whose voices are being heard, and what tactics are being used?; two, on ‘framings and direction’, including how are ideologies spread, and how can we understand attitudes to change? and; three, on ‘temporality and structure’, including what is ‘back’ about backlash? What and who drives it, and how is it imbricated in broader trends and crises? Additionally, most articles proffer some thoughts and recommendations on the implications for directions to counter backlash, whether specifically for feminist movements, for other gender and social justice defenders, or for researchers and students.

Southern Perspectives

This Issue fundamentally challenges simple and reductive understandings of gender backlash. Diverse examples of politicised backlash are ‘mapped’ across geographies and viewpoints. This can help to build a more granular and multi-perspectival understanding of backlash, of its more subtle processes of co-optation and division, its connected across borders, regions, and continents, and the contextual and different strategies of resistance.

About this post

themePatriarchy, Policy, Voice
countryBangladesh, Brazil, India, Kenya, Lebanon, Uganda