What Works – Beyond Programming – To Shift Gender Norms on a Large Scale?

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By Ema Klugman, Program Intern at Equimundo

What are non-programmatic approaches to gender equality?

What works, beyond programming, to shift gender norms on a large scale? Although programmatic approaches can have strong and lasting impacts, they often reach only a small fraction of a population where broader change is needed. Scaling up these programs is difficult, especially given challenges such as ensuring quality of delivery, sustainability, and funding. Changing gender norms among millions is no easy task.

Contemporary and historical examples reveal that non-programmatic approaches can take shape in many different ways. From public policies to technological innovations to behavioral nudges, there are several important levers for influencing attitudes and behaviors. More research is needed to pinpoint which approaches work best in particular contexts, but there is strong evidence that gender norms can shift on a large scale.

What are some levers of change on a large scale?

Gender norms shape many aspects of people’s lives, including but not limited to health, employment, caregiving, gender-based violence, and education. Non-programmatic approaches have impacted all of these areas. Primary non-programmatic levers for change include:

  1. Government mandates, initiatives, and policies
  2. Social movements
  3. Behavioral “nudges”
  4. Informational campaigns
  5. Corporate norms and trends
  6. Innovations and technology

In some cases, these levers have been targeted at improving gender equality. For example, a radio serial drama in Nepal – an “edutainment” informational campaign – aimed to increase contraceptive knowledge and use for women and to educate health workers. Nearly twice as many women who were exposed to the show adopted contraception as those who were not. In other cases, levers did not directly target gender equality as a goal, but had positive gender-related impacts nonetheless. For instance, the extension of compulsory schooling in Turkey reduced teenage pregnancies and marriage substantially, despite not being developed as a gender-focused policy.

In other case, these levers may be used to supplement gaps in programming. For example, if programs work well to increase care work done by men but do not decrease the amount of care work done by women, perhaps non-programmatic levers like public policies or social movements would be more successful at initiating change in this area.

The strength of evidence of lasting change among these six levers of change is mixed. For some newer interventions, like anti-harassment apps, it is too early to tell if impacts are deep and sustainable. For well-documented policies driving change, like the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan and some corporate parental leave policies, evidence is strong: paternity leave benefits women, men, and their families. The time it takes to influence changes in gender norms also varies across, and within, the levers. The good news is that it is possible for these non-programmatic approaches to overlap and work in tandem with one another; for instance, a behavioral nudge could work alongside a public policy or corporate commitment to gender equality.

What are the gaps to consider?

It is difficult to measure the impact of large-scale levers, and some approaches may only be driving surface-level change. Given that gender norms are entrenched across cultures, more research is needed to determine which levers produce deep, sustainable change and in which contexts.

Other questions abound surrounding scaling up to create broad impact. Which levers – for example, community mobilization, nudges, or corporate policies – work best for shifting attitudes and behaviors around which issues? For instance, “nudging” may work for corporate norms but have little impact on gender-based violence.

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