Understanding backlash and resistance

Understanding, monitoring, and responding to resistance and backlash in organisational and institutional settings.
Commissioned by Respect Victoria
Conducted by Our Watch
Date August 2022


Resistance and backlash are common and ongoing challenges faced by practitioners and organisations working on primary prevention of family violence and all forms of violence against women.  This is a complex phenomenon where we work, learn, live and play. 
Those working in primary prevention have a responsibility to reflect on how prevention efforts may provoke hostile, aggressive and even violent forms of backlash directed at those advocating change, leaders or organisations as a whole. This overt backlash may be coupled with more subtle or passive forms of resistance, which may include:

  • denying the gendered drivers of violence against women;
  • refusing any responsibility to address the issues; and
  • delaying or obstructing progressive change to patriarchal norms, practices or structures.

 It is important to understand, monitor and develop practical strategies to minimise and overcome different forms of resistance.

The 'Understanding, monitoring and responding to resistance and backlash' report seeks to advance our understanding of this issue and to define practical approaches to monitoring, assessing and responding to backlash and resistance that emerges in organisational settings.

Key findings

The report has uncovered five key insights about the nature of institutional and organisational resistance and backlash to primary prevention of violence against women and the approaches that can be taken to addressing it.

Resistance and backlash may appear in a range of ways within an organisational or institutional context

It is useful to view forms of resistance and backlash as existing on a continuum. More ‘passive’ forms of resistance can appear in a wide range of organisational behaviours and attitudes, practices, structures and systems. These less obviously aggressive forms of resistance can underpin and reinforce more extreme versions of backlash (including violence) to primary prevention approaches and those who advocate for and implement them.

Masculinities and male privilege can shape resistance and backlash that occurs within organisations and institutions

In organisations and institutions, resistance and backlash can be effectively understood through a lens of masculinity and privilege. Specifically, there are particular ways in which male privilege and dominant forms of masculinity influence organisational practices and structures. This in turn can place pressure on individuals to conform to or support particular attitudes or behaviours that resist progressive change including those that condone violence against women.

Resistance to primary prevention can be an expression of individual insecurities generated in institutions and organisations

This resistance may be driven by insecurities around how change to support primary prevention of violence against women will impact people’s jobs, their social and professional relationships and status, and other organisational factors. It may also be driven by the way various stakeholders relate to, and interact with, the organisation. 

Effectively monitoring resistance and backlash requires a reflective approach

Monitoring resistance and backlash is best addressed through the adoption and use of a reflective practice approach that is iterative, structured and supported. This helps practitioners to think through where and how resistance might be occurring, not only in terms of individuals and themselves, but also in terms of institutional and organisational policies, structures and systems. This also allows for nuanced responses to the different ways in which resistance and backlash occurs within different settings.

Monitoring resistance and backlash should complement efforts to design and implement primary prevention programs

Properly understanding and identifying the types of resistance that might occur in response to a primary prevention initiative or ongoing change effort requires dedicated attention. It should complement other prevention project planning activities and is a process that should be revisited at key points during the implementation cycle of primary prevention initiatives and while change is being embedded over a longer period.

Read the report and framework