We are interested in better understanding how to address social norms particularly around inheritance? Even when laws change, traditions, social norms can be slow to change. Are there good examples of this and what project/programs can do?

There is limited research focused specifically on changing social norms and land rights, including inheritance. Broadly speaking, any intervention that empowers women can create social change for the women or for their households or communities, including things like women gaining knowledge of their rights or being supported in going to dispute resolution bodies. Social norm change, in the larger cultural context, requires involving the community, men and boys, women and girls, community leaders, elders—the people who create and abide by the cultural context.

Although legal change does not, in itself, create social change, a progressive legal framework can create a space for social norm change where none existed before. Studies from India indicated that the legal reforms that enabled daughters and sons to inherit equally, increased women’s likelihood of inheriting land, although they did not close the bias gap.[1] As well, legal quotas on women’s participation in the political process or on governing bodies related to land and other natural resources create a starting place for women’s engagement, even though that engagement goes against social norms.[2] Under any progressive legal framework, local capacity to implement or to accommodate implementation by others is also necessary for social change to become real and sustainable.

A report looking at women’s agency and social norms found that evidence suggests that public actions are needed on two broad fronts: first, to enhance women’s and girls’ own sense of capacity and their aspirations to depart from existing limiting gender norms and their associated behaviors (Perova and Vakis 2013), and second, to change behaviors of women and men, boys and girls so that social norms become gender equal. Politics and collective action are important on both fronts.[3]

Behavior change communication with men and boys as well as households and communities has been shown to be effective, especially in the areas of intimate partner violence and women’s health. Involving community leaders and including communities in conversations about social change also shows promise. For example, in Senegal, community-based awareness campaigns enlisted the support of religious leaders to successfully reduce the accepted practice of female genital cutting. In Afghanistan and Ethiopia, community awareness projects have successfully reduced the incidence of early marriage (Mackie 2000; Malhotra et al. 2011).[4]

The report also suggests using broadcast media and provides examples of success, such as:

  • In South Africa, exposure to a television series focused on domestic violence was linked to an increase in help-seeking and support-giving behaviors.
  • In India, the arrival of cable television was associated with significant increases in women’s reported autonomy, decreases in the reported acceptability of wife beating, and decreases in reported son preference. Female school enrollment also increased, along with increased birth spacing. The impacts were stronger where women held more traditional attitudes—in places where women had formerly held high preferences for sons, the share preferring sons fell 20 percentage points with the arrival of cable television, compared with a 12 percent decline overall (Jensen and Oster 2009).
  • In post-genocide Rwanda, radio programming designed to challenge social norms of deference to authority had substantial impacts in terms of increasing willingness to express dissent and reducing the likelihood of listeners deferring to local officials when solving local problems (Paluk and Green 2009).

[1] Deininger, K., Goyal, A., & Nagarajan, H. (2013). Women’s inheritance rights and the intergenerational transmission of resources in India. The Journal of Human Resources, 48(1): 114-141.

[2] Cook, N. J., Grillos, T., Andersson, K. P., (2019) Gender Quotas Increase the Equality and Effectivness of Climage Policy Interventions, Nature Climate Change 9, 330-334; Beaman, L., Chattopadhyay, R., Duflo, E., Pande, R., and Topalova, P. (2009). ‘Powerful Women: Does Exposure Reduce Bias’, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. 124, no. 4, pp. 1497-1540

[3]Klugman, Jeni; Hanmer, Lucia; Twigg, Sarah; Hasan, Tazeen; McCleary-Sills, Jennifer; Santamaria, Julieth. 2014. Voice and Agency : Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity. Washington, DC: World Bank Group

[4] Klugman, Jeni; Hanmer, Lucia; Twigg, Sarah; Hasan, Tazeen; McCleary-Sills, Jennifer; Santamaria, Julieth. 2014. Voice and Agency : Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity. Washington, DC: World Bank Group.