Identifying Social Norms to Address Gender-Based Violence in Agriculture and Market Systems Programs
Agricultural development practitioners have struggled to recognize how gender-based violence (GBV) affects agriculture and market systems programs. Practitioners argue that programs helping farmers be more productive or improving the efficiency of value chains and systems normally stay clear of violence that may occur within the family structure or at the community level.
Yet, the overall goal of many agriculture and market systems programs is to reduce food insecurity and/or increase economic development, both of which have been clearly tied to GBV. In addition, all development programs, including agriculture and market systems programs, are implemented within social structures, which are also directly linked to the root causes of GBV.
Crossing ethnic, socioeconomic, and educational lines
GBV is a widespread phenomenon that exists in all societies and contexts around the world, regardless of religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or level of education. GBV is an umbrella terms for any harmful threat or act directed at an individual or group based on actual or perceived biological sex, gender identity and/or expression, sexual orientation, and/or lack of adherence to varying socially constructed norms around masculinity and femininity. It is a consequence of deep-rooted sociocultural beliefs and practices that attach specific roles, responsibilities, behaviors, expectations, opportunities, and limitations to being a woman and to being a man. These norms create unequal power relationships between men and women that, in the majority of cases, result in the subordination of women and discriminatory and restrictive notions of masculinity and femininity.
According to the World Food Programme, the links between food insecurity and GBV are clear. Sociocultural beliefs can increase levels of hunger and malnutrition by affecting people’s degree of access to and control over food. In addition, women’s lack of access to and control over assets, services and income increases their economic dependence and vulnerability. GBV negatively affects the function of agriculture and market systems by reducing agricultural production, workplace and worker productivity and workforce readiness, as well as market competitiveness, stability and resilience. It inhibits economic growth as well. Agriculture and market systems programs are affected by the hidden costs of not addressing GBV. Depending on the country, women supply 30–80 percent of agricultural labor. An estimated one in three women worldwide experience GBV in their lifetime by being been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused.
Exploring social norms
How can development practitioners tackle this issue? One way proposed by USAID’s Collective Action to Reduce Gender-Based Violence (CARE-GBV) program is to identify and advance equitable social norms. CARE-GBV’s how-to note highlights how social norms relate to GBV and provides guidance on how to identify these norms, address them and monitor change throughout the life of a program.
The note defines social norms as collective beliefs about what is typical and appropriate and unwritten rules that guide everyday behavior. It defines gender norms as a type of social norm that influences behavior based on expected gender roles and responsibilities. It makes the distinction between social norms being collective beliefs while attitudes and behaviors are individual beliefs. This means that a person may have the personal belief that a woman should make decisions about what to plant and when to do it, but live in a community that has as an acceptable gender norm to have only men make those decisions. The note also states that one root factor of GBV is the unequal access to power. It specifies that unequal access to power may lead to violence and violence may perpetuate unequal norms.
The note provides a process to identify, explore and monitor shifts in social norms. Agriculture and market systems practitioners may consider the following when using the process:
Plan and Prepare: In this phase, development practitioners are asked to identify behaviors to change, conduct staff reflection on how gender and power influences targeted behaviors, conduct community mapping and develop a plan and priorities for exploring social norms.
Conducting gender analysis prior to this step can provide the necessary information. Gender analysis may be helpful to identify how economic violence (defined as the denial of resources, opportunities, and services, and defined as one of the most common forms of GBV encountered by agriculture and market system programs) has the potential to affect planned activities. The gender analysis may also address how unequal power dynamics at the household and community level inhibit access to and decision-making over production and economic resources.
Using a gender analysis to answer questions about access to resources, decision-making, and disputes may begin to shed light on how GBV might be seen while implementing activities. Useful questions might include: Who has access to production and financial resources? Who makes decisions on what to plant, when and where to plant it? Who decides when and where to sell crops? How are agricultural decisions made at the household level? How are disputes over access to and use of resources typically resolved at the household and community level? And what happens to men and women who do not conform with social norms?
The analysis may also start to develop the community mapping process by asking questions such as: What organizations exist within the community to provide services for people suffering from GBV? How do agricultural associations, farmer groups, farmer cooperatives and input and service providers address GBV? What are possible synergies and win-win relationships that could be explored between program activities and organizations and groups addressing GBV in the communities?
In addition, development practitioners may opt to train staff on gender and GBV issues in this stage. Training may address topics such as how inequality affects power dynamics at the household and community level and how planned program activities may disrupt these dynamics, potentially leading to GBV. Training can also consider how external factors such as droughts, floods, migration, and changes in seasonal agriculture work may affect planned activities and create a risk for GBV.
Engage Communities: In this stage, development practitioners are asked to identify appropriate reference groups, use participatory methods to explore social norms, and collect information. A reference group is a collection of people used as a standard of comparison for ourselves regardless of whether we are part of that group. We rely on reference groups to understand social norms, which then shape our values, ideas, behavior and appearance. This means that we also use them to evaluate the relative worth, desirability or appropriateness of these things.
Engaging communities can also be done as part of the gender analysis. Typically, gender analysis includes both a desk review and primary data collection such as key informant interviews, surveys, and group-based participatory methods such as focus group discussions. Gender analysis can identify reference groups at the community level and people’s attitudes and behaviors toward specific gender norms.
It is important to ask the community members who are the reference groups for the different norms. Agricultural practitioners should keep in mind that reference groups are specific to norms and to groups. Nuances matter. For example, a reference group for women working on farms may be completely different than the reference groups for adolescent girls working on farms. A simple social norm exploration tool to consider is the Social Norms Exploration Tool, developed by the Institute for Reproductive Health.
Agricultural practitioners may also consider expanding the search for reference groups beyond community members and engaged agriculture service and input providers, agriculture institutions, and financial service providers working in the agriculture space. Gender analysis questions may include: Who do these institutions consider to be their main clients—adult men, adult women, young boys, young girls, or other groups such as indigenous populations? Who is excluded and why? What are some of the GBV risks these institutions consider? Who are the gender champions within the community or within agricultural institutions? What do these groups see as possible GBV risks associated with planned activities? And how could the program engage men and boys to empower women and girls? Understanding the gender norms that guide people and institutions and the possible risks associated with planned activities may provide entry points to address both gender equality and GBV during program implementation.
Analyze Information: At this stage, development practitioners are asked to review information to identify norms that influence behavior, identify possible positive and negative consequences of violating norms, and identify protective and risk factors.
Development practitioners may analyze the findings from the gender analysis and decide which gender norms have the most direct correlation to the planned activities and how addressing these norms could support achieving overall project goals. In addition, they may need to consider whether interventions to change the norms may increase the risk of GBV and how to identify protective factors to overcome them.
Once these norms have been identified, practitioners may further analyze them by answering the following questions:
Which norms should be prioritized? This can be done by determining which norms are rigidly entrenched in communities and which ones are weak and may crack over time. For example, a community may have a gender norm that men are farmers and women are caretakers. Yet, women in the community commonly work in the field along with men during soil preparation, planting, harvesting, and postharvest activities. Given that women already work in the field and community members recognize the need for their work, this gender norm could be considered weak. Agricultural practitioners could work with men, women, boys, and girls to help the community visualize the farming work women do and change the social norm that only men can be farmers.
Which norms show that there is pluralistic ignorance? Pluralistic ignorance exists when the majority of group members privately reject the norm but go along with it because they think others expect them to. If there is a pluralistic ignorance around a norm, there is an opportunity for behavior change. Using the previous example, if the majority of the community already considers the work women do in the field as farming and maintain the gender norm that only men are farmers because it has traditionally been so, or because they fear community sanction, then development practitioners could seize the pluralistic ignorance and promote women’s participation in agricultural training and decision-making processes. Programs could highlight to community members the benefits of having women fully integrated in the farming process, which can lead to more balanced decision-making power over agricultural production.
Who are the reference groups? Understanding who the allies, decision-makers, and role models are in communities may help development practitioners identify the reference groups who act as positive role models for target populations. Development practitioners can design interventions to influence target populations to adopt positive attitudes and behaviors and be champions of change. For example, having a male community leader express his support to having women be fully integrated in the farming process may be what is needed to break the gender norm that only men can be farmers and adopt a more equitable norm where both men and women are considered farmers in the community.
Apply Findings: In this stage, development practitioners are asked to validate findings, strategize opportunities for possible interventions and develop guides and program interventions.
In addition to analyzing findings, practitioners need to validate their findings and strategies with community groups. Going back to community members to gauge their reactions to findings from the gender analysis and possible program interventions may help increase community buy-in to proposed activities and flag any intervention that may be inadvertently creating risk for increased GBV. Development practitioners should also develop program interventions and guidelines on how to respond to GBV interactions in the field.
Monitor Shifts in Social Norms: In the last stage, practitioners are asked to identify ways in which the program will oversee and monitor shifts in social norms and adapt or halt programming to address harmful consequences as needed.
Defining a way to monitor shifts in social norms is a way to comply with “do no harm” policies. By continuously monitoring how program interventions are changing norms, agriculture practitioners may identify whether program activities are inadvertently causing GBV or exacerbating harmful gender norms, and strategically pivot interventions to make corrections.
Development practitioners may also consider that some best practices in addressing GBV in agriculture and market systems development programs including pairing interventions such as addressing social norms with gender transformative components that encourage critical reflection about gender roles and balancing power between women and men. It is important to keep in mind that strengthening food security for the whole family, including men, can reduce intimate partner violence. An important consideration is that economic empowerment programs can have unintended, harmful effects.
CARE GBV’s note also provides worksheets and checklists to guide development practitioners through each phase of the process as well as additional reference reading. Although development practitioners may use other methods to address GBV in agriculture and market systems development programs, identifying social norms is an effective and tangible way to do so.