To introduce their upcoming research, Erin Markel and Emilie Gettliffe argue that there is an urgent need to understand gender norms and how they influence market systems initiatives.
Informal social norms influence the way we act and make decisions in every aspect of our lives. Ingrained from a young age, they reflect collective spoken and unspoken rules about our behaviour. And in almost all societies, social norms differ along gender lines in both obvious and subtle ways, and are backed by some form of social sanction. As individuals, we tend to understand the potential risks that these sanctions represent for us if we act in a way that is inconsistent with these norms. For example, in areas where there are conservative social norms around women owning and running businesses, community or family social sanctions could range from disapproval and scorn to social exclusion and physical violence towards women business owners.
Yet, in market systems development, many programmes and measurement techniques do not yet distinguish between social norms and other collective practices. New research shows that this limited understanding of social norms, and how people interact with them, has critical implications for the success of development programmes and how best to implement behaviour change tactics.
There is growing momentum behind the energy and resources devoted to promoting women’s economic empowerment within market systems development. Gender focused projects typically aim to catalyse change in how women engage in economic activity, so that they can generate greater resources for themselves and their families. In many cases these changes bump up against and challenge prevailing social norms that prescribe a woman’s role in the various domains where she is active, including in the household, community, workplace, supporting institutions and the wider enabling environment (see Women’s Economic Empowerment: Pushing the Frontiers of Inclusive Market Development). There is therefore an urgent need to understand gender norms and how they influence market systems initiatives to either maintain the status quo or enable a process that ultimately catalyses systemic empowerment for women.
MarketShare Associates (MSA) is excited to have been commissioned by the BEAM Exchange to explore these complex issues. The research project will look at how informal gender rules interact with market systems initiatives to impact women’s economic empowerment programming and outcomes. Our team, also including Linda Jones and Emily Miller, will explore the following key questions:
• How do programmes currently understand and address informal rules?
• What are the risks for women from programmes that do not take informal rules into consideration?
• How can knowledge of structural and bottom-up social influences create more effective long-term and widespread systemic change?
Building on research undertaken for the USAID-funded Leveraging Economic Opportunities (LEO) project that looks at bottom-up change initiatives for promoting women’s empowerment, we will be conducting two field-based case studies in collaboration with select market systems projects, combined with various 'mini-cases'. The research aims to document our understanding of these issues, key lessons learned and generate a set of practical tools that will complement existing market research tools. These tools will seek to help market systems practitioners better address informal rules to facilitate women’s economic empowerment.
We are grateful for the opportunity to explore these critical and timely questions, and look forward to engaging with the BEAM Exchange community and the broader network of market systems practitioners, to further explore the learning that stems from this project.
Erin and Emilie work at MarketShare Associates and will be leading this research.