Responding to resistance

Resistance is a normal response to social change. However, if unmanaged, it hinders progress to preventing violence against women and gender equality. That’s why it’s important to plan for resistance.

This resource will help you to plan and manage conversations when you come across resistance in your work. Remember, there is no one size fits all approach to responding to resistance. It depends on the relationship you have with the person, whether they’re curious or disagreeable and the context you’re encountering resistance in.

Speech bubble with the words 'If it's that bad why doesn't she leave?'
Speech bubble with the words 'Aren't sexist jokes harmless fun?'
Speech bubble with the words 'What about violence against men?'

We’ve drafted some example responses you can use to respond to common resistance statements.

What is resistance?

Resistance refers to any form of response that denies, challenges or undermines efforts to promote gender equality and prevent violence against women. It can occur in any setting and by anyone, regardless of their gender. It often comes when those who benefit from existing inequalities feel that their power and privilege is challenged.

Hear from prevention practitioners about their experience dealing with resistance.

Watch the video series

Forms of resistance

Resistance can range from denial and passive attempts to maintain the existing state of affairs, to strategies that minimise or co-opt change efforts, to backlash.

Eight forms of resistance are listed from left to right and include denial, disavowal, inaction, appeasement, appropriation, co-option, repression and backlash.

How to deal with resistance

At some point, you’ll encounter resistance. Here are some practical tips and advice you can use at different stages.

Your safety should always be a priority. It is not encouraged that you continue a conversation if you believe your safety is at risk.

Prepare for the conversation

Be prepared
Plan for questions that may come up. Who will you be working with or talking to? What concerns may they have? It’s helpful if you’re familiar with relevant statistics, information and examples about violence against women and gender equality.

Most people don’t talk about preventing violence against women or gender equality every day. Practice responding in simple, clear language. Use examples and evidence to support your statements.

Understand that resistance is inevitable
Conversations about preventing violence against women and gender equality can lead people to reflect on their privileges and prejudice. This can challenge their established beliefs and cause discomfort. It’s natural for people to feel uncertain or resist at first. Meet people where they’re at and allow time and space for them to learn.

During the conversation

Acknowledge the question or statement
Repeating someone’s question or statement can make them feel heard and respected.

Clarify their concern
Seeking clarification helps you understand the person’s perspectives, concerns, and underlying assumptions more accurately. It gives you time to think of a more relevant response.

Decide whether you will respond
If the person simply mistakes the facts or has a different personal experience, there’s an opportunity for you to address their concern. However, if they shut down the conversation by saying something like ‘political correctness gone mad’, or uses disrespectful or antagonising language, the conversation is unlikely to be helpful. You don’t need to respond to every resistance you encounter.

Start with your message and facts
While it’s important to address misinformation or myths, putting too much focus on it in your response may make people more familiar with it.  Lead with your key message and fact first, before noting and debunking the myth. Or simply just state your message and fact.

Find common ground and values
People are rarely convinced by numbers and graphs alone. They are more likely to be open to conversation if they can connect with you. Identify and emphasise your common ground and values.

Back yourself
While your responses shouldn’t just rely on numbers and graphs, it can be helpful to have some ready to provide clear and concrete evidence. This helps if the resistance comes from ignorance or misconceptions.

Respond with a clear and concise statement
Use plain, simple and respectful language to increase the chances of getting your message across. Avoid jargon.

After the conversation

Reflect on how the conversation went
What did you learn? Record your reflections.

Get support if you need it
Addressing resistance can be stressful, even if you’re prepared. Make sure you’re aware of the support available, such as debriefing with your supervisor, or accessing counselling from an Employee Assistance Program.

Other resources and training

  • We’ve published a series of videos featuring prevention practitioners talking about how they tackle resistance in their work.
  • Our training course Unpacking Resistance provides effective, evidence-based tools and strategies to respond to backlash and resistance that often come with primary prevention work.
  • Women’s Health West published a guide on how to speak publicly about preventing men’s violence against women. Read Curly questions and language considerations

Responding to resistance isn’t just one single practitioner’s responsibility.

Organisations should also put strategies, policies and resources in place to support staff who encounter resistance. For advice, we recommend:

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