Join Countering Backlash for the third session in the ‘Countering Patriarchal Backlash against Gender Justice’ Ubuntu Symposium. This discussion will explore anti-feminist backlash and co-option in policy spaces and its implications for policy and practice on gender equality.


In part picking up on issues identified in the Backlash, Body Politics and Online Misogyny and Understanding the Global Tide of Patriarchal Backlash sessions, this unlikely combination of activist researchers and policymakers will bring a unique set of contrasting perspectives to debate critical issues of how backlash ‘engages’ with – and impacts on – policy and practice on gender justice and equality itself, at both national and global levels.

The discussion will cover observations on backlash machinations in gender(ed) policy spaces, such as international conferences and commissions, how policy frameworks and approaches are restraining or enabling backlash in policy processes at country levels, and how progressive actors in development agencies experience the realities of international policy co-option and backlash, including any resulting tensions and/or trade-offs. We also explore the implications of this for policy and practice on engaging men in gender equality strategies.

Register now (select March 11)

Countering Patriarchal Backlash against Gender Justice Series

Global progress on gender equality is under threat. So is democracy, freedom of opinion and assembly, and the very notion of human rights. Women’s and human rights actors and organisations in diverse contexts are facing conservative backlash to their work, including from religious fundamentalist groups, “men’s rights” groups, political parties and think tanks, media corporations, new movements and states who are anti-womens’ rights and dispute key aspects of gender equality.

New forces are pushing back to reverse many gains made for gender justice as well as to frustrate implementation of commitments and forestall further progress, but this backlash is also far deeper, more insidious, and complex than the recent trend of religious fundamentalisms, or a mere pushback on gender policies. While these are visible manifestations of patriarchal backlash, other actors and forces are also at play in nuanced ways, often under the radar, deploying and producing old and new power hierarchies across intersections of identity, beyond and including gender.

Such diverse, diffuse and networked backlash ‘others’, demonises and disempowers those who seek to advance gender justice. It entrenches binary understandings of gender and re-valorises patriarchal gender roles, appealing to ‘traditional family values’ founded on patriarchal ideologies of male supremacy. These forces tend to deploy polarising politics, mobilising populist narratives, promiscuously comingling misogyny, xenophobia and homophobia, with scant regard for evidence or truth.

Our series at the MenEngage Ubuntu Symposium explores this pressing global trend, advancing understanding of these movements and how the men and masculinities field can strengthen efforts and better support feminist movements to counter this backlash.

Our understanding of backlash must go beyond simple linear visions of social change – as in ‘one step forward, two steps back’. Diverse forms of patriarchal backlash appear to function in interaction with arrays of other oppressive dynamics, including de-democratisation and the capture of civic space, the rise of populism, ‘strongman’ demagogues and a global rightward turn, predatory capitalism, inequality and precarity. Furthermore, some argue that ill-conceived policy and practice on gender in development may itself play into the hands of backlash forces, who are said to be co-opting existing policy processes for gender. Yet, all of this is happening in plain sight. New opportunities, mobilisations and intersectional strategies in struggles for gender justice are likely to evolve.

The series will result in several knowledge products in line with the overall knowledge development strategy for the symposium. Products may include bitesize videos, a learning page on the Alliance’s website including webinar recordings and related reading materials and a report/thought piece providing a deeper analysis and focused on promising practices and ways forward for the Alliance.


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