ICRW and UNICEF Innocenti release new report on gender socialization in adolescence

Article Date

23 March 2017

Article Author

Erin Kelly

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

ICRW and UNICEF Innocenti this month released a new report on gender socialization in adolescence in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) worldwide. The report examines the main influences on the gender socialization process and its consequences during adolescence and provides practical suggestions for how civil society, governments and practitioners can use this knowledge to design effective policies and programs to improve gender equality.

The report provides a conceptual framework that explains the complex and multi-layered process of gender socialization and its consequences. Understanding this process and how the multi-layered factors are related, is critical for developing better approaches to promote gender equality.

Currently there are 1.2 billion adolescents around the world. Adolescents make up 16 percent of the total global population and more than 90 percent of adolescents live in LMICs. Worldwide, gender inequality results in harmful consequences not just for girls, but also for boys. For example, some of the top causes of death for both boys and girls, including HIV and AIDS, maternal disorders and road injuries, are influenced by gender norms that are solidified throughout adolescence. Further, adolescence is increasingly seen as a “second window” of opportunity that offers another chance to those who have not fared well in early childhood.

Research has demonstrated that adolescence is a critical period in one’s life, where rapid changes occur in one’s physical, mental and sexual development. Adolescence is also a period in which gender attitudes and behaviors intensify and new gender roles and responsibilities appear. This period of rapid change within and around the individual is a key time for investments towards achieving more equitable outcomes for girls and boys.

The report’s three main objectives are to define the gender socialization process, put gender socialization in a broader context of all the factors that influence adolescents’ lives and to provide recommendations for ways in which we can positively influence the gender socialization process and minimize the negative influence of gender norms and practices such as child marriage, gender-based violence and road injuries.

To define the gender socialization process, researchers from ICRW and UNICEF Innocenti conducted a literature review for relevant research in biology, sociology and psychology, looking specifically at families, communities, and institutions to understand how gender socialization occurs. Researchers looked at how gender socialization is impacted at the structural level (political structure, global media, etc…), social-interactional level (norms picked up through their daily lives and interactions) and the individual level (internalization of gender norms).

Researchers found that during adolescence, the key component of the gender socialization process is the interaction between the individual being “socialized” and agents of socialization like family, peers, community members and institutions. This process of socialization occurs within the context of broader structural forces, such as socio-economic conditions, and political and patriarchal institutions and practices, such as restriction on girls and women’s mobility, early marriage, availability of opportunities for education and labor force participation.

Researchers also conducted a review of 31 programs that focused on gender norms, attitudes and beliefs at the individual level in LMICs to determine which strategies were most effective in challenging beliefs and attitudes. They found that programs that did the following were the most impactful: Empower young people through information, skills and social support; Foster an enabling environment in which to challenge gender norms; and Work with men and boys to challenge notions around femininity and masculinity.

“The conceptual framework put forward in this paper helps position efforts designed to promote gender equality,” said Neetu John, lead author of the report. “It highlights how approaches that target adolescents in isolation are likely to be less effective in shifting harmful gender norms, attitudes, beliefs and practices. A holistic approach, that carefully positions programs and policies within the bigger picture captured in our framework is more likely to succeed and have meaningful impact on the lives of adolescent girls and boys.”

This report provides three formal recommendations for how governments and civil society can foster more equitable gender norms for adolescents:

  • Establishing a legal and policy environment that complements and takes advantage of elements of structural changes, can enable broader shifts toward gender equity and equality. For example, the growth of non-agricultural or care-based employment opportunities for women may generate social ‘space’ to institute legal minimum requirements for formal education or prohibit child marriage through creating a tangible ‘payoff’ for building the human capital of girls;
  • Structuring and designing gender transformative interventions in ways that directly relate to structural changes can accelerate progress toward gender equality. For example, providing information on sexual and reproductive health is more likely to be effective in an environment where sexual and reproductive health is increasingly seen as an important factor in life success due to demographic or economic shifts; and
  • Develop life course approaches that account for the biological and social changes that take place during the gender socialization process in adolescence.

To download the report, click here.