Discussion paper: SOCIAL NORMS, GENDER AND DEVELOPMENT: A Review of Research and Practice

UN Women

Global development organizations are increasingly turning to social norms, including gender norms, as a new area of investment in contexts where progress on gender equality is slow, has stalled or is backsliding. Yet, for many actors new to this area of work, questions about where and how to intervene remain open. Meanwhile, feminist scholars and practitioners have expressed concern about how some development organizations are defining social norms and establishing theories of change around them. This tension points to a problem of approach. The social norms approaches rising in prominence tend to reflect a particular understanding of social change, one that did not originate in feminist thought or action. The grounded work undertaken for decades by feminist and women’s movements to shift discriminatory social norms in communities around the world – often as part of broader initiatives to improve women’s material conditions – is rarely reflected in these new organizational efforts and the theories of change undergirding them. 

This paper provides a ‘state of the evidence’ on social norms change. It draws on findings from a scoping review of studies and evaluations of programmatic interventions to shift social norms, as well as insights from a broader and more heterogeneous body of evidence tracing how social change happens. In doing so, it aims to answer four questions: What are social norms?, How do social norms change?, How are social norms measured? and What role (if any) should global development organizations play in shifting social norms?

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Resource Information

Publisher : UN Women | 2023 | Region : Global