Countering Backlash: Reclaiming Gender Justice

Major shifts in global politics and international development have created a backlash against gender equality and the progress made in decades past. This is evident in the shrinking civic space and diminishing autonomy of gender justice organizations, as it is in deeply resilient and negative gender norms and stereotypes around the world. The study aims to address the interconnected problems by improving the understanding of and countering the backlash against women’s rights, addressing the erosion of gender agendas, and identifying new opportunities for feminist action and impact. 

Researchers: Maheen Sultan; Pragyna Mahpara; Iffat Jahan Antara; Nuha Annoor Pabony

Partners: Institute of Development Studies (IDS)

Timeline: 2019–2024

Status: Ongoing

Method: Mixed methods

Contact: Maheen Sultan


Progress towards gender equality is essential for progress towards development, and its importance is underscored under Global Goal 5 (gender equality) in Agenda 2030 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Despite progress in recent times, new forces in the global political landscape are visibly pushing back to reverse the many gains made for women’s rights. The backlash is escalating globally, and it represents a powerful attack on the consensus on gender equality. It aims to disempower those who seek to advance gender justice and revitalize traditional gender roles and stereotypes, including the co-opting of existing processes and policies for gender in development. The study aims to improve our understanding of the issues so that relevant stakeholders can counter this backlash.


To enhance the understanding, capacities, and opportunities needed for women’s rights organizations (WROs) and other gender justice defenders to counter the backlash and address the erosion of gender objectives within international development. The research aims to deliver two key sets of results: (1) increased access to and use of gender equality research, and (2) enhanced methods and capacity development for gender equality efforts. Focusing on complementary sets of actors, spaces, and processes, the study asks:

  • How are male supremacist ideologies deployed and proliferated in conjunction with other oppressive ideologies (like nativism and hetero-sexism) in country, regional, and global contexts?
  • What are the links between a shrinking civic space and anti-feminist backlash? 
  • How is male resentment towards women’s advancement mobilized in different situations of backlash? 
  • How can we best understand the shifting forms of gendered violence, including online?


Spanning several countries and exploring implications of regionally relevant strategies and processes, this is an interdisciplinary, mixed-methods study that includes analytic review, problem-focused primary research, comparative analysis, and action research with partners. 

The research themes are explored through three interconnected strands: Voice, Patriarchy, and Policy & Practice. Voice focuses on WROs and their strategies to counter stereotyping and backlash within a shrinking civic space. Policy & Practice focuses on the impact of the changing civic space on gender equality activism and policy (rise of patriarchal groups, new laws, criminalization of activists, etc.), and on SDG 5 (gender equality) and SDG 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions). 

Findings and Recommendations

Study ongoing.