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Challenging Negative Social Norms

Challening Negative Social Norms
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The social norms approach adopted by V4C has its origins in the DFID Strategic Vision for Girls and Women. The Vision “aims to unlock the potential of women girls, to stop poverty before it starts. It empowers girls and women, enabling them to have voice, choice and control.”

Many donor programmes work on specific areas such as health care, education, employment and livelihoods. However, discriminatory social norms inhibit women’s ability to take advantage of such programmes. For example, if husbands do not allow their wives to go out on their own, then they may not be able to use health facilities. Or if fathers remove their daughters from secondary school in order to marry them off, then the girls cannot complete their education. Thus, in order to create a better enabling environment for women and girls social norms need to change.

Social norms are different from individual attitudes or opinions in that they depend upon an individual’s expectations of other people. A social norm is a pattern of behaviour which someone follows because they think other people do the same thing and because they believe others expect them to behave in this way. For example, a man may not actually want to withdraw his daughter from school to marry her off, but he may feel pressured to do so because he believes the wider community expect him to behave in this way.

In order to shift social norms a society-wider approach is required. This needs to target those who are affected by harmful norms – adolescent women and girls in the case of V4C – and also those who maintain and support these norms. These include men and boys, religious and traditional leaders, and older women.

V4C has selected three social norm areas for change, based on research and analysis, consultations with experts, and internal discussions among the V4C team and DFID. The issues targeted for change by V4C are as follows:

  1. Violence against women;
  2. Women in leadership;
  3. Women’s role in decision-making.

These issues were chosen on the basis of their relevance to our core target audience (women and girls aged 16-25), the likelihood of achieving results within the programme lifetime, and the importance of these issues to creating a better enabling environment.

V4C’s approach is based on the insight that a society-wide response is required, working at the individual, community, and social-structural levels. Through interventions at all three levels, V4C believes that social change can be prompted, sustained and accelerated more effectively than by working on one level alone. The programme includes a strong social marketing element. This uses behaviour change communications to shift attitudes in the wider society, and to inform citizens that others have changed their attitude.

  1. At the individual level, V4C works with adolescent women and girls to provide them with the skills, knowledge and confidence to challenge discriminatory social norms;
  2. At the community level, V4C works with men and boys, religious and traditional leaders, and networks of women and girls to create a critical mass of support for gender equality;
  3. At the social-structural level, V4C works to change discriminatory laws, create better policies, and direct assets towards women and girls.