This practical guide draws together some effective strategies and tools to prepare for and respond to backlash and resistance to gender equality initiatives.
Download: (En)countering resistance: Strategies to respond to resistance to gender equality initiatives (PDF, 306 KB)
If you are working to promote gender equality and tackle inequality you can expect to meet resistance. It may occur in any setting, come from individuals or collectively, and from men or women.
So how can you prepare for it and what are effective responses?
This publication describes the forms that resistance can take and provides some practical examples from local gender equality initiatives. There are also links to other useful resources from Australia and around the world.
It is guided by a Queensland University of Technology evidence review on backlash to gender equality by Michael Flood, Molly Dragiewicz and Bob Pease, commissioned by VicHealth in 2017.
13 steps to tackle gender discrimination
1. Don’t be surprised
Resistance is to be expected. Prepare for it. Resistance means your work advocating for equality is getting traction.
2. Understand the form
Resistance takes different forms. Thinking through the form will help in crafting your responses – for example, if it is ‘co-option’, where the language and facts are being twisted, a fact/myth/fallacy response might be helpful.
3. Assess who it’s from
Monitoring and regular opportunities for feedback to your gender equality initiatives help you understand not just what resistance is being expressed, but who it is coming from. You can then tailor your messaging – and messengers – to address their concerns or correct misinformation.
4. Be willing to listen
Create spaces for diverse views and experiences to be expressed. When people can have their say and talk about their own beliefs (and biases and fears) without being shut down, they are more likely to be open to other messages.
5. Focus efforts on those you can influence
Entrenched opposition won’t be convinced. Understand when to respond and when to leave it alone. Find allies and focus on the ‘moveable middle’.
6. Get leaders involved
Getting the senior leadership involved is pivotal to getting traction for gender equality initiatives. It is how we get beyond a training or awareness-raising exercise to seeing it embedded into policies, position descriptions and performance planning.
7. Harness the power of your peers
You are not alone in this work. Find people in your organisation and others who are also committed to gender equality and share ideas, approaches and support.
8. Frame, don’t shame
Framing shapes the story of gender equality. Tell real-life stories and allow personal accounts to be shared to help people connect emotionally, not just rationally, to the concepts. Note the benefits of equality to both men and women, and address myths and misinformation.
9. Make sure to monitor
Regular feedback helps you see how your work is progressing, and understand where resistance lives and what is being said. This doesn’t have to be an expensive, outsourced process. An online questionnaire of just a few key questions sent out quarterly can be done in-house.
10. Defend against domination techniques
Domination techniques are used to gain power over others. Recognising them helps you respond effectively. For example, if you’re asked, ‘Can’t you take a joke?’, that’s the domination technique of ridiculing. The defensive strategy for this is to ask more questions – immediately inviting them to explain what they meant by that. The confirmation technique is to give respect and space for others, confirming that you take contributions seriously.
11. Put guidelines in place
Manage more extreme resistance with clear and unambiguous guidelines about what’s allowed and not allowed. In the teaching space, this is about creating a safe and respectful learning environment. For online forums, this requires moderation guidelines.
12. Practice self-care
Look after your own wellbeing, seek support and allow yourself space when you need it.
13. Celebrate success
Truly modernising our organisations will take time. We are tackling some entrenched and structural inequalities. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. So take time out to recognise and celebrate the wins along the way.