The aim of this policy brief is to provide initial perspective on where we are as a field in understanding and programming for social norms, and recommendations for furthering that work.
Market systems and women’s economic empowerment programmes typically function with an incomplete understanding of how social factors influence human economic behaviours. Programming tends to focus on increasing women’s access to economic opportunities, whether to markets, education, information, or land rights, etc. Less consideration is given to how the socio-cultural context in which women operate influences their ability to engage with and actually benefit from those opportunities. This research explores how social norms influence women’s access and agency, and what practical lessons can be learned. It builds on the recognition that informal social “rules” within markets and households can dramatically affect the results of market systems programs aiming to empower women. The report documents how social norms are currently understood, assessed and navigated in market systems programs via two in-depth cases (described briefly below), and seven 'mini-cases' that provide additional insight and examples.