Women's Economic Empowerment in Agriculture Knowledge Hub

Women's Economic Empowerment in Agriculture Knowledge Hub

Follow-up - Webinar on Social norms and patterns of young people's unpaid care: Evidence for improving interventions

On 15 December, Oxfam’s Knowledge Hub on WEE in Agriculture and the Youth as Active Citizens Initiative hosted a webinar on "Social norms and patterns of young people's unpaid care: Evidence for improving interventions" with great presentations from Imogen Davies and Lucia Rost, and facilitation from Thalia Kidder.

This session outlined Oxfam's research into gender- and age-specific patterns of unpaid care among young people and related social norms, providing initial evidence on how interventions can improve progressive social norms associated with gender equality in youth participation in unpaid care.


The webinar generated great discussions among participants.You will find below answers to questions (Q&A) that were raised during the webinar by participants, as well as a summary of the discussions on the four discussion questions raised during the webinar:

Following the high level of engagement during the webinar, to build on the thoughts, recommendations and evidence that were shared and to strengthen collaboration between individuals and programmes, a group dedicated to the topic of social norms and young people’s unpaid care has been created on the Women’s Economic Empowerment in Agriculture Knowledge Hub. You are all invited to join that group and to embark on a common learning journey to increase our knowledge and practices. As a first step, members can for instance share initiatives/research/programmes they are involved in, opportunities to give prominence to that topic in external forums, ask/answer specific questions that may arise after the webinar and invite colleagues to join.

Join the group


Time spent on care

Children/YP reported different amounts of working hours from those their parents thought they were doing. Did you look into this and how to resolve who was more accurate?

Imogen - Talking to We-Care country leads, it is likely both that parents underreported and that children overreported. However, it seems likely that the former was the case more than the latter from staff observations. E.g. across all countries, the HCS findings saw mothers reporting children spending less than one hour a day on care. Staff suspected this was a case of mothers not wanting to be seen as ‘exploiting’ their children. As one country staff member said ‘there is just no way that girls in these rural areas are doing less than one hour a day of care’.

The little difference between boys’/girls’ time on education is surprising. Did you have this assumption yourselves?

Imogen - We also found this surprising and it’s the opposite of what we would have assumed! We suspect it may be a measuring error but we would need to do more research to discover what is behind this finding.


Is it that girls are happy doing care work, or that they are expected to do so?

Imogen - I think it’s a question of both, i.e. there are expectations from families, communities etc. that girls perform care, but these are also internalised and can be a strong part of girls’ identities. The child HCS showed girls being happier to do unpaid care work, while boys were happier doing paid/productive work.

How to work around more gendered care tasks being difficult so boys and younger men can see the value of helping around these? / More gendered care roles are more difficult to redistribute. So how do we go about it?

Imogen - For the first part, we need to do more research into this, because there is some evidence from the adult HCS that men will use ‘difficult’ care tasks as an excuse not to do them (see below). But it seems from our research across all countries with both adults and children that valuing care work is crucial to decreasing unequal care distribution, so our interventions should focus on that in the first instance.

For the second part, it is not surprising that care roles with a more feminine identity are harder to distribute - because the social norms and identities associated with them are stronger. So we should pay particular attention to these tasks, and not just focus on more ‘neutral tasks’ which won’t lead to transformational change. This means changing what is understood as a successful girl/boy, man/woman so that we can challenge both the social norms and identities related to these concepts - see discussion questions below for suggestions on how we do this!

How could we understand more about which care tasks are ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ and how we could change those perceptions?

Imogen - For the first part of the question, research in the Global North shows that men involved in care tasks are more likely to take on more creative, visible and mobile tasks, e.g. cooking, shopping and playing with children instead of routine housework and care of dependents. This is explained by the latter examples involving drudgery, constant physical presence, dirt and bodily touch which conflict with notions of male identity and hierarchy. Similar trends may be found in the areas studied in Uganda, although of course notions of masculinity will alter dependent on the context. E.g. in the area of Central Uganda studied, boys were involved in water and fuel carrying, as these were seen as more ‘neutral’ tasks, whereas in other regions of Uganda and many other countries, these tasks have a strong feminine identity.

For the second part, see the above answer!

In addition to the strategy that Imogen suggested to change gender roles by showing the difficulty involved/skills required in care work to get boys to do more of it, couldn’t we do the same in terms of getting more girls to get involved in paid work or more masculine care tasks that are seen as difficult? For example, in cleaning up roads or building bricks (or carrying wood) to break the norm that girls are not physically strong or don’t have the same amount of energy as boys.

Imogen - Yes, agreed we need to work on both. But research, especially in the Global North, shows that norms on gendered care roles can be ‘stickier’ than those on paid and productive work. So it’s important to have a strong focus on care roles, and look at how these relate to deeply embedded feminine and masculine identities and social norms.

How could we reduce/address shaming/mocking about new care roles?

Imogen - We need to look into this more as part of our existing strategies and programme work on VAWG - see what our successful interventions have been and how we can adapt these for care programmes. This will require much closer collaboration between VAWG/WEE-Care experts and an automatic inclusion of VAWG analysis into care programmes and vice versa.

Can you tell us more about the difference between youth’s individual attitudes and their perceptions about ‘what the community would approve of’?

Lucia - We read vignettes to children describing three couples who shared work differently and asked the following questions: (1) What do you think about the way x and y divide tasks? (2) What do you think most other members in your community would think about the way x and y divide tasks?  97% of children approved or strongly approved of a couple sharing care and paid work equally; but only 56% thought that the community would approve/strongly approve.

This is the text used by the vignette that describes the couple sharing work: “Ever since they got together, Koma-Gum and Aloyo have shared responsibilities. They get up around the same time, prepare breakfast, clean the house and help the children. They work on their farm together. When they come home from the field, Koma-Gum carries the vegetables and Aloyo carries some firewood. They both go and fetch water whenever they need it. Aloyo takes the lead on cooking but Koma-Gum helps her chopping vegetables and cleaning the kitchen and compound.“

Progressive youth

How can our work/programs build on/sustain the more progressive views held by youth than by their parents/communities?

Imogen - It is crucial to involve young people in decision-making and delivery of interventions. Young people can be drivers of transformational change in their communities and families if we give them the space and support to do so. But at the same time we also need to do build and enabling environment by working on awareness-raising and norm change with parents, teachers, leaders etc.

Factors influencing social norms and behaviours

Were you able to explore any specifics of the kinds of education families (both parents and children) had received which were influencing behaviours (I’m guessing this was beyond the scope of the project)?

Imogen - Research in North Eastern Uganda found that teachers’ behaviour (e.g. giving care work to boys at school) had a positive effect effect at home, and in Northern Uganda strategies have focused on theatre, discussions etc. with teachers, parents and pupils. But this wasn’t a research objective so no detailed findings!

Considerations on young people’s contribution to care

How do we draw the line regarding skills building for young people to be able to provide quality care as a social good because we are not saying young people should not do care work?

Imogen - We have to counter the stereotype of care as a ‘burden’, e.g. research in Zimbabwe found young women rejecting care work because it wasn’t seen as fashionable for ‘modern’ women. We are not saying that young people should stop doing care - it is crucial for wellbeing, and that approach would mean it being shifted onto more marginalised women, e.g. domestic workers. Instead we are promoting gender-equal sharing of care work which is recognised as a social good. This can be done through popular campaigning, awareness-raising, community discussions, education etc. - see discussion below for suggestions.

How do we deal with children who want to have more paid jobs, knowing the fact that we deal with children from 5-18 (child labour)?

Imogen - The research in Central Uganda also showed adolescent boys and young men often having huge workloads of productive work. So our youth programmes should take into account existing workloads including both productive and reproductive work so that we don’t overburden them.

Practical implications for programming

Is there more information on reducing negative impact from community - ‘do no harm’?

Thalia - The issue of men perceiving that cooking/housework was skilled meaning that they did LESS hours of care =>  some WE-Care staff said that this might have been the ‘excuse’ for not cooking, for example - in Ethiopia, as I remember … “I can’t cook, because it would take too long to learn, too skilled, I’m not good at it”.

What is your plan to translate your findings into practical interventions?

Imogen - Findings will inform interventions for both the WE-Care and EYW programmes. The Women’s Economic Empowerment Knowledge Hub is undertaking research into social norms related to youth employment - these will include care building on this research and will directly feed into the EYW programme.


Is there any similar research intended for the MENA region?

None currently planned, but if you have any ideas then do talk to us! A focus on youth and care will be an important component of youth programmes (especially on employment) as we develop our youth work in this area.

Where can I find information on the methodology (number ppl interviewed; bias; under/over reporting, sample representation, etc.)?

Information on the youth rapid care analysis in Mpigi District, Uganda can be found on page 11 of this report.

The adult HCS interviewed one man and one woman in 1100 households across 5 countries - over 500 households in Uganda, and the smallest number was 85 hholds in Colombia.  

The child HCS in Northern Uganda - 550 children aged 8-18 interviewed, average of 2 children in each household.

Why do you think girls indicated that they were happy doing long hours of care work, unpaid care work?

Lucia - The HCS with children in Uganda asked children how they felt about different activities (ranging from 1 = very sad to 5= very happy). On average, girls expressed feeling better about care activities than boys. This might be explained by social norms assigning care work to women and girls. If parents and community members expect girls to do care work, engaging in care tasks might bring benefits for girls, such as recognition, approval or respect. Girls might also internalise their role as carers from a young age.

Imogen - We should also consider the effect of pride and masculine and feminine identities which are reinforced as girls and boys do different gendered tasks. These are linked to notions of being a good sister/daughter/mother, and are not just the pressure of external social norms.

Did you ask mothers in more detail about their reasons for tending to pass care work onto daughters rather than negotiating with their partners?

Lucia - The HCS survey did not ask mothers specifically about why they passed care work to children rather than to their husbands. Qualitative research in Northern Uganda showed different reasons why some women did not ask their husbands to help them with care work. Some women mentioned fear of domestic violence or being ‘sent away’; others said that their husbands would refuse their request, so there was no point asking. Many women also said that the community would criticise them or make fun of them if they saw their husbands doing care work. Also, some women seemed to have internalised social norms to the extent that they seemed ‘natural’ and ‘normal’; when we asked them why they had not asked their husbands to help them with care work they seemed surprised by the question and could not answer it. In this context, passing care work on to children seemed easier than asking husbands. It was also often considered important for girls to learn to do care work from an early age to be prepared for marriage.

Did you come across households where these are people with disability?

Lucia - In Northern Uganda, we found that in households where there were caring for a person with disability it reduced mobility especially for women and I would guess that such care would be shifted to older girls same as child care.

Imogen - In Central Uganda, children with sick relatives reported the negative effects of heavy care workloads increasing.

Are there any differences/impact in terms of households with more than wife?

Imogen - In the Effectiveness Review follow-up, in polygamous communities in North-Eastern Uganda, wives tended to experience increased negative effects and overwork because husbands divided their time between households, and focused on those wives with younger children. The research did not look into the effect of polygamous households on children’s care provision.

Discussion questions

1. What change do we want to realise on unpaid care among young people?

‘Doing gender’ differently

  • Jane:  We need to address taboos and increase options available to children and young people - but how?

  • Zipporah: It’s important to find ways of empowering men and women who choose to be positively deviant in terms of sharing care work and breaking the negative norms - involvement of the elderly as custodians of culture as well? How do we design our programmes to enable young people (boys and girls) to have courage to make decisions to deviate from norms that overburden girls and women?

  • Nomtha: How can we break taboos, who are the key groups to work with, so care work can be done with pride especially for older boys. How to get the message that it’s okay to do care work, it does not lessen your manhood / pride / masculinity.

  • Kate Lea: I really like Zipporah’s point about supporting those who choose to be positively deviant.

  • Kate Lea: Am I right to assume that there are differences in the kind of unpaid care work that boys and girls are doing while they are young enough to have roughly equivalent hours? Eg are boys as involved in looking after younger siblings as girls at this stage? I’m guessing not. However, if they are, then is this experience something to build on in that at least boys are getting some experience of care work and the task for us might therefore be more about challenging the way in which this kind of work for boys is ridiculed as they grow older.

  • Kate Lea: Thanks for your answer about tasks being handed onto daughters, Imogen. So it sounds as though the issue is more do with external factors about how family/men will be perceived rather than linked with the mother’s ability to negotiate with her partner.  I recognise the two are interrelated, but I’m interested in which element is having more influence.

Age-targeted interventions

  • Rose N: l liked the ‘catching them young’ strategy. We need to start early on social norms.

  • Jane: We should focus on the transition from children to teenagers where care work becomes very gendered - we have to shift attitudes and norms that are in transition at this point. When is this point exactly, and what norms are the challenges that we should tackle?

  • Kate Lea: I also completely agree with challenging social norms as early as possible.  We know from other research that these can be set as early as 2 or 3 years old or before.


  • Rose N: Points raised about integrating care work into youth programmes is key, e.g. in SRHR especially having learnt the issue of some consequences like health.

2. What are the issues to overcome in achieving this change?

Norms on care work

  • Claudia: A related issue is the idea that care work requires less skills and is light - how do we break this myth? Recognition that care work is valuable and requires skills is key.

Norms on gender roles and capabilities

  • Claudia: I was very struck by the norm that women are regarded to be the same as children. This is a key norm that needs to be addressed in our work. Both women and children are regarded as second class citizens, ie. people who are weak and lack skills and therefore are pigeon holed into providing care work, which is regarded as ‘light, unskilled.’ The idea that women do not have skills and are weak, and are ‘like children.’ needs to change.

  • Claudia: How do we also break the norm that girls and women are only capable of doing  light, unskilled work? Do we need to get more girls and women to engage in ‘men’s work’ to break this myth and show that women and girls are strong too and can ‘clean up roads, build bricks.’ Photos or videos or TV commercials and programmes that depict girls  in these new roles can increase their status and own sense of identity as girls and later as women. Example: Throw Like a Girl video by Always: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjJQBjWYDTs

  • Claudia: If there is parity in time dedicated to care work between young girls and boys,  what do we need to do to maintain this parity over time and prevent the trend that we currently see that as girls get older they take on more care work and boys take on less?


  • Jacky: How can we promote ‘progressive parenting’ and how this links with faith in different contexts?


  • Claudia: The negative consequences of care: physical problems that women incur (back pains), but also the violence they experience. VAWG interventions must be integrated into any intervention that seeks to address unequal care.

3. What successful experiences have you had on changing norms and behaviours related to unpaid care among young people?

Influencing parents

  • Claudia: Promundo has done a lot of work to get fathers involved in the prenatal and postnatal phase with their partners. This increases the the probability of them being more actively involved in caring of their children over time. See Promundo’s P programme, Men Care programme and their short film When Men Change.

  • Claudia: Teaching mothers and fathers to raise girls from toddler age to believe that they are strong and energetic - just like boys. And young boys as early as toddler age that they can care for others, enjoy cooking, cleaning. But they have to see their fathers doing this, which is why the Promundo approach of working with fathers early on even before the child is born is so important. There are also many nutrition programmes that target mothers and girls (as part of food security interventions) to learn to cook and about nutrition- these should target boys and men as well.

Youth engagement

  • Rose N: l can share on the models we have seen working in organising young people for dialogues and l think these could be useful in addressing UCW eg sister to sister mentorship, one campus approach for students in tertiary institutions, 3 pronged approach working with parents, young people and communities, young people support group models.

  • Imogen: It’s important to think about how we develop strategies for children and young people - we can’t just use the same strategies that we use for adults and youth must be involved in deciding


  • Thalia: In Nicaragua:  the “Sexto Sentido” soap opera - episodes about young men cooking and washing clothes.

  • Imogen: I think it’s interesting to see how TV programmes have been used in LAC - this was also a strategy used in My Rights My Voice on SRHR in Pakistan, a soap opera addressing social norms on parents supporting their children to know more about sexuality and reproductive health. This can be a very effective way to reach large groups - it was on national television and had rave reviews! And at community level there are similar edutainment initiatives that don’t rely on technology - forum theatre, community plays which was used in Uganda to change norms.

Behavioural change communications

  • Miranda: I worked with the Social and Behaviour Change Communications people at John Hopkins who do a range of projects related to social norm change, loads of different methodologies to look at. I.e. http://ccp.jhu.edu/gender/

In school/preschool

  • Kate Lea: Our experience is that schools are a very effective way of reaching children of this age because teachers can be or are trained in working with children in appropriate and meaningful ways and it is a strong way of working effectively at scale. There are also some good resources around which support teachers to challenge social norms around gender.  Eg.,  Oxfam Intermon have brought out some good ones for children and YP from 6-18 (different ones for different age groups - available on Oxfam Box) and OGB has resources based on Oxford University’s Young Lives research on gender called ‘More or Less Equal’ and ‘Everyone Counts’ - on our website www.oxfam.org.uk/education:

  • Thalia: A program in Nicaragua of secondary school students learning care tasks at school, both girls and boys, and then practising at home, and some videos / video diaries at home, which were then shared at school - supportive environment for both ‘success’ and ‘failure with learning new tasks.

  • Kate Lea: In the UK, we have being doing work with children and their parents at pre-school stage in terms of the way in which children access different play activities and it really makes a difference to attitudes/behaviours.

  • Imogen: one of the Uganda Effectiveness Review follow-up recommendations was boys doing cooking classes in schools and being given cleaning responsibilities, because boys who do cleaning tasks at school were more likely to do them at home.


  • Jacky Stepping into each other’s shoes – swapping tasks for a week – see how it feels.

4. Who are our targets and allies for influencing and spreading our messaging, and what do we need to demonstrate to them?


  • Jacky: everybody needs to be involved as ‘it’s everybody’s business’!! Teachers, celebrities, faith leaders, the ‘creatives’ in our communities who write and tell the stories that are passed on

  • Remie F. Need to work on all levels, bottom-up/top-down and bring facts and practical real evidence to influence. Young people need to be involved, led/experience they share; need to identify allies and create a formal/informal network;


  • Rose N: We would work closely with the Ministry of Education. Yesterday we held a symposium with many stakeholders including education ministers. Unpacking GBV-education-UCW and social norms were key

Community actors

  • Rose N: Traditional leaders

Young people and organisations

  • Rose N: Youth networks across regions. We need to ensure that young people are included, that they speak for themselves - use of social media will be key
  • Imogen: Especially young people! Involving them in decision-making and supporting them to meet with duty-bearers to tell their own stories and lobby. This can be far more effective than when Oxfam or partner staff, or other adults do lobbying and campaigning. Especially in countries where young people are a huge percentage of the population and politicians have to be seen to engage with young people for reasons of their own legitimacy.
  • Kate Lea - Oxfam’s Youth as Active Citizens cross-affiliate domestic education and youth group are working on a pilot project with young people to carry out peer-to-peer research on gender inequality in their own local contexts then make links to regional, national and international contexts. They will share their findings at International Women’s Day 2018. We think a common thread they’re likely to identify is the role of social norms and hope that from this they will devise their own actions and campaigns during 2018 on this.  
  • Nomtha: Key allies are men’s groupings and organizations, what is their take, do we share the same understanding on the issues, bring them to the table. Youth organizations, what are their messages, how do we influence them?
  • Imogen: We need disaggregated data on time use for young people - we only have it for adults at the moment. First, we need to show that this is a problem for young people as well.

Social media

  • Jacky: Useful to get ‘technology’ on side – working with and for young people to inform, to help to protect, to join together islands of minorities - work with social media?
  • Miranda - Media/platforms that youth engage with


  • Kate Lea: Another strong ally is Plan International.  
  • Vincent: Other NGOs (local, international) and development actors

Schools and apprenticeships

  • Kate Lea: I think teachers are a key target because their influence in schools is so high in terms of expectations of boys/girls and opportunities to challenge social norms. This is also an opportunity for us to work at scale.
  • Rose N: Agree totally with you Kate, actually we have seen especially in rural schools that teachers put a roster for the girls to sweep the classrooms, fetch water for teachers etc. - instilling social norms on gender roles
  • Kate Lea: Thanks very much.  I think this is interesting and important work and look forward to what happens in future!
  • Jacky: Safe apprenticeship spaces to flex articulation of opinions and difference, it can start very early on and certainly has an important place in formal education.

Areas for further research

  • The kinds of social norms we can influence - as youth were more “progressive” than parents.

  • Research around the transition from equality in childhood to teenagers having defined roles as women and men

  • Rose N: In Zimbabwe we recently supported a symposium during the 16 days on girls’ education and we linked it to issues of UCW. Would definitely be interested in exploring and learning more on this

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