16 tips for changing social norms for girls | adolescent girls – global network of development professionals

Renuka Motihar, Independent Consultant, New Delhi, India

Legislation alone is not enough: Laws are important, but when they deviate from a social norm, the practice can continue but simply go underground. In India, we see this in the case of gender testing for preference for boys and with child marriage. What is essential is the implementation of laws and the awareness that must accompany it.

Josephat Nyamwaya, Program Officer, Global Planned Parenthood, Nairobi, Kenya. @JNyamwaya

Respecting social norms can help you gain the trust of a community: Social norms must be appreciated in their own contexts and recognized as essential to a community’s sense of identity. The trickiest thing is to change negative norms and replace them with new, positive ones. But it’s good to recognize that we can only work in a context, not outside of it.

We must see men and boys as collaborators and beneficiaries: While maintaining the focus on adolescent girls, we must also engage boys and men and encourage them to take action to support girls. One way to do this is to find and develop male advocates for the empowerment of girls.

Efua Dorkenoo, Advocacy Director of the FGM Program, Equality now, London, UK. @equalitynow


Governments can be held accountable under regional and international human rights treaties. One of the most widely ratified human rights conventions in the world is the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The other one you can use to hold governments to account is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Governments can be challenged by bringing issues to treaty bodies through shadow reports.

How to diagnose the nature of a behavior: Some behaviors and practices are designed as normative (think codes of honor), while others are supported by standards (think breastfeeding). The correct diagnosis can be made by asking questions about what people expect others to do, what they think would happen if deviations have occurred and if they would change the behavior of others as well. .


Not all practices are norms and they should not be confused with deeply rooted moral and cultural values. This point is explained in more detail in my Unicef ​​conferences on the subject.

Fear is at the heart of the problem: I think the fear that social and cultural norms are immutable is the beginning of the problem. Until we are able to change mindsets and attitudes towards culture and norms, we may never make progress, especially in many deeply cultural and complex societies across Africa.

Access to reproductive health information and services is essential to empower girls and young people: ARFH’s Universal Access to Reproductive Health Project is a three-year capacity building and reproductive health improvement intervention focused on adolescents and youth (10 to 24 years old) in four northern states from Nigeria. The objective of the project is to reduce the impact of poverty and improve the reproductive health status of adolescents and young people by increasing the availability and access to comprehensive reproductive health services.

Barri Shorey, Youth and Livelihoods Technical Advisor, The International Rescue Committee (IRC), New York City, United States

Mentoring is an important tool: There is excellent research in the United States on the importance of mentors for young people and Karen Austrian of the Population Council has developed tools for mentoring programs for girls (pdf). IRC includes mentoring in all of its youth-focused livelihood programs and believes it is crucial that young people and girls have business models that can help them navigate markets.

Economic advocacy to change standards: When girls and young women demonstrate value to their community in the form of an economic or income-based argument, perceptions change. We have seen this happen in our programs in Kenya and Liberia. Additionally, Nike and the Population Council have produced research (pdf) which suggests that almost 90% of a young woman’s income goes to the family (compared to 30-40% for men).

Hilda Alberda, Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health Program Manager, Restless development, Freetown, Sierra Leone

Adapt your approach to your cultural context: I would say we definitely need separate tools to influence behavior in different countries because the messages need to be culturally appropriate. For example, while in most countries the majority of women want to end FGM, in Sierra Leone only 28% of women share this view.

Consider who has cultural leverage in your context: In Sierra Leone, for example, religious and traditional authorities often have a stronger influence in communities than the government.

Lakshmi Sundaram, Global Coordinator, Unmarried girls, London, UK. @GirlsNotBrides

The human rights aspect is crucial but difficult to deal with: Child marriage deprives girls of their basic human rights: to health, to education, to a life in security. The human rights aspect is absolutely fundamental in our approach, but it is difficult to talk about human rights for girls in areas where the concept of human rights for all is absent.


I recommend this Equality Now blog on how the provisions of international treaties – in this case the Maputo Protocol – can be used to strengthen efforts to end child marriage.

Our members World Vision and Human Rights Watch have published interesting reports on the link between child marriage and situations of instability around the world. Check out “This Old Man Can Feed Us, You Will Marry Him” and “Untie the Knot”.

Catharine Watson, Development Manager, World Agroforestry Center, Nairobi, Kenya

We need to recognize that learning is a two-way street: We can learn a lot from Paolo Freire’s ideas in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. We need conversations rather than messages and we need our approach to be horizontal rather than top-down, learning has to be two-way.

Ola Perczynska, program manager, his turn, Kathmandu, Nepal

Girls themselves can be agents of change: In our experience, after equipping girls with skills (including leadership skills), knowledge and attitudes (building confidence and self-esteem), some of them become powerful agents of change. in their communities. They can initiate the debate themselves at Community level.

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