Social Norms Change
These approaches seek to reshape social norms and influence individual attitudes by engaging multiple tactics – from community dialogue, supporting local campaigners and shifting narratives through media. They take on social issues, challenge norms, break taboos, imagine different futures and inspire reflection and discussion.
Drawing from research on the topic, CARE articulated 8 design principles for engaging with social norms change, which include:
- Find early adopters: Often, people are already living their lives in positive ways that support girls’ choices and opportunities. Find them.
- Build support groups of early adopters: It can be hard to embody positive, rights-based change alone. Groups help individuals support, encourage and trouble-shoot.
- Use future-oriented positive messages: Help people imagine positive alternatives. Change is possible.
- Open space for dialogue: Get people talking to each other about new ideas. Challenge the implicit assumptions that everyone holds the same views, experiences and preferences.
- Facilitate public debate: Engage publicly with community members to debate on what is OK in this context.
- Expect by-stander action: Move from envisioning possibilities of justice to action. This involves building community and accountability, so that people show up for girls’ rights in their words and actions.
- Show examples of positive behavior in public: Demonstrate that the positive shift we hope for already exists. And it is totally normal.
- Map allies and ask for their support: Identify the resources and networks we need to support positive change for individuals, families and communities.
Community dialogues and action
- CARE's Social Analysis and Action (SAA) approach – In Kenya, CARE trained facilitators (i.e. community health care workers, religious leaders, local government officials, teachers) who, in turn, facilitated dialogues in markets, churches, women’s groups and village meetings. In other contexts, SAA has been used in VSLA groups and project review meetings among CARE staff. The dialogues are designed to normalize communication about sensitive issues related to gender and sexuality.
- The CARE TESFA project, which is currently in its second phase, has applied the SAA approach in its work to improve economic and sexual and reproductive health outcomes for the marginalized population of child brides in the Amhara Region of Ethiopia. The project focuses on facilitating positive changes in adolescent girls' sexual and reproductive health and economic status.
- The Tostan approach – Tostan, a West Africa-based NGO working in six countries within the region provides community education to groups of 25-30 adults, and in parallel to groups of adolescents. Multiple topics are covered, including hygiene, sexual and reproductive health, decision-making, leadership and child development. Each participant is expected to “adopt” a friend or relative to share and discuss the information learned in these sessions. The curriculum draws on positive traditional practices to ensure sessions are relevant, participatory and empowering. Group actions are often accompanied by a public declaration.
RESOURCE: Tostan Project Modules
- Stepping Stones, a training package developed by Strategies for Hope, focuses on gender communication and HIV, runs intensive (50 hours) training sessions that use participatory learning approaches, role play and drama to increase knowledge and stimulate critical reflection on contraception, risk taking, sex and love, gender-based violence, and one’s own behavior. Parallel sessions are run for women. Older men and younger men are able to have separate discussions, and men have the opportunity to hear perceptions of women. Skilled male facilitators are an important ingredient of success.
RESOURCE: Stepping Stones Training Package
- CARE’s Information Volunteers Program in Turkey encourages members of refugee communities to become champions on raising awareness on the negative impacts of child marriage, supporting of positive community-based role models, promoting referrals and access to psychosocial support for GBV survivors, and organizing events that change opinions and practice towards child marriage. Volunteers conduct house visits, peer-to-peer education sessions, and group discussions on health and psychosocial risks of childbirth to girls.
What does the evidence indicate?
CARE's SAA approach – the following results were measured after 3.5 years of programming in Kenya:
- Women using any method of family planning rose from 36.5% to 51.8%, and women using modern methods of family planning rose from 34% to 51.2%.
- Men using any method of family planning rose from 33.7% to 55.8%, and men using modern methods of family planning rose from 27.9% to 52.2%.
- Women exposed to discussions on family planning were 1.78 times more likely to use contraception in comparison to women who had not engaged in these discussions.
- Women were more likely to report increased use of family planning if they reported more spousal communication.
- Both men and women reported learning from the “living proof” offered by users and non-users of family planning in these discussions.
- Community discussions increased the acceptability of talking about family planning as well as using family planning.
The CARE TESFA Project, leveraged group-based peer education on VSLA and discussions on SRH, gender and power and created social support systems for married girls through SAA:
- Married girls using family planning methods increased by 12.7% among the 2015 cohort.
- Girls' perceiving support from husbands and mother in laws to use family planning increased by 73% for the 2015 cohort and 22% for the 2016 cohort.
- Married girls able to leave the house without permission increased by more than 95% in 2015 and 2016 cohorts.
- More than 2x increase in the girls who owned and controlled personal savings, with 4x increase among 2015 and 2017 cohorts. 
In Stepping Stones, which took place in South Africa, among participants aged 15-26:
- A lower proportion of men who completed the program engaged intimate partner violence in the two years after program completion in comparison to those who had not participated.
- Stepping Stones was also associated with decreased transactional sex and substance abuse.
The Tostan approach – multiple reviews and evaluations suggest the following:
- Women reported a reduction in partner violence over the past 12 months in the intervention community. 
- Men and women reported a significant increase in knowledge of contraceptive methods over the past 12 months in the intervention community.
- Tostan mobilized communities to stand against female genital cutting (the majority said FGM/C is no longer practiced in their village). A reduction in cutting was reported in the intervention community relative to the comparison community. 
- Tostan inculcated a culture of non-violence and gave them a model for solving problems; one of the outcomes was better gender relations.
Though evidence is still emerging on the CARE Information Volunteers Program, initial feedback indicates that girl child marriage has reduced within refugee communities. Evaluators found that attitudes and opinions amongst the Syrian refugee population had shifted, with both women and girls voicing stronger objections to girl child marriages.
1. CARE (2007). Ideas and action: Addressing the social factors that influence sexual and reproductive health.
2. Tostan (2017). Tostan Website.
3. Stepping Stones . Stepping Stones Community of Practice Website.
4. Spencer, D. (2015). "To protect her honour": Child marriage in emergencies - the fatal confusion between protecting girls and sexual violence; CARE (2015). CARE information volunteers help tackle child marriage.
5. CARE (2016). Social Analysis & Action: An integrative approach to catalyzing change through reflection and action; Wegs, C., Creanga, A., Galavotti, C., Wamalwa, E. (2016) Community Dialogue to Shift Social Norms and Enable Family Planning: An Evaluation of the Family Planning Results Initiative in Kenya. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0153907. doi:10.1371/
6. Stefanik, L. (2018). "GJ Deep Dive: Measuring Social Norm Change in J&J TESFA Evaluation."
8. Heise, L. L. (2011, December). What Works to Prevent Partner Violence? An Evidence Overview. STRIDE.
9. Heise, L. L. (2011, December). What Works to Prevent Partner Violence? An Evidence Overview. STRIDE.
10. Diop, N. J., Ph.D, Moreau, A., & Benga, H. (2008, January). Evaluation of the Long-term Impact of the TOSTAN Programme on the Abandonment of FGM/C and Early Marriage: Results from a qualitative study in Senegal.
11. Diop, N. J., Ph.D, Moreau, A., & Benga, H. (2008, January). Evaluation of the Long-term Impact of the TOSTAN Programme on the Abandonment of FGM/C and Early Marriage: Results from a qualitative study in Senegal.
12. Spencer, D. (2015). "To protect her honour": Child marriage in emergencies - the fatal confusion between protecting girls and sexual violence.
Local change agents as campaigners
- Raising Voices' SASA! approach mobilizes communities to prevent violence against women and reduce HIV risk. It was designed by Raising Voices and implemented in Kampala (Uganda) by the Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention (CEDOVIP). SASA! (meaning “now” in Kiswahili) is a four-phase approach: Start, Awareness, Support and Action. The methodology is designed to catalyze community-led change of norms and behaviors that perpetuate gender equality, violence and increased vulnerability to HIV. An equal number of interested men and women are selected to be community activists and institutional activists (i.e. from the police, health services, local government, faith groups), and all activists are mentored in the SASA! approach, which helps them reflect on power imbalances in their own lives and in the community. With support from program staff, the activists lead informal activities within their own social networks – fostering open discussions and supportive action with family members, neighbors and colleagues. The intent is to stimulate people to think about power in more positive ways, and for a critical mass of community members to be exposed to new ideas from people they know and trust. The goal is for this, over a period of time, to lead to change in social norms.
RESOURCE: SASA! Activist Toolkit
- Oxfam’s “We Can” campaign, launched in late 2004 in Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka and in 2005 in Pakistan, worked through local partners who adapt and implement campaign activities (workshops, street theater, exchange visits, mobile vans, distribution of campaign booklets and other materials) and encouraged individual men and women to reflect on their own attitudes and beliefs and to reject all forms of violence against women. Individuals could become Change Makers by signing a public pledge to take action against violence and to carry the campaign message to 10 other individuals.
- IMAGE, a project of RADAR (Rural AIDS and Development Action Research Program) and the Small Enterprise Foundation (SEF) in South Africa, built gender and HIV education on top of microfinance groups with women. Following this, the project selected women as community mobilizers to facilitate dialogues with men and others in the community to identify and address problems facing them.
What does the evidence indicate?
SASA! has shown positive results on multiple fronts, after nearly three years of implementation.
- Women in SASA! communities were 52% less likely to experience physical violence from an intimate partner as women in control communities.
- Women in SASA! communities were half as likely as women in control communities to report attitudes accepting men’s use of physical violence. Men in SASA! communities were 8 times less likely (that men in control communities) to report attitudes accepting men’s use of physical violence.
- Women in SASA! communities were twice as likely as women in control communities to receive helpful support.
In “We Can,” on average, each Change Maker reached out to 5 people in their environment. 79% of Change Makers provided concrete and specific examples of taking action to prevent violence. 84.8% of Change Makers and 81% of people in the circle of influence endorsed the view that violence against women is not acceptable. Qualitative and quantitative data confirm that awareness of gender equity and rejection of violence has moved well beyond individual Change Makers to permeate groups within their environment. However, attitudes that domestic violence is warranted in some circumstances were harder to change.
In IMAGE, participants reported a 55% decrease in the number of acts of intimate partner violence in the past 12 months.
1. Raising Voices (2017). SASA!
2. Green, D. (2015, January). The ‘We Can’ Campaign in South Asia.
3. Perlson, S., & Greene, M. E. (2014, June). Addressing the Intergenerational Transmission of Gender-Based Violence: Focus on Educational Settings Report.
4. Abramsky, T., Faris, D., Namy, S., & Michau, L. (2015). Is Violence Against Women Preventable? Findings from the SASA! Study Summarized for General Audiences.
5. Oxfam GB. (n.d.). We CAN | Oxfam Policy & Practice.
6. Perlson, S., & Greene, M. E. (2014, June). Addressing the Intergenerational Transmission of Gender-Based Violence: Focus on Educational Settings Report; Edstrom, J., Hassink, A., Shahrokh, T. and Stern, E. (2015). Engendering men: a collaborative review of evidence on men and boys in social change and gender equality. EMERGE Evidence report, Promundo-US, Sonke Gender Justice and the Institute of Development Studies.
Media and new narratives
- Soul City is a South African television series set in a fictional township; it depicts the social and development challenges faced by poor communities everywhere. Characters face a range of challenges (e.g. domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, alcohol abuse, maternal and child health) and the 30-minute episodes are designed to keep people thinking and talking about the issues raised.
- Puntos de Encuentro discusses issues like sexual abuse, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, condom use and homosexuality that have traditionally been taboos.
- Breakthrough TV in India aims to make discrimination against women and gender-based violence unacceptable, by leveraging popular culture and multimedia. It engages issues of domestic violence, sexual harassment in public spaces, early marriage and gender-based sex selection. In Sri Lanka, CARE worked with Breakthrough TV to design a media campaign to spread positive depictions of violence-free homes and alternative masculinity through songs, posters, radio shows, and community dialogues.
- Young Men Initiative implemented by CARE and partners in the Balkans has worked with social media campaigns, community theater and a local rap artist to carry messages challenging traditional notions of manhood.
- In Egypt, young bloggers have been engaged in a process of exploring popular images of women (using well-loved Egyptian films, popular songs and newspaper articles) and rewriting narratives that challenge stereotypes.
- Within CARE, Tipping Point project in Nepal and Bangladesh, and TEFSA project in Ethiopia have begun to work with adolescents, using Photovoice and other storytelling media to allow girls to tell their stories and use their voices and creativity.
- CARE Bangladesh’s “Adolescent and Women Reproductive and Sexual Health Initiative” (ARSHI), 2007-2010, worked to decrease maternal mortality and morbidity of adolescent girls and women in Sunamganj, a remote, underserved district in Bangladesh. Sunamganj is known as home of some of the best musicians, authors, and writers in Bangladesh, and music and the arts are an integral part of communities. ARSHI integrated arts, culture and sports as strategies for social norms change with boys and girls.  The project operated primarily through Youth, Fun, Education and Development Centres (YFEDCS) to support adolescent girls – and separately boys – to meet in a safe, fun space where they can discuss sensitive topics, explore avenues of creative expression and sports, and strengthen relationships with one another. ARSHI organized two types of centers-community, and school based. In most cases, each fun center consisted of 5-10 groups that covered an average of 3-5 villages. In most of the cases, girls ran these centers, however, in some centers, both girls and boys ran the centers. These centers offered a platform for community change work, which included group efforts to stop eve teasing and acid attacks, to support young people to return to school after dropping, and even starting community schools. Examples include:
- Boys and girls created film, painting, crafts, stories, comics, essays and music that covered a range of topics related to SRHR and their lives. Certain art pieces integrated messages of respect for mothers and for women generally for sharing with their communities. In these exhibitions, audience members mainly comprised male gatekeepers in the community.
- The Center for Research on Art and Culture (CRAC), curated an exhibit to showcase the stories of child mothers, created by local artists to stop the practice of early child marriage. Overall, 210 different artworks on child marriage, violence against women, and sexual harassment were all produced. Displays were used to highlight maternal mortality, violence against women, and gender-based issues.
- Boys also organized public demonstrations and a rally to raise awareness about maternal mortality. This was replicated 9 times, and gained media and international attention, with ARSHI making a documentary film.
- In 2008, as ARSHI supported girls to ride bikes – which had been previously taboo – the village hosted a bike race for girls. Following this, girls engaged various sports that previously excluded them, including handball, volleyball, badminton, and cricket. These sports supported shifting norms and expectations around what is possible for girls.
- The project also encouraged men and boys, women and girls to share their stories of transformation through community dialogues. ARSHI used these stories for advocacy messaging through public art (e.g. posters) and meetings with local power holders to recognize the importance of this issue.
What does the evidence indicate?
- Exposure to Soul City is positively associated with both support-seeking (i.e. calling the helpline established for reporting domestic violence) and support-giving (i.e. doing something concrete to stop domestic violence). Eight months after the helpline was established, 41% of respondents nationally had heard of the helpline, and media coverage of it had increased.
- Participants with greater exposure to Somos Diferentes, Somos Iguales (a program of Puntos de Encuentro in Nicaragua) demonstrated: a 62% greater probability of having talked with someone in the last six months about domestic violence, HIV, homosexuality or the rights of young people; a 42% greater probability of consistently using a condom with casual partners in the last six months; and 33% greater probability of knowing a center that serves domestic violence cases.
- Even though impacts in terms of development outcomes may be hard to measure, the value of people – especially women and adolescents – seeing themselves and their options in a different light (through the lens of popular culture) is valuable to the work of women’s empowerment and gender equality. Further, bringing sensitive gender issues into public discussion and expanding public imagination can be vital.
ARSHI was successful in innovating creative ways to allow different members of the community to engage, including elders, religious leaders, government officials, and even husbands in social empowerment issues for women and girls. Despite not all responses from the community being positive, ARSHI pushed boundaries by using new, innovative ideas.
The acceptance of girls’ participation in sports events
- Community-led campaigns to end child marriage (Included declarations of “child marriage-free villages) villages where child marriages have been stopped
- Male role models changing social norms (sharing domestic chores, protesting violence against women, etc.)
- Youth taking lead in demanding justice for GBV, and other social issues.
- Increase in girl’s school attendance rate, owing to the significant decrease in sexual harassment
1. Heise, L. L. (2011, December). What Works to Prevent Partner Violence? An Evidence Overview. STRIDE.
2. Heise, L. L. (2011, December). What Works to Prevent Partner Violence? An Evidence Overview. STRIDE.
3. Heise, L. L. (2011, December). What Works to Prevent Partner Violence? An Evidence Overview. STRIDE.
4. CARE (2015). Using social media and the arts to transform gender roles: Case study from the Young Men Initiative.
5. Cornwall, A. (2014). Women’s empowerment: what works and why? (WIDER Working Paper 2014/104) [PDF]. Helsinki: United Nations University-WIDER.
6. CARE and International Center for Research on Women (2013). Photovoice: TEFSA project.
7. Heise, L. L. (2011, December). What Works to Prevent Partner Violence? An Evidence Overview. STRIDE.
8. Heise, L. L. (2011, December). What Works to Prevent Partner Violence? An Evidence Overview. STRIDE.
9. Cornwall, A. (2014). Women’s empowerment: what works and why? (WIDER Working Paper 2014/104) [PDF]. Helsinki: United Nations University-WIDER.
10. Picard, M. (2011, June). Promoting Gender and Sexual Reproductive Health Justice in Hard-to-reach areas: Lessons and Promising Practices from ARSHI.