Social norms diagnostic tool: sexual and reproductive health and rights & gender-based violence


By: Anam Parvez Butt , Kristine Valerio, Imogen Davies


Research into discriminatory social norms identifies many ways in which they may curtail the ability of women and girls, transgender and gender non-conforming people to break the cycle of poverty, and access the resources and services they need to make autonomous decisions about their lives and realise their social, political and economic rights.

This Social Norms Diagnostic Tool guidance document is a set of participatory exercises designed to help programme teams to identify and discuss social norms, perceptions and expectations that shape, constrain or promote gender-based violence (GBV) and intimate partner violence (IPV); child, early, and forced marriage (CEFM); and women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) within their contexts, and to develop initial ideas for change strategies.

The tool is rooted in a feminist participatory action research approach in how it applies best-practice research methods for diagnosing social norms and the Socio-Ecological Model on behaviour change. It uses participatory and transformative methods such as Theatre of the Oppressed techniques to engage community members not simply as research participants but as agents of change identifying solutions to their problems. It is also designed to recognise and examine unequal power inequalities by including questions around who makes key decisions, whose opinions matter the most, and who are the most influential people and the nature of their influence. In the key activities, duty bearers, community members, men, and women are engaged separately, to help address these power inequalities in a safe space.

These exercises are complementary to our strategies and interventions on gender justice, including ending violence against women and girls (VAWG), promoting economic development, ensuring food security, supporting care work, and developing enterprises and markets.

This Social Norms Diagnostic Tool was a primary method used in a feminist research study in the Philippines, entitled Intersecting injustices: The links between social norms, access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and violence against women and girls. The study findings informed two projects implemented by Oxfam and its partners in the Philippines. Firstly, the multi-country Creating Space to Take Action on Violence against Women and Girls (Creating Spaces) project seeks to prevent, respond to, and ensure the sustainability of interventions to end VAWG and CEFM. Second, the Sexual Health Empowerment (SHE) project aims to empower women and girls to secure their SRHR in six disadvantaged and conflict-affected regions of the Philippines where CEFM also persists.

Although this document refers to the Philippines where the diagnostic tool was first implemented, the methodology and exercises can be easily adapted to other countries, regions and communities.

Note: the term ‘women’ and ‘girls’ used throughout this report is broadly defined by Oxfam to include cis-gender women and girls, trans, and gender non-conforming people.