Global progress on gender equality 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 rights and to shrink civic space. This push back is not just about ‘men’ or ‘women’ however, but also the gendered structures through which power is enacted or shut down.
The proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in the UK is a symptom of broader backlash on gender equality and progressive values. Following the heated debate in the House of Commons, the controversial policing bill was passed after its second reading on Tuesday.
If accepted in parliament this Bill will:
- Introduce new police powers to decide where, when and how people can protest
- Impact the ability to organise including how trade unions protest and picket
- Increase penalties for those breaching police conditions on protests
- Creates new trespass offences
One component of the Bill is a proposed 10-year prison sentence for ‘damage to statues’ – standing in direct contrast to the much shorter sentences (very rarely) served for sexual assault. It represents a clear disregard for the call precipitated by the Black Lives Matter movement to remove and dismantle statues that commemorate colonialism; those who ‘damage’ these stone homages to slavery, racism and colonial patriarchies are vilified, while the pervasive and normalised threat of sexual assault continues to be routinely disregarded.
Chloe Skinner, a post-doctoral researcher at the Institute of Development Studies, examines global manifestations of backlash, working in partnership with academics and activists in Bangladesh, India, Uganda, Kenya, Brazil and Lebanon to counter backlash against gender and social justice. The Countering Backlash programme explores the many forms of backlash and how they often appear in seemingly innocuous and hidden ways.
Chloe argues that this Bill embodies ‘patriarchal backlash’ as an archetypal exemplar of the clampdown on even the possibility of moves toward gendered, racial and social justice. She states that “white and male supremacy live on, palpably demonstrated by the restrictive and regressive laws laid out in the anti-protest bill.”
Comparisons can be drawn to India, where Countering Backlash partners Gender at Work highlight the extent of the government’s effort to curb dissent in the country through draconian laws and policies. As the programme demonstrates and explores, backlash is global. To counter it, we must understand its diverse manifestations – from the subtle to the spectacular, the hidden to the explicit. The proposed anti-protest Bill in the UK is one such expression to resist.
On 18 March at 1pm, Countering Backlash partners will also be participating in the IDS event “Global perspectives on countering backlash against women in politics” chaired by Liz Ford, Deputy Editor, Guardian Global Development.