Diagnostic tool on social norms tested in Bangladesh

Caption: In this photo, Pushpita Saha is using the picture of a women to ask participants general questions around what makes a good woman (differentiated by age/marital status). A similar exercise is also done to explore what makes a good man. Asking respondents what the sayings are related to good women/men is a good first entry-point to identify norms that influence the way people behave in their homes and communities. Asking them how they feel about these sayings can further help tease out the difference between personal beliefs and norms.


Over the last year, Oxfam’s Knowledge Hub on Women’s Economic Empowerment in Agriculture has been supporting the Empower Youth for Work programme in advancing learning on one of its key learning priorities: How to shift social norms at scale. In Collaboration with the SEEP network, Oxfam launched a Practitioner Learning Group on social norms in the economy which gathered 6 different organisations to build knowledge on how to shift social norms in the economic sphere: what are these norms, how can we diagnose them, and how can we design strategies to change them?

As part of this initiative, the Empower Youth for Work programme adapted and tested a diagnostic tool in Bangladesh to identify specific social norms in the economy that influence women's economic empowerment.

Download the Diagnostic Tool

The Social Norms Diagnostic Tool consists of three main activities

  • Activity 1 introduces social norms and explores what influences social norms and how they have changes in a specific context over time.
  • Activity 2 investigates perceptions of unpaid care and paid/productive work (economic and gender norms) and asks participants to identify strategies for change
  • Activity 3 focuses on diagnosing social norms related to violence against women and girls and early marriage/pregnancy (gender norms) impacting on young women’s economic participation and asks participants to identify strategies for change

The Empower Youth for Work team in Bangladesh tested the tool in two communities. In each community, the tool was applied in a one-day workshop with 12 community members (youth, teachers, parents, business and religious leaders). The EYW Bangladesh team focussed in the implementation of the tool mainly on unpaid care and paid/productive work.

The findings from the application of the tool in these two communities relate to a) unpaid care work and paid/productive work; b) gender based violence (GBV); and c) sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR), in line with the EYW programme Theory of Change.

The results of the test showed:

  • A distinct difference in perceived ‘economic worth’ of unpaid care work versus other paid/productive work (unpaid care work was perceived by participants to require less skills and be less valuable, than paid/productive work);
  • Presence of strong gender norms when it comes to who carries out care activities and who engages in paid/productive work;
    • Perceptions that women are instinctively better at domestic and care work; (children and families suffer if a wife/mother works outside the home);
    • that women and men are not physically equipped to do each other’s work (e.g., men’s bodies are too hard to comfort babies properly);
    • Women can’t do paid/productive work because they are at home, and men can’t do care work because they work outside the home (creating a self-fulfilling logic);
    • Women who work in markets/the field become ‘shrewish'/undesirable and reduce their marriage prospects.
  • The transgression of the gender norms on unpaid care and paid/productive work can come with the risk of violence, harassment or mocking. Respondents considered acceptable to harass women in public spaces or mocking men doing care activities. Fear of violence, community censure or gossip can prevent women from taking on paid/productive work, while mocking can discourage men to take up care work.

Keeping in mind that the test was on a small scale, several recommendations were made on implementing the diagnostic tool itself, and on intervention strategies. For implementing the tool, recommendations centred on the ideal number of participants, ratios of women and men, childcare for participants and other recommendations regarding being mindful of the context.

On intervention strategies, respondents identified opportunities to challenge social norms by building on desired practices that already exist, such as the acceptance of men doing care work before marriage or women doing agricultural work when it is home-based. There is also the opportunity to create new, ‘positive’ identities for women and men to replace traditional gender roles. Respondents also emphasised the need to address norms relating to honour and respectability, and GBV and early marriage. Some of these needs and opportunities could be addressed through working with younger community members who are more open to change, and changes in mind-sets, education and policies.

Want to know more?  Listen to a webinar in which staff from the Empower Youth for Work Programme and the Knowledge Hub present key findings from the testing of the diagnostic tool in Bangladesh.


Authors: Ronald Van Moorten and Claudia Canepa

This blog was originally published on the Empower Youth for Work website.

Read the summary of the report on the test of the social norms diagnostic tool in Bangladesh.

You may also be interested in the Learning Event

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