New Report Emphasizes Anti-Gender Backlash

On March 1, 2024, Lisa VeneKlasen released a working paper titled Anti-Gender Backlash: Where is Philanthropy?”. Produced in collaboration with the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex and funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the paper is part of Countering Backlash, Reclaiming Gender Justice, a 5-year global research project based at the Institute for Development Studies.

Countering Backlash “aims to create much needed new knowledge around the complex phenomena of patriarchal backlash and identifying opportunities for women’s rights organisations and other gender justice defenders, to address the erosion of gender objectives within development and counter gender backlash.” The project’s main countries of focus are Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Kenya, Lebanon, and Uganda.  

The paper explores the response of philanthropic institutions to anti-gender backlash, particularly those that support democracy and women’s and LGBTQI+ rights. It relies on over 25 interviews with donors, philanthropic advisors, and grantee partners as well as reviews on reports produced by and for donors.

Key questions explored in this paper include:

  • What’s driving the philanthropic funders’ engagement with the issue?  
  • Which backlash-related problems are they seeking to address?  
  • What framings of backlash are they subscribing to?  
  • What do their related funding allocations emphasise (and consequently what previously funded areas are getting de-emphasised)?  
  • What theories of change underlie their work on the gender backlash?
  •  What are their implicit assumptions about what’s needed (their theory of change)?

The question of framing is particularly significant in the analysis of backlash as frames utilized by philanthropic actors have been found to “silo grantmaking according to specific issues.” One interviewee states that this narrow view of issues “prevents a more systemic analysis of the problem” preventing collaboration and
leading to marginalisation of certain issues or groups. Additionally, this is exacerbated by the disconnect between donors and organizations and activists. The report states that information about anti-gender backlash from donors “
is simply not reaching feminist activists and movement organisations, and vice versa”. 

Alongside these questions, the paper reports how philanthropic actors are interacting with and responding to backlash.  VeneKlasen is the Founding Executive Director of JASS, a Channel grantee partner. In the report, VeneKlasen highlights how funds like the Fund for Global Human Rights (FGHR) and JASS center a “power, gender, and feminist analysis which recognises how the dynamics of violence, threats, and silencing have played out in public and in families and other private spaces, and have tapped into existing social divisions around race and gender.” This approach aids philanthropic actors in understanding backlash and reacting to it, particularly through funding long-term strategies focused on collaboration.

The report concludes by depicting the factors influencing the success of the anti-gender movement and the areas prioritized by those funding the counter backlash movement. Five key takeaways from the paper, according to a blog post by Lisa VeneKlasen and Ben O’Donovan-Iland titled, “5 ways funding is crucial for organising and defeating gender backlash”, include:

  1. Gender is the “canary in the coalmine”. This signifies how gender rights backlash is “part of a larger authoritarian agenda that includes the targeting of ethnic and racial minorities, immigrants, environmentalists and more.”
  2. Anti-gender funding is juggernaut. According to the post, between 2008 and 2017, over $1 billion was spent in the United States alone funding the anti-gender movement.
  3. Donors are not making the connection between gender backlash and threats to democracy.
  4. Donors must also fund collaboration among feminist activists and organisers directly. This ensure that there is “both a donor and activist approach to collaboration.”
  5. Funders in search of “innovation” while managing a heightened sense of risk. This highlights how funders toe the line between funding effectively and managing risk.