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Social norms, gender norms and adolescent girls: a brief guide


Written by Caroline Harper


​Drawing on social norms theory, this Research and practice note introduces gender norms, defined as widely held values and common practices that are based on gender differences. It explores why social expectations exert a strong influence on how people behave, and how an individual’s attitudes, belief and agency affects how far they comply with prevailing norms.

Drawing on fieldwork from Ethiopia, Nepal, Uganda and Viet Nam, the Note identifies three main clusters of gender norms that affect adolescent girls: son bias (valuing boys more than girls), norms of femininity at different stages of the life cycle, which affect perceptions of how girls should behave, and norms of masculinity, which not only govern boys and young men but also have effects on girls’ lives. These norms are interlinked with broader cultural norms and values, and underpin other norms and practices, such as those related to child marriage, education or domestic violence.

The Note also explores whether poverty is a key driver of discriminatory gender norms, proposing that while widespread and deep poverty limits the development opportunities available to boys and girls alike, it is clear that gender norms work alongside poverty to determine people’s decisions about how they use scarce resources and what the future holds for each of their children.

Rachel Marcus and Caroline Harper with Sophie Brodbeck and Ella Page