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Sexual health and economic empowerment of young women and girls in Cuba: exploring the role of social norms

Working paper

Written by Carmen Leon-Himmelstine, Fiona Samuels, Maria Stavropoulou

Working paper

This literature review brings together evidence on the links between social norms and sexual and reproductive health (SRH), as well as between social norms and women’s economic empowerment (WEE), with a particular focus on Cuba.

Key messages

  • Social norms intersect with SRH and WEE in multiple ways and can contribute to the success or failure of interventions targeted at each of those two areas. While some social norms are disabling or discriminatory, others are enabling or more positive.
  • Social norms related to sexual behaviour can expose women, girls, men and boys to risks and vulnerabilities. Norms that emphasise women’s submissiveness can limit girls’ decision-making about sex, shape fertility choices and influence access to SRH services.
  • Women tend to do paid work as long as it meets certain conditions – namely, that it: benefits the household; does not threaten the position of men; and does not interfere with the caring and household work that women are expected to provide.
  • Policies and laws, facility-based interventions, skills training courses, empowerment initiatives and awareness-raising can improve SRH and WEE and could indirectly transform social norms related to SRH and WEE. A holistic approach including sex education at school, provision of childcare services, mass media campaigns and interventions targeting men and boys, is likely to be most effective in shifting social norms around SRH.
  • The review also suggests a number of areas for further research, including a focus on adolescents and young women, vulnerable and under-researched groups, and gender-based violence.
Carmen Leon-Himmelstine and Lucia Rost with Fiona Samuels and Maria Stavropoulou