3. What contributes most to changing norms?

When we look across the available evaluations, we see that, on the whole, participating in a club for a year or more is associated with greater change than participating for a shorter time, as is attending regularly. Definitions of ‘attending regularly’ vary but generally involve taking part in more than half to two-thirds of sessions. Engagement with other stakeholders (parents, the wider community, spouses/partners of married girls, in-laws, and employers of girls doing domestic work) all led to changes in attitudes among these groups in favour of girls’ attendance at clubs and development programmes, and, therefore, to stronger direct effects on girls. 

What is less clear is the extent to which a strong and sustained focus on gender equality is necessary for changes in norms, attitudes and empowerment. This warrants further investigation. While the general trend from the programmes examined in the GAGE review by Marcus et al. (2017) was that the greater the focus on gender equality the greater the change in outcomes, there was some variation. In particular, programmes with a specific focus – such as economic empowerment or promoting involvement in civic action – achieved clear positive outcomes (some of which defied prevailing gender norms, as when 14-year-old girls lobbied local officials about public services and local infrastructure), without necessarily having a strong focus on gender equality.

Resistance to norm change

A few studies provide insights on resistance to changes in gender norms associated with girls’ clubs and youth development programmes. There appear to be three factors that generate resistance: 

  1. girls’ attendance at clubs
  2. the actual or imagined content of the curricula and activities
  3. clubs’ actual or perceived links to foreign organisations, with fears that they have covert religious conversion agendas. 

Concerns about girls’ attendance at clubs

Where parents or other family members are concerned about girls attending such clubs, it is often because they see it as a waste of time (as it stops girls carrying out their household duties or is just seen as a place to gossip), rather than having a positive value for girls. These concerns have been noted by studies on the BRAC ELA centres in Bangladesh by Shahnaz and Karim (2008) and the Population Council’s Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI) in Kenya by Muthengi et al. (2016). A combination of outreach efforts and visible changes in girls’ knowledge and behaviour has helped to neutralise these concerns.

Concerns about content

Specific areas of content – particularly on sexual and reproductive health – can be controversial, leading to girls not being allowed to attend clubs, or to programmes removing some potentially useful content. The study by Muthengi et al. (2016) of the AGI in Kenya explores some of these issues in more detail. 

Some programmes that encourage girls to take part in sports also appear to evoke negative reactions, particularly in contexts where girls and women are rarely seen being active in public spaces e.g. Moving the Goalposts in Kenya and BRAC in Bangladesh as noted by Shahnaz and Karim (2008), and CARE’s multi-country Innovation through Sport: Promoting Leaders, Empowering Youth (ITSPLEY) programme, explored by Miske Witt and Associates (2011). However, most programmes with a partial focus on sports persevere, and can shift attitudes to their participation as with the Ishraq programme in rural Upper Egypt (Zibani and Brady, 2004).

Concerns about a club’s ‘agenda’

Muthengi et al. (2016) also report that the perception that externally-funded programmes have a religious conversion agenda can lead to scepticism and hostility towards some initiatives, which requires considerable outreach to overcome. 

Book traversal links for 3. What contributes most to changing norms?

Marcus, R., 2017 Girls' clubs and gender norm change, ALIGN, London, UK