• User Name
  • Password
  • Remember Me
29 Mar 2023, 19:19 HRS IST
  • PTI
  • Press Release

A New Exploratory Study Highlights the Gap in Understanding Backlash Against Girls' Expression of Agency in India

A New Exploratory Study Highlights the Gap in Understanding Backlash Against Girls' Expression of Agency in India

NEW DELHI, March 7, 2019/PRNewswire/ --

Denial of entitlements is the most common form of backlash by way of withdrawal from school, programs or outdoor sports and others  

Dasra, a strategic philanthropy organization, today launched the report 'Action Reaction: Understanding and overcoming backlash against girls' exercise of agency in India'. Members of Dasra's Community of Practice, a national network of adolescent-focused non-profits from across 25 states in India, discussed the need for a better understanding of backlash in early July 2018. Since then, Dasra has undertaken a pilot study to better understand the extent to which backlash prevails and the nature and patterns of backlash that follows girls' exercise of agency, with over 70 youth-serving organizations via an online survey. In view of the absence of previous research on the issue of backlash against girls, this pilot study was undertaken among youth serving organisations, and probed the organisation's familiarity with incidents of backlash, rather than immediately conducting a study of girls themselves.

Priti Prabhughate, Associate Director, Dasra , said, "Majority theories of backlash focus on force and violence as a form of backlash experienced by empowered adult women within the home, and, in the workplace. These theories have not addressed the forms of backlash that adolescent girls and young women experience. 'Action: Reaction, understanding and overcoming backlash against girls' exercise of agency in India' is an attempt towards demystifying the backlash effect."

Shireen Jeejeebhoy, demographer and social scientist, Aksha Centre for Equity and Wellbeing and senior advisor to Dasra's adolescent programme, said, "There is a need to invest in rigorous research, especially community-based studies of girls and parents, to shed light on the risk and protective factors surrounding the backlash against girls. Surveys and qualitative studies that address the situation and evaluations of programs serving the young should include modules that explore the unintended adverse consequences of expressions of agency. More research attention will further enable effective delivery of programs, policies and on outcomes for growth of young girls." 

Backlash has been defined as a reaction by those who hold positions of power to attempts to change the status quo by those in less powerful positions. The report broadly defines backlash to include, aside from physical violence, practices such as forced withdrawal of girls from school, forced marriage, withdrawal of girls from programs that may expose her to new ideas about gender equity, forced seclusion within the home of girls who move around or play freely in the outdoors, who participate in public spaces or events or any other action that is taken against a girl because she expresses choice or even because she may question traditional norms and expectations. In the same vein, youth-serving organizations may face backlash in the form of threats, verbal abuse, physical violence or forced withdrawal from a community for their work on empowering girls.

Key findings from 'Action Reaction: Understanding and overcoming backlash against girls' exercise of agency in India' 

While 84% of survey respondents, youth-serving organizations, were familiar with at least one incident in which a girl experienced backlash, the number of incidents noted by them was relatively small. The most commonly reported form of backlash was 'denial of entitlements' in the form of withdrawal from school, programs or outdoor sports, or punishment and denial of money or access to internet or communications media (mobile phone or social media). Other common forms of backlash are punishment for social mixing with boys, and extreme forms such as physical violence, the threat of physical violence, denial of food, or forced seclusion. The table below explains further:

Backlash in the form of denial of entitlements [Percentage of

organizations reporting familiarity with incidents of withdrawal 

from school, programs and outdoor sports, and refusal of access       Number of 

to money, internet, media]                                        organizations Percentage

Withdrawal from school

Removed from school because she became friendly with a boy                   32       43.8

Withdrawn from school/ prevented from going to college when

harassed by a boy on the way to school or because she was

married/about to be married because of parental fear of loss of

reputation                                                                   41       56.2

Withdrawn from or herself withdrew from school for fear of, or 

when she experienced, harassment from boys

on the way to/from or at school                                              42       57.5

Made to discontinue her education against her will, but did not

protest (tell teacher, argue back with parents, seek help from anyone

else, etc.) because she feared adverse consequences (violence,

withholding of food, resources, freedom...)                                  44       60.3

Withdrawal from programs and outdoor sports

Told not to participate in sports or games outside the home because

people would say bad things about her or was reprimanded for

participating in sports events                                               37       50.7

Told not to attend your program because you teach "useless" or 

"dirty" things, or because you put modern ideas in her head                  44       60.3

Prevented from participating in youth groups/events/activities

because boys would be present                                                43       58.9

Punishment, withdrawal of permission

Punished for or prevented from using social media/mobile

phone/computer for fear that she would be exposed to "wrong"

things and people (e.g., boys)                                               40       54.8

Refused money (e.g., for pocket money, local conveyance, mobile

recharge) as a punishment for displaying any form of agency                  24       32.9

Any of the above                                                             61       83.6

TOTAL NUMBER OF RESPONDING ORGANIZATIONS                                     73 

Youth-serving organizations themselves had also faced backlash for their attempts to empower girls in general, and more specifically, for building girls' leadership skills, informing them about sexual and reproductive health matters, emphasizing the need to complete their education and seek income generation opportunities or delay marriage. Altogether, 66% reported at least one of these forms of backlash, including denial of entry into various communities until program content was modified, threats and/or experience of violence, and adverse media reports.

Recommendations from 'Action Reaction: Understanding and overcoming backlash against girls' exercise of agency in India'  

The need of the hour is an environment that supports - or at least does not thwart progress toward - a breakdown of traditional hierarchical gender norms and expressions of agency among girls. Below are a few strategies that organizations shared in order to prevent and/or overcome backlash, that is unintended adverse consequences of empowerment programs based on experiences of the adolescent and youth-serving organizations:

Engaging parents, communities and government authorities as a strategy to prevent backlash.  

Including champions and role models - girls and boys who have successfully deviated from traditional norms, and parents whose children have done so -- can allay fears of adverse consequences of breaking social norms

Programming for boys - in and out of school - is important for changing perceptions of masculinity as well as preventing backlash against girls

Strategies for mitigating backlash when it occurs include holding dialogues with community members and providing one-on-one support to girls and families who experience backlash.

Methodology of pilot study 

Backlash faced by adolescent girls was studied through the perspectives of youth-serving organizations, and more specifically through a synthesis of incidents experienced by girls, boys and parents that may have come to the attention of the organizations, and incidents of backlash against the youth-serving organization itself. 

Priti Prabhughate, further added, "There is an extreme paucity of research on incidents of backlash faced by adolescents, and we believed it premature to conduct an investigation directly with adolescents. Rather, as a first step in better understanding the phenomenon, we opted to explore the issue through the perspectives of youth-serving organizations, and more specifically to synthesize incidents of backlash against girls, boys and parents that may have come to the attention of the organizations and incidents of backlash against the youth-serving organization itself." 

An online survey questionnaire was sent to 121 youth-serving organizations listed in Dasra's database. It was sent to organization heads (or program heads), with a request to incorporate the experiences of field team members into the responses. Of the 121 organizations contacted, 73 organizations completed interviews, giving a response rate of 60 percent, somewhat higher than that typically obtained in online surveys.

The questionnaire comprised four sections: Background of the responding organization, questions on backlash against girls (that did not conform to traditional norms and Expectations) that had come to their attention of the organization, questions on backlash against parents who supported their daughter's agency that the organization was familiar with and backlash faced by the organization themselves when conducting programs, as well as the strategies, if any, for preventing or mitigating such incidents.

For any further query, please write to akshay@dasra.org. Download 'Action Reaction' report here - Action Reaction report

About Dasra 

Dasra, meaning 'enlightened giving' in Sanskrit, is a pioneering strategic philanthropic organization that aims for a transformed India where a billion thrive with dignity and equity. Since its inception in 1999, Dasra has accelerated social change by driving collaborative action through powerful partnerships among a trust-based network of stakeholders (corporates, foundations, families, non-profits, social businesses, government and media). Over the years, Dasra has engaged with 500 philanthropists, corporates and foundations, published 22 research reports in diverse fields and directed over US$34 Million in strategic funding to the sector.

Source: Dasra

(Disclaimer: The above press release comes to you under an arrangement with PR Newswire. PTI takes no editorial responsibility for the same).

Media contact details:
Akshay Tarfe akshay@dasra.org +91-8767980522 PR Analyst Dasra
 Bookmark with:   Delicious |  Digg |  Reditt |  Newsvine
  • Disclaimer:PTI takes no editorial responsibility for press releases.
    • arrow  Press Releases
  • pti