Empowering Adolescent Girls in Developing Countries (2018)
Gender Justice an Norm Change
Adolescence, wherever you live, is a potentially turbulent and challenging time and no less so in the four countries where we undertook our work. Here, transitions
through adolescence are fraught with difficulties, in part due to the deeply
embedded gender norms which determine what a girl can and cannot do and how
she must be. Each specific context came with its own factors: multi-ethnic and
multi-religious communities, remoteness, variable services (if any at all) and, sometimes,
a policy and cultural context without recognition of adolescence, where the
transition to adulthood is short or immediate rather than prolonged.
Nevertheless, what we know from biological sciences is that adolescence is a
developmental period – a time when the body and mind changes. These changes
bring with them potential which in the right context, can open new opportunities.
Our interest was in exploring that potential and how gendered norms might truncate
opportunities and limit the development of capabilities which every young
adult could aspire to own – the ability to have a political voice, to be educated,
to be in good health, to have control over one's body, to be free from violence, to
be able to own property and earn a livelihood, to be economically and politically
We were intrigued by the very common experiences of adolescent girls across
multiple contexts. This learning and sharing enabled us to explore in much greater depth what norms are and how they operate within political and institutional
spaces at national and community levels. It also allowed us to explore the changing
and different conceptual understandings of gendered social relations, gender equality
and the usage of the term 'norm' to capture embedded, often implicit, informal
rules by which people abide, and which are bound into the values people and societies
accept implicitly, accept reluctantly or actively contest.