© Gates Archive I Ryan Lobo I Thenamal (11) leaps across a polluted drain in a slum in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India I 2018


Norms can reinforce or contradict formal laws and policies, and they affect the empowerment of women and girls in complex and nuanced ways. Gender norms are the collectively held expectations and beliefs about how women, men, girls and boys should behave and interact in specific social settings and during different stages of their lives. If a woman or girl challenges or does not conform to a norm, the consequences for her can range from subtle social exclusion to threats or acts of violence or, in extreme cases, even death.


  1. Use formative research to understand the culturally specific norms, policies and relations that relate to empowerment in your setting, and to build an understanding of what is acceptable or not acceptable in a community.
  2. Use methods such as vignettes to reduce social desirability bias when measuring norms – be aware of institutional and environmental factors that influence their importance or relevance

Commonly recognized challenges in terms of measuring norms quantitatively include: finding a balance between asking enough questions to explore relevant norms and keeping data collection tools within a manageable length; wording questions to capture the social dynamics around the behaviors of interest; and generating unbiased and precise measures of behaviors and beliefs, especially around sensitive and sometimes socially censured attitudes or practices.

Illustrative Indicators



From Framework 1 – Intermediate Outcome 1.2. Positive shift in attitudes at the community level, in support of women’s decision-making power over agricultural resources


1.2.1. % of men and women who believe that the gendered division of labor is natural and cannot be changed [ATTITUDE]

1.2.2. % of men and women who believe that most people in their community think that women should have decision-making power over agricultural resources [NORM]



From Framework 2 – Intermediate Outcome 1.1. Increased decision-making power related to family planning among young women in four inner-city slums in Delhi

Outcome 1.2. Expanded access to family planning services available to young women in four inner-city slums in Delhi


1.1.1. % of young women who believe that parents would look down on adolescent girls if they used contraception before they got married [NORM]

1.1.2. % of young people who believe that sexually active girls/young women can refuse sex with their partner [ATTITUDE]

1.2.1. % of health care workers who believe that young women should have access to family planning services regardless of their age, parity or marital status [REFERENCE GROUP]

1.2.2. % of adolescent boys who believe that it is the responsibility of the girl to avoid getting pregnant


Term Definition Example Survey Questions
Attitudes An attitude is an individually held belief that assesses whether something is good, bad, sacred, dirty, appropriate or inappropriate. Do you believe that women should do all the household chores?
Norms A social norm is a collectively shared belief about typical (descriptive norm) and appropriate (injunctive norm) behavior within a reference group. Do you believe that other community members expect women to do all the household chores? (Injunctive norm].
      Among your group of friends, are men the primary breadwinners in their households?
Behavior A behavior is a person's actions. Although social norms and behaviors are separate (a belief and an action), they are linked: often a social norm will predict a behavior, and a behavior can reveal a social norm. Do you do all the household chores yourself?
Reference group A reference group is the group of people important to an individual when he or she is making a particular decision. For example, they could be family, village members, friends, religious authorities, celebrities, co-workers, etc. Reference groups are particularly important when understanding and measuring norms. Whose opinion matters to the target population] about household chores?
Sanctions Social sanctions or rewards regulate group adherence to a norm. For example, shame, stigma or financial exclusion versus status, leadership or financial security. Are there any social sanctions -positive or negative - for women who do/do not do the household chores?
      What would be the reaction of reference group] if a woman decided not to do the household chores?


Explore the other dimensions relating to institutional structures via the links below.