Managing resistance to gender equality for policy and practice
Despite enormous progress made to advance women’s position in Australian society, gender inequality continues to harm women and girls. Work that challenges gender inequality aims to address traditional gender stereotypes and shift attitudes and systems that are supportive of violence against women.
Gender equality initiatives work to correct power relationships between men and women that result in unequal access to economic, health and educational opportunities and personal safety. Such initiatives can also have positive impacts on the health and wellbeing of men, boys and trans men, and can cultivate more supportive social conditions for gender diversity more generally.
In recognition of the ongoing resistance to this work among sections of the community, the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) has published (En)countering resistance: Strategies to respond to resistance to gender equality initiatives.
Guided by an evidence review of what works, (En)countering resistance offers a practical guide on how individuals and organisations working on gender equality initiatives, particularly those with a focus on the prevention of violence against women, can prepare for resistance.
Strategies to manage resistance
The publication provides 13 steps to manage resistance, noting that, ‘[W]hen you plan for resistance from the start, you don’t get derailed when objections occur’ (VicHealth, 2018, p. 7). It is useful for those engaged in promoting gender equality in a range of settings. The resource discusses common types of resistance, and provides links to international and Australian tools, as well as case studies of current gender equality initiatives in Victoria Police and at the Trades Hall Council.
(En)countering resistance suggests the use of four kinds of strategies to manage resistance:
- Framing strategies that pay attention to the ways in which gender equality initiatives are articulated and explained;
- Organisational strategies that offer guidance on how to involve leaders to address policies, practices and structures;
- Teaching and learning strategies that cultivate a supportive climate for change and lessen the likelihood of resistance; and
- Individual strategies that encourage individuals working towards gender equality to practice self-care and address the abuse and domination techniques they may experience in their work.
Forms of resistance are described as moving along a continuum, from passive resistance to more active and aggressive forms of backlash. The stages along the continuum – from passive to active forms of resistance – are categorised as: denial, disavowal, inaction, appeasement, appropriation, co-option, repression and backlash (see the figure below).
Forms of resistance
Diagram republished from VicHealth (2018), p. 5.
Both women and men can present as resistant to gender equality initiatives, particularly when these intersect with initiatives regarding cultural diversity (Diversity Council Australia, 2017).
Gender audits and legislative changes to promote gender equality are two strategies useful for wider socio-legal and economic action. Gender auditing takes stock of entrenched practices that are often enacted out of habit and personal bias, such as unfair workplace recruitment and promotion practices and inflexible workplaces (Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2018; World Economic Forum, 2017).
Achieving gender equality requires fundamental shifts to economic, educational, health and political structures, which require effective techniques to address sexism and promote buy-in of new initiatives (World Economic Forum, 2017). Strategies that organisations can undertake to monitor gender equality and manage resistance and backlash can include regular ‘pulse checks’ among staff to identify factors contributing to resistance and how and where they are being expressed.
The resource sits within the VicHealth Gender equality, health and wellbeing strategy 2017–19 and works alongside Safe and Strong, the Victorian Government’s wider gender equality strategy.
Access (En)countering resistance via the VicHealth website.
Diversity Council Australia (O’Leary, J., Goutsis, D., & D’Almada-Remedios, R.). (2017). Cracking the glass-cultural ceiling: Future proofing your business in the 21st century. Sydney: Diversity Council Australia. Retrieved from: www.dca.org.au/research/project/cracking-glass-cultural-ceiling
VicHealth. (2018). (En)countering resistance: Strategies to respond to resistance to gender equality initiatives. Melbourne: Victorian Health Promotion Foundation. Retrieved from: https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/media-and-resources/publications/13-steps-to-tackle-gender-discrimination
Workplace Gender Equality Agency. (2018). Australia’s gender pay gap statistics. Retrieved from: <wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/gender-pay-gap-statistics.pdf>
World Economic Forum. (2017). The Global Gender Gap Report 2017. Geneva: Author. Retrieved from: https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-gender-gap-report-2017