Donor support to stop persistent harmful practices against women and girls includes reforming formal rules and transforming social norms.
Key resource on gender issues
The GSDRC Topic Guide on Gender introduces some of the best recent literature on a range of gender issues and highlights major critical debates. There is a section on gender-based violence (Kangas et al., 2012)
Reforming formal laws
Reforming formal rules is often a first critical step in ensuring equality before the law, harmonisation of customary and statutory regimes, and the prohibition of discriminatory practices (Cerise et al., 2013). There is some evidence that prescriptive legal reform ‘can be particularly influential in motivating behaviour change’ (from studies in China on a compulsory schooling law for girls and in India on gender-equitable inheritance laws) (Ball Cooper & Fletcher, 2013: 17-18).
However, other studies show that laws prohibiting female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and early marriage are not clearly correlated with changes in practice. This may be due to legislation not being effectively enforced and/or failure to support officials and communities to use it (through legal literacy programmes and litigation and access to justice initiatives) (Jones et al., 2010; World Bank, 2011b).
Transforming informal norms and behaviours
Interventions to change informal institutions that exclude girls and women from social, economic and political opportunities face enormous challenges: they contest deeply embedded social norms and established power relations. Nevertheless, there is evidence of successful programmes. Two examples are interventions strengthening women’s 1) access to justice and 2) economic empowerment:
- Although most women access justice through informal or traditional institutions that favour men, there are promising initiatives to support alternative women-led adjudication and arbitration systems (DFID, 2012: 25). A case study of informal women’s courts in Gujarat, India highlights the importance of: supporting inclusive social norms (for example by allowing women to go to the courts alone and making the process less intimidating); and complementing support to non-formal systems with efforts to reform formal justice institutions (DFID, 2012: 25)
- Changing the formal rules and informal norms that affect the ability of girls and women to work and accumulate assets can change their status in the household and community. Interventions include establishing inheritance and property rights, supporting girls’ education, and providing women with entrepreneurship and empowerment training and employment opportunities. One example is the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) programme, which gives marginalised women training, asset transfers and grants, and health services. A 2012 randomised control trial found the programme had transformed women’s occupational choices and, on average, increased their annual income (Bandiera et al., 2012).
Research summary: Working with communities in engendering inclusive social norms
A DFID guide on ‘community programming on violence against women and girls’ provides case studies on how interventions to transform social norms work with communities. These include programmes to: 1) end FGM/C in Ethiopia; and 2) prevent violence against women and girls in Uganda.
The Ethiopian NGO KMG first built trust within communities by delivering development projects that met practical needs and then ran a series of successful community conversations on FGM/C. Girls were trained as community conversation facilitators who motivate their peers. State and non-state authority figures were actively involved. A study by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (2010) found that, after the KMG intervention, less than 5% of parents said they would have their daughters circumcised in 2007, compared with 97% ten years ago. The practice was not eradicated however, as some families continued to cut their daughters in secret.
The Uganda-based NGO Raising Voices uses four key strategies for community work to prevent violence. These are local activism (such as quick chats, dramas, community conversations, and community action groups), media and advocacy, communication materials and training. A 2011 rapid assessment survey revealed shifts in the social acceptability of violence: 83% of women from the intervention group believed their community could prevent violence against women and girls, compared with 14% from control groups. A 3ie-funded cluster randomised trial is ongoing, one of few under way globally to assess the impact of a gender-focused community mobilisation intervention.
Source: DFID, 2012: 11-12, 14-15.
Research on donor interventions to transform social norms and behaviours highlights the following key lessons.
- Community presence: Social change is an intense process requiring sustained presence in the community; successful interventions have tended to work with organisations with a long-term and deep connection with the community (DFID, 2012: 12).
- Community involvement: Successful programmes have used: multi-sectoral approaches at the community level, bringing together actors from all sectors including traditional authorities; and community-led, participatory, non-judgmental and non-coercive methods. Acquiring the support of local leaders (including women leaders) is often a crucial first step to mitigate any backlash (DFID, 2012: 5).
- Women’s groups: These have been instrumental in changing behaviours and empowering women and girls, enabling voice and public action (World Bank, 2011b: 35).
- The media: A range of media strategies (from mass media to less conventional community and participatory media approaches, and education-entertainment initiatives such as radio soap operas) have been effective in disseminating information, rallying support and instigating dialogue to challenge gender norms around violence against women and girls (DFID, 2012; Ball Cooper and Fletcher, 2013).
- Men and boys: Working with men and boys is seen as particularly critical for changing norms and practices that sanction aggressive masculine behaviour (Jones et al., 2010: 84). To date, there are only a few initiatives working with men and boys. Research shows that Program H in Brazil has had some success in working with young men to reduce violence against adolescent girls through facilitated, peer-to-peer discussion groups and a social norms marketing campaign (Paluck et al., 2010).
- Ball Cooper, L. & Fletcher, E.K. (2013). Reducing societal discrimination against adolescent girls: Using social norms to promote behavior change. Paper Commissioned by Girl Hub, a strategic partnership between Nike Foundation and the UK Department for International Development. See document online
- Bandiera, O., Burgess, R., Das, N., Gulesci, S., Rasul, I., Shams, R. & Sulaiman, M., (2012). Asset transfer programme for the ultra poor: A randomized control trial evaluation. Revised edition, December 2012. CFPR Working Paper No. 22. Dhaka: BRACSee document online
- Cerise, S., Francavilla, F., Loiseau, E. & Tuccio, M. (2013). Why discriminatory social institutions affecting adolescent girls matter. Issues Paper. Paris: OECD Development Centre. See document online
- DFID (2012). A practical guide on community programming on violence against women and girls: How to note. CHASE Guidance Note Series. London: Department for International Development. See document online
- Jones, N. et al. (2010). Stemming girls’ chronic poverty: Catalysing development change by building just social institutions. Manchester: Chronic Poverty Research Centre. See document online
- Kangas, A., Haider, H., & Fraser, E. (2012). Topic guide on gender. Birmingham: GSDRC, University of Birmingham. See document online
- Paluck, E.L. & Ball, L. with Poynton, C. & Sieloff, S. (2010). Social norms marketing aimed at gender based violence: A literature review and critical assessment. International Rescue Committee. See document online
- World Bank (2011b). World Development Report 2012: Gender, equality and development. Washington D.C.: World Bank. See document online