Advocates for Social Change – Kenya (ADSOCK) see victim blaming and ‘what-about-ism’ (‘but what about men and boys?’) around sexual and gender-based violence gaining ground in the country. The organisation’s latest resource book ‘Paradigm Shift: Countering Backlash Reclaiming Gender Justice’ ￼￼ provides practical ways individuals and organisations can counter this backlash. Phil Otieno, Executive Director of ADOSCK, shares some reflections from their work on this.
Developing methods and knowledge
At ADSOCK we engage with a range of partners and actors in the field of gender, identifying what drives patriarchal backlash. We have been able to document how male supremacist ideologies are installed and flourish in combination with other oppressive ideologies through our capacity-building workshops, and we have seen how male resentment is mobilised within diverse contexts in Kenya.
Our activities are complemented by knowledge strengthening for different audiences, by designing and delivering training workshops and modules, developing and sharing Social Behaviour Change and Communication Materials (posters, stickers, t-shirts), and the ‘Paradigm Shift: Countering Backlash Reclaiming Gender Justice’ resource book. This has been important in supporting our trainers and audience (a range of local and national gender justice actors) in understanding forms of gender backlash and by providing them with real examples of promising interventions to counter patriarchal backlash.
“The resource book is one of the best because it has all the materials that a trainer needs for proper grounding on the patriarchal backlash and other elements of gender inequality” – Anne, ADSOCK Trainer
We include 17 modules which provide step-by-step guidelines and practical resources that help the user in understanding a particular module and how to apply the information acquired. Feedback from practitioners and those using the resource book (particularly men) have shown that module three – ‘Roadmap to male allyship’ – and module 11 – ‘Understanding and Countering Patriarchal Backlash’ – have been of most interest and use.
“The resource book is empowering and is loaded with very insightful information on Backlash including the module on male allyship towards gender equality” – Steve, Family Health Options Kenya (FHOK)
Since the inception of the project, we have conducted four workshops that brought together a diverse range of stakeholders for challenging and reflective debates and learning. They have included; women’s rights organisations, civil society organisations, university students, members of the LGBTIQ+ community, Kenya Police Service, persons with disabilities, media personalities, religious and cultural leaders, and county leadership among others. The training helped to contextualise situations and how we internalise contested ideas.
In the workshops, most men felt that gender equality is a ‘Western phenomenon’ (non-African) and a system aimed at destroying the so-called ‘African’ family. We also found that there is discomfort in some languages, with many people feeling gender equality should be anchored in Pan-Africanism for it to be accepted. A vast majority of men expressed that ‘men are in crisis because of the feminisation of society’.
Another common trope in patriarchal backlash is ‘What-about-ism’ and victim blaming regarding sexual and gender-based violence, which is slowly gaining ground in Kenya. Interestingly, we found that conversations about the ‘boy-child’ being ‘left behind’ is advanced by both men and women. This has led to a stereotyping and labelling of human rights defenders and feminists as ‘angry individuals’.
We believe that ADSOCK’s Resource Book will help people by providing an understanding of the importance of gender equality, and accountability towards social justice (including identifying how patriarchal backlash happens). It also provides knowledge on how gender backlash is manifested both in online and offline spaces, critical factors contributing to the success and failures of different actors in their work on gender equality, as well as methods and approaches for challenging the status quo.
Curbing Erosion of Gender Equality and Women’s Rights
There is a need to document and analyse how backlash mobilises forms of male resentment across different contexts in Kenya; how can we tackle restrictive masculinities that may hinder men’s engagement in gender equality initiatives? A comprehensive male-engagement process is needed to ensure women are not targeted or ostracised by men’s organisations who believe that measures to address entrenched gender inequality are unfair and a form of ‘reverse discrimination’. Engaging with men and boys in the promotion of gender equality is one of many strategies for tackling the ever-growing problems of inequality, injustice and oppression.
To sustain the campaigns on gender equality, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) need support with resource mobilisation and the development of advocacy and awareness messages. CSOs also need support in building knowledge and action towards political mobilisation, along with allyship in movement and partnership building for gender and social justice. This is incredibly important in political spaces. Shifting norms concerning women’s leadership, leading towards a more transformative role for women’s collective agency – in both formal and informal settings – depends on and determines their individual agency. It also calls for men’s reflective allyship and support without mansplaining, patriarchal protectionism or ‘bro-option’.