Event:Empowering adolescent girls by tackling social norms

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Empowering adolescent girls by tackling social norms
Select date 26/04/2013
Select a city London
Country United Kingdom
Summary Expert workshop on empowering adolescent girls


This expert workshop on ‘Empowering adolescent girls by tackling social norms’ took place on 26 April 2013 in London. Organised by the UK Department for International Development, OECD Development Centre, Overseas Development Institute and Girl Hub, the objectives of the workshop were to share learning on the topic of social norms, social institutions and adolescent girls by exploring concepts and definitions, measurement approaches and programme and policy responses. The workshop brought together approximately forty experts, practitioners, academics and policymakers representing a range of thematic areas.

Online Discussion

In the lead up to the workshop, Wikigender (a global web 2.0 platform on gender equality) and Wikichild (a global web 2.0 platform on child well-being issues), jointly organised an online discussion on the topic from 2-11 April 2013.

Participants were invited to reflect on how social norms shape the lives of adolescent girls and which interventions are effective changing discriminatory social norms and practices. Shortened link: http://bit.ly/X4SWmw; Twitter: #AdolescentGirls

Presentations from the event

Adolescent girls, social norms and social institutions: What do we mean? What do we know?

Caroline Harper, Overseas Development Institute

Somali Cerise, OECD Development Centre

Lori Heise, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

How do policies and programmes tackle social norms to empower adolescent girls? What is working?

Themes of Wikigender online discussion: Estelle Loiseau

Simon Narbeth, Social Development Adviser, DFID Sudan

• Ellen Wratten, Girl Hub

Michael O’Donnell, Plan UK

The way forward for social norms and adolescent girls: post-2015 development agenda and beyond

Emily Esplen, Womankind Worldwide

• Emma Samman, Overseas Development Institute and World Bank consultant

Shared reports

Group Discussions

The technical workshop covered a range of issues: concepts, definitions, debates and analytical frameworks for social norms and institutions – particularly those that constrain and/or advance girls’ empowerment – while seeking greater clarity for effective programming and measurement.

Participants considered programming examples, opportunities and challenges and then how this relates to the Post 2015 framework. Below is a summary of the group discussions per table (participants were grouped by table). Access the summary in PDF here.

The question was : What challenges and opportunities have you experienced in programming, catalysing and measuring the impact of social norms?

Table 1


  • Short term, results based programming is not conducive, we need more flexible approaches that allow for learning;
  • Sector specific funding does not lend itself to work with social norms as no one “owns it”;
  • Work on attitudinal change needs to be supported by work on social norms and reference groups;
  • Little experience of working with social norms in urban settings where communities and reference groups are less well defined and understood;
  • Need to understand and monitor unintended consequences of social norms change. For example, stigma change from “young uncut girls” to “women who are cut”. Beware of pegging age against gender;
  • Empowerment work requires critical reflection on power dynamics;
  • Rise of the media working with consumer culture.


  • Searching for common threads across programmes to inform future programming;
  • There are successful approaches – scale them up/replicate them;
  • Coordinate and bring researchers and practitioners together as well as documented practice so a community can be built and a body of knowledge built, shared, sustained;
  • DFID should lead, invest and coordinate work on social norms and support its implementing agencies to integrate this work in areas of programming.

Table 2


  • Define objectives of measurement;
  • How to aggregate qualitative data;
  • How to know where you are in cycle given lags – attitudes/behavioural tipping points/points of inflection;
  • Density of beliefs/behaviours as they affect possible tipping points in reference groups;
  • Measuring attitudes is not the same as social norms;
  • Need to establish community level context – reference groups, sanctions etc – to measure norms;
  • Disconnect between attitudes and behaviour – maybe explained by norms?
  • Value of disaggregation – outliers/ positive deviance;
  • Need to establish baselines/ need for long term investments in research – and for local triangulation;
  • How to intervene when ‘harms’ may not be equally shared or where perceptions may differ over what constitutes harm ie. False consciousness/attitude
  • Important to remember structural factors that may sustain norms or prevent shifts in norms eg. Norm around son bias in the context of separate education facilities/where girls’ schools are not available.

Table 3

Challenges /opportunities in programming

  • Timeframes – problems with ‘usual’ programme cycle, and not able to go back and see what is still changed (sustainability);
  • Vicious cycle of perception – how to break it?
  • Move beyond linear idea of knowledge – attitudes – practices to include context / relationships;
  • Understanding historical / political ‘moments’ and ‘break points’;
  • What is an effective ‘package of influence’?

Need to link with other actors eg. KMG in Ethiopia; Learning at theoretical / operational levels

  • How to move beyond short term wins to actually getting shifts in social norms?
  • Importance of embedding social norms within broader understanding of power / gender

End goal needs to be shifting power relations not individual changes (ie. Gender equality not just one social norm)

Measuring social norms and change

  • Attribution/contribution problem: move beyond this to see contribution to change movements;
  • Need to address measurement – can’t avoid it!

Table 4


  • Lack of long term funding
  • Timelines
  • Invisibility of social norms as a concept in development programming and practice
  • Social norms and institutions are context specific so interventions may not always be easily replicated
  • The concepts of social norms and social institutions are inherently complex so it is difficult to measure change
  • While there are lessons emerging from the field we need to be asking – are they accurate?
  • Social norm change is not necessarily a linear process. There may be negative and positive changes at the same time.


  • Emerging lessons from research, policy and practice – they need to be shared
  • There are new methodologies for evaluation / measurement of social norms e.g. story-telling, most significant change
  • There is now a lot of experimentation happening on social norms change
  • There is great opportunity with growing interest from donors in social norm change


  • Linking social norms with a rights based approach

Table 5

  • Does social norm change necessarily take a long time?

Do we know what combination of factors need to be in place to shift the norm and sustain the change?

  • Which social space do we need to operate in for maximum impact? Eg communities, HHs, networks of communities
  • How do you link macro and micro interventions?
  • Contagion…how do you measure impact given everything else that is going on (and over time)?
  • Risks of changing norms – do we understand these and take into account?
  • Married girls – very vulnerable and tend to be ignored in programming;
  • How do you normalise something that is normal?

Article Information
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