Last updated: 27 Apr, 2018

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)

Download: Full evidence review (PDF, 10MB)

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


Bullet point icon 1. Don’t be surprised

Resistance is to be expected. Prepare for it. Resistance means your work advocating for equality is getting traction.


Bullet point icon 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.


Bullet point icon 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.


Bullet point icon 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.


Bullet point icon 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’.


Bullet point icon 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.


Bullet point icon 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.


Bullet point icon  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.


Bullet point icon 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.


Bullet point icon 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.


Bullet point icon 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.


Bullet point icon 12. Practice self-care

Look after your own wellbeing, seek support and allow yourself space when you need it.


Bullet point icon 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.