Shifting social norms to tackle violence against women and girls

Shifting social norms to tackle violence against women and girls

Focusing primarily on tackling the harmful social norms that underpin perpetration of intimate partner violence (IPV) and non-partner sexual violence, this Guidance Note aims to summarise the role of social norms in sustaining harmful behaviours and contributing to Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) and to provide practical guidance and advice for Department for International Development (DFID) advisors and programme managers on how to identify and address harmful social norms in the context of programming to prevent VAWG. It highlights "promising practices" for programme design and provides practical guidance on monitoring and evaluation, so that DFID programmes can both benefit from and contribute to the emergent evidence base. Drawing on social norms theory and the work of women's rights organisations and social justice movements with practical experience in this area, as well as behavioural science, behavioural economics, and social network theory, the resource was produced by the DFID-funded Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Helpdesk on behalf of the DFID VAWG team in the Inclusive Societies Department.

Key principles for programme design include:

  • gender-transformative approaches that address not only the specific violent behaviour but also the underlying gender inequalities and power relations that drive violence against women and girls
  • rights-based approaches that invest in beneficiaries as "rights-holders", create a legitimate channel for their voices to be heard, and enable them to play an active role in the response to tackling VAWG
  • inclusive interventions that address the types of violence and discrimination experienced by marginalised women and girls including women and girls with disabilities, those living with HIV, migrants, sex workers
  • do no harm (caution about various risks associated with social norms programming - e.g., those challenging norms in the early stages of change may be at risk from stigma and discrimination from family and community members.)
  • context-specific diagnosis informed by formative research and local experience (e.g., Northern Uganda's GREAT project, whose ethnographic research led to use of "Wangoo" traditional fireside learning and Acholi folklore for adolescents to create a supportive environment for discourse on sexual and reproductive health (SRH), HIV, and positive gender norms
  • integrated and multi-sector approaches (e.g., media campaigns combined with locally targeted outreach efforts and training workshops, as well as links to response mechanisms such as social, health, security and justice services, and child protection authorities)
  • realistic programme objectives and timelines - changing norms at scale takes many years, especially considering the importance of formative research to accurately diagnose the problem and design an appropriate response
  • balancing the need for a multi-sector and integrated approach with the need for a focused programme, most likely focused geographically around districts or regions of a country
  • adaptive and flexible approaches that allow testing and iteration of an intervention/s on the basis of ongoing learning (as well as building the evidence base)
  • working with the most appropriate partners, including traditional leaders and sources of influence, women's rights advocates, and the private sector
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