Are gender norms the new magic bullet in development?

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By Dr Caroline Harper, Head of Programme, Principal Research Fellow, Gender Equality and Social Inclusion, Overseas Development Institute (ODI)


This blog is part of a special series marking the launch of the updated
2019 
Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI)


Gender-normsThe terms gender and social norms have become increasingly used in development discourse. They focus on the core of discrimination: people’s attitudes and behaviours as held and enacted by individuals, as housed in social institutions, and as codified in formal and informal laws. These attitudes and behaviours push women and girls to the margin of society, leaving them disempowered and often impoverished. But changes in these social and cultural rules are not simply cosmetic; social norms are being actively contested and changed, and these changes have the potential to endure and make a real difference.

However, changing norms, or the rules underpinning discriminatory attitudes and behaviours in our daily lives, can face difficulties on multiple fronts. For one, norm change can look dangerously like a magic bullet for fixing social problems. As work on norm change grows in popularity in the development sector, these efforts risk overlooking the complexity of what works to change norms and the multi-level nature of change that is required. At the same time, others see norm change as too challenging. Efforts to change norms can be difficult, highly political and risk provoking backlash.

So is it worth trying to address norms? And if so what action is required? Continue reading

Why empowering women can make women and men happier

By Gaëlle Ferrant, Alexandre Kolev and Caroline Tassot, OECD Development Centre

IWD2017The OECD has long argued that the ultimate goal of public policies is to improve the quality of our lives. But what makes us happy? Does living in a country guaranteeing equal rights and opportunities to women and men increase people’s happiness? The answer apparently is yes.

For policy makers interested in the pursuit of happiness, these findings may at first glance come as bad news as we mark International Women’s Day this year. Gender-based discrimination remains, after all, a critical challenge around the globe. Despite changes in gender roles following improvements in economic, political and social rights, no country has achieved gender parity. Only half of working-age women are in the labour force, earning on average 24% less than men (UN Women, 2015). Despite their increasing involvement in the labour market, women still perform 75% of total unpaid care and domestic work (OECD, 2014). And gender-based discrimination in social norms remains widespread worldwide (OECD Development Centre, 2014).
Continue reading

How to make the SDGs walk the talk about gender equality and women’s empowerment

By Keiko Nowacka, Gender coordinator at the OECD Development Centre

This September, the world will adopt a new development framework: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that aim to “transform our world by 2030.”  Gender equality and women’s empowerment feature as a stand-alone goal (SDG5) and are integrated through many of the other goals (e.g. SDG1, 3, 5, 10, 11). By 2030, the SDGs aim to ensure that “every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality” (paragraph 15) through ambitious and comprehensive targets missed in the Millennium Development Goals. Focus now includes unpaid care, violence against women, early marriage and women’s political participation. It is no exaggeration to say that the SDGs boast unprecedented potential for dramatically challenging and changing the status quo of gender equality. Continue reading