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How to respond to resistance and backlash

Resistance and backlash are expected parts of any change process.  Knowing how to minimise and respond to resistance and backlash can set your prevention initiative up for success. 

The fact that violence against women is driven by gender inequality is challenging for many people to understand or accept. As a result, there can be negative responses, including resistance and backlash, often from men, but also from women. 

What is resistance and backlash?

Resistance and backlash to the primary prevention of violence against women takes many different forms. It can be difficult to see in some cases, and obvious in others. 

Resistance could be: 

  • people denying that gender inequality is a problem 
  • disputing that they have a role to play in addressing it
  • people ‘co-opting’ the language of human rights, instead emphasising issues like the rights of men who are falsely accused of violence 

The most hostile forms of backlash can include threats of violence or actual violence against people who are trying to undertake prevention work.  

How do I minimise resistance and backlash?

You can minimise the resistance and backlash you face, especially in your business or workplace, by: 

  • getting leaders on board – leaders have a significant role to play in creating an enabling environment for prevention initiatives 
  • gathering information – gather data about dominant attitudes towards violence against women and the gender inequality to assist in determining the ‘readiness’ of your business or organisation to implement change
  • developing a communications strategy – communications that are transparent, raise awareness and strengthen commitment to addressing the gender inequality within a business or workplace is important in minimising resistance. 

Tips for responding to resistance and backlash

Working with people who are resistant to primary prevention of violence against women and gender equality is sometimes necessary. Finding the right ways to overcome resistance can be challenging – and what works in one context may not be successful in another.  

When engaging with resistant individuals, consider these tips: 

  • Understand that resistance and backlash is an inevitable part of a change process. 
  • Be present in the conversation by acknowledging the other person’s question or concern. 
  • Be open, looking for common ground and values that you both agree on. 
  • Be prepared, including planning for the types of questions you might receive, having the right information and evidence about gender equality and violence against women. 
  • Practice talking about the gendered drivers of violence against women, formulating responses that are short, clear statements supported by evidence and examples.
  • Make time for self-reflection on the discussions and assumptions and values you bring to the work.
  • Respect the people you are engaging, starting with acknowledging that many of the issues may challenge people’s identity, beliefs, behaviour, life choices and privilege.  

Some people may never accept responsibility for their part in the change process. The goal is bringing businesses and organisations, and as many individuals as possible, along the journey to achieve a society free from violence. 

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