When a girl enters adolescence, she encounters a host of barriers that threaten a safe and stable transition into adulthood. By the time she reaches secondary school age, she is often viewed as a burden, or an asset for work, childbearing, or sex. Her household may not perceive the value of investing in her development, and she may be required to discontinue her education or not pursue livelihood opportunities so that she can get married.

If she tries to challenge the decisions being taken for her or resist gendered social expectations, she usually faces negative consequences. If she chooses to express agency by wanting to continue her education, delay marriage, choose her own partner, gain financial independence, or voice opinions freely, she may be punished by her family and community.

Such ‘punishment’ may range from being ridiculed or stigmatised, to forced withdrawal from school, forced marriage, seclusion within the home, and even life-threatening sanctions in the form of beatings, physical abuse, rape or other forms of violence.

Such adverse consequences against challenges to the status quo are known as backlash, and they help preserve gender inequity within a patriarchal society.

What organizations can do

Based on their experiences of encountering backlash, several responding organizations described strategies that they used to prevent or mitigate it. This largely involved sensitizing and building trust with the people who are key in making or influencing decisions affecting the lives of adolescent girls.

Intuitively, it follows that empowerment outcomes can only be fully met when the adolescent girl participating in the program has an enabling environment. Keeping this in mind, examples of strategies used by organizations to achieve this include:

  • Engaging parents, communities, and government authorities.
  • Having champions and positive role models.
  • Changing perceptions of gender roles.
  • Instituting organizational processes.
What funders can do

Funders can play a role in supporting normative change by investing in organizational efforts aimed at creating an enabling environment for adolescents to thrive in.

  1. Invest for the long term.
  2. Support the pre-implementation phase of empowerment programs.

Read the full article about preventing backlash by Priti Prabhughate and Saniya Pawar at India Development Review.