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International Women’s Day and Measuring Social Norms

Inspired by International Women's Day, Itad's Julian Barr has reflected on his work with the Voices for Change project in Nigeria.


The world celebrated International Women’s Day at the weekend. It made me reflect on how invigorating it has been to start working in this space.

I have had the pleasure to work with some very dedicated individuals (women and men) on an innovative women and girls empowerment programme in Nigeria, called Voices for Change (V4C). The Gender in Nigeria report clearly lays out the issues, and in V4C we are approaching them at three levels:

  • the self – building life skills and self-esteem of women and girls (bottom-up)
  • formal institutions (top down) – supporting the establishment of anti-discrimination policies and laws (such as the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill)
  • in the middle, we are working at the level of ‘community and society’. Our approach is to focus on a set of social norms that discriminate against women. Using on-line sites and a radio-show V4C is trying to start changing the way people think about gender issues.

I have been working with the Results Team in V4C and academics at the Universities of California and Reading to design, test and implement an approach to measuring social norms and changes in them over time. We are focusing on attitudes and practices on domestic violence, household decision making and women’s political representation. We have completed our baseline survey and the report is due out very shortly – it looks like it will reveal a really interesting picture about what women and men do, think they should do, and what they think their neighbours do (behind closed doors). Watch this space for the report…

A social norms approach is becoming  much more common as a way of thinking about discriminations of different types. It is a part of several programmes we are now working on, including: Tostan (have a look at Tostan’s website) and the DFID and Premier League Addressing Violence Against Women and Girls programme (have a look at their webpage).

Julian Barr, March 2015