Learning Collaborative Measurement Project Summaries
Project summary
21 September 2020

Engaging religious and traditional leaders in Nigeria on gender mainstreaming approaches for sexual, reproductive, maternal & newborn health

Author: CDavin
Published by: Social Norms Learning Collaborative

Organisations involved

Clinton Health Access Initiative Nigeria (CHAI)


Globally and in Nigeria, engaging men in adopting and promoting more gender-equitable norms around sexual and reproductive health (SRH) has proven to improve sexual, reproductive, maternal, and newborn health (SRMNH) outcomes for women, men, girls, and boys.  In Nigeria, religious and traditional leaders (RTLs) are recognised as key community influencers and gatekeepers of religion, culture and community cohesion. They can be change agents for promoting positive social norm change for more gender-equitable and healthier relationships within homes and communities. In 2019, CHAI engaged and held sensitisation workshops with more than 2,000 Christian and Muslim religious and traditional leaders in Kano, Kaduna, and Katsina states to build their knowledge and skills to become gender justice champions and role models to promote SRH and well-being in couples, families, and communities.

The sensitisation approach intended to:

  • Equip RTLs with the required evidence, awareness and capacities to understand and engage actively as community leaders and change agents in the promotion of gender-sensitive SRMNH information and service use at the community level; and 
  • Improve knowledge and attitudes among targeted communities to meet the needs for gender equality and improved SRMNH outcomes, particularly for women and girls of reproductive age and their male partners in Nigeria. 

Social norms of interest

Socio-cultural norms affecting women’s and girls’ agency for SRH; Dominant masculinity that impact negatively on women’s decision-making to access and utilise SRH services.

Behaviours of interest 

Access and utilisation of SRH services.

Project components

  1. Leveraged evidence-based case studies and practical community education approaches to encourage RTLs to question and address harmful gender and social norms;
  2. Applied a culturally respectful and interactive approach to facilitate self and collective critical reflection on those cultural values and practices that cause harm to women, men, girls’, and boys’ health and well-being including questioning their own socialisation and its effects on them; 
  3. Directly involved RTLs as facilitators to test and lead social norm and SRMNH education approaches and ensure acceptability and appropriateness with cultural norms and religious beliefs;
  4. Engaged an all-male team of gender-aware resource persons taking into consideration cultural norms associated with engaging influential community stakeholders such as RTLs in northern Nigeria, particularly where addressing harmful masculinities for improved SRH outcomes requires a shift in attitude and beliefs;
  5. Engaged trained RTLs through participatory action planning tools to support them to identify gender related barriers to positive SRH in themselves, personal family relationships, and within their communities which they want to address, and commit to a re-orientation of community members on gender justice and SRMNH; 
  6. Providing ongoing support and monitoring to trained RTLs by facilitating joint community review meetings with all community change agents to discuss challenges, successes and collaboration for joint sensitisation of male and female community members on gender justice and SRMNH. 

Social norms measurement 

The baseline data on gender and social norms and perceptions of SRMNH of male and female community members was a critical starting point to determining the mix of community interventions most relevant to social norm change. 

Key findings to date 

Mobilising RTLs to engage on gender equality and SRMNH and gaining their trust can prove to be a challenging endeavour considering the cultural and religious sensitivities that need to be acknowledged and respected. Based on CHAI’s experience working with RTLs within a package of community-demand creation activities, it takes time and systematic engagement for men and women unfamiliar with gender justice and SRMNH to reconsider their gender socialisation in terms of positive and negative norms, and to feel completely at ease and capacitated to become champions of change. 

This case study highlights the importance of using culturally sensitive and existing community structures for contributing to improved gender-responsive SRMNH outcomes. Working with RTLs that are already well-respected mentors of other RTLs was an important driver of success for the large numbers who were trained and supported to become champions of change.  Ongoing collaboration with the mentors and newly trained RTLs using community review meetings and on-site monitoring to support community social norm change is another lesson learned. 


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