Seminar: “Countering Backlash: Reclaiming Gender Justice”
On January 19, 2023, as part of the “Countering Backlash: Reclaiming Gender Justice” Policy and Practice partners’ meeting in Beirut, Lebanon, The Arab Institute for Women (AiW) at the Lebanese American University (LAU), in partnership with the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), hosted a multinational seminar to discuss the manifestation of backlash and counter backlash dynamics in Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Lebanon and Uganda.
In an opening statement, Director of The AiW, Ms. Myriam Sfeir, welcomed the attendees and introduced the main strand manager: Dr. Rosie McGee: Co-leader of the IDS Power and Popular Politics Research Cluster. She then proceeded by introducing the panelists which include Ms. Maheen Sultan: Head of Gender and Social Development Cluster at BRAC Institute of Governance and Development, Bangladesh; Ms. Sudarsana Kundu: Managing Trustee for Gender@Work, India; Ms. Maíra Kubik: Researcher at NEIM (Interdisciplinary Women’s Studies Nucleus), Federal University of Bahía, Brazil; and Ms. Peace Oliver Amuge: Executive Director of Wougnet (Women of Uganda Network), Uganda. Following this short introduction, Ms. Sfeir emphasized the significance of the impactful partnership between The AiW and IDS and reiterated the central role which The AiW has been playing at the intersection of academia and activism.
Finally, before ushering the discussion, Dr. McGee presented an overview of the project “Countering Backlash: Reclaiming Gender Justice” and introduced the launching of the IDS MENA initiative, which, as she explained, is a solid outreach and research partnership between researchers, activists, citizens, development practitioners, and humanitarian agencies across partner countries.
The seminar was divided into two panels: The first round of panelists discussed the strategies to counter backlash in Bangladesh, Brazil, India, and Uganda, and the second round discussed these strategies in Lebanon.
The First Panel
First, Ms. Sultan provided an overview of women’s rights in Bangladesh and presented some of the many crises which continue to persist despite the several improvements which have been accomplished during the past 30 years. As she exemplified, domestic violence is very prevalent, early marriage is common and women continue to endure all forms of discrimination in rights and duties. Then, Ms. Kubik presented a brief introduction of the Brazilian context and importantly emphasized how former President Jair Bolsonaro’s policies drastically hindered any advancement on issues of women’s rights. As she explained, because of a targeted vilifying and demonizing approaches towards feminists and human rights activists, in addition to the implementation of restrictive laws on abortion and conditional cash transfer movements, for example, women have endured growing discrimination. Finally, Ms. Amuge presented the case of women’s rights in Uganda. According to her observations, several factors, including excess government interventions and oppressive laws that limit civil society’s work, have contributed to undermining women’s empowerment over the years. As she confirmed, Uganda’s deepening gender divide requires the implementation of effective counter backlash strategies to bring about incremental change.
The panel discussion concluded with a short Q&A session.
The Second Panel
In an opening statement, Ms. Sfeir introduced the panelists which include Ms. Nay El Rahi: Researcher at The AiW- LAU; Ms. Ghena Al Andari: Outreach and Caseworker at KAFA-Enough Violence and Exploitation; and Ms. Lina Jarrous: Managing Partner and Programs Manager at SEEDS for Legal Initiatives.
In an opening intervention, Ms. El Rahi explained her contribution to the “Countering Backlash: Reclaiming Gender Justice” project, and the role she is playing as a researcher to understand and analyze the different manifestations and trends of backlash and counter backlash in Lebanon. As she demonstrated, the case of Lebanon is peculiar and requires a distinguished approach to analyze the relationship between the women’s rights movement and the entrenched backlash dynamics. Then, Ms. Al Andari introduced KAFA, its goals and mission, and highlighted the organization’s major work areas. As she explained, KAFA’s fields of action and campaigns focus on matters related to personal status, family and sexual violence, child protection, anti-trafficking, among others. These campaigns, she argued, have always been prone to multifaceted backlash, which, at all instances, requires legal action and counter backlash efforts to overcome challenges. Finally, Ms. Jarrous introduced SEEDS and its mission, which, she explained, is dedicated to advocate for legal reform and increase accessibility to and understanding of the Lebanese laws. On the lines of backlash and counter backlash dynamics, Ms. Jarrous explained the necessity of revisiting many laws which continue to contribute to backlash, implementing unified counter backlash practices, and creating a free and transparent access to national laws.
The panel discussion concluded with a Q&A session.