How Can Social Norms Help Prevent Gender-Based Violence?
Pick your nose in a business meeting, and you’ll likely get swift, negative feedback. Likewise if you cut in line at a bank.
Rules about nose-picking and queuing are clear social norms that help regulate daily social interactions. But social norms may also sanction extremely harmful practices, like gender-based violence, experienced by more than one in three women worldwide. In many communities it’s considered normal, for example, for a husband to beat his wife.
Programs that seek to prevent gender-based violence can resort to the same system of social rules that keeps us from cutting in line.
How social norms work:
1. Social norms are the unspoken rules of behavior considered acceptable in a group. They are determined by a) what I think others are doing, and b) what I believe others think I should do. I wait in line because everyone around me does, and because they think I should. If I skipped the line, I would expect others to scold me. Social norms are maintained by our expectations of others’ approval or disapproval.
2. When it comes to norm-setting, the people who influence us most are those in our “reference group” – people in our community, or those around us in a given situation. They can be people we look up to, e.g., peers, neighbors, trend-setters or parents. Norms are specific to different cultural and social contexts.