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Gender Socialisation During Adolescence in Low-and-middle-income Countries: Conceptualisation, Influences, and Outcomes

Adolescence is a critical period in the development of gender attitudes and behaviours, which have potentially life-long effects. The rapid changes that take place during adolescence provide opportunities for the development and implementation of policies and programmes, which can influence the gender socialisation process, in order to maximise positive outcomes.

This paper aims to provide a conceptual understanding of the gender socialisation process during adolescence, its influences and outcomes, and practical suggestions on how to use this knowledge in the design of policies and programmes to improve gender equality. 

First, the paper reviews theoretical contributions from psychology, sociology and biology to situate the gender socialisation process during adolescence in a broader context of multi-level influences. Second, it introduces a socio-ecological framework  to bring together the main factors that influence the gender socialisation process and its outcomes. Third, it summarises knowledge on how to influence the gender socialisation process and its outcomes in order to provide practical recommendations for policies and programmes. This included: a) reviewing changes in demographics, the global media and gendered economic opportunities, to understand how the gender socialisation process, gender norms and identities have been transformed at the macro level; and b) conducting a literature review of small- scale programmes designed to impact the gender socialisation process.

The literature review identified 31 programmes grouped around three broad strategies: 

1) empowering young people (mainly girls) with information, skills, and social support to challenge norms; 

2) fostering an enabling environment in which to challenge gender norms; 

3) working with men and boys, including directly with young individuals and with influential males to change attitudes and beliefs.

Conclusions

  • Adolescence is a critical period in which gendered attitudes and behaviours intensify and new gender roles and responsibilities appear. 
  • This period of rapid change within and around the individual is a key time for investment and intervention towards achieving more equitable outcomes for girls and boys, and later in life for women and men. 
  • Today’s adolescents will play a lead role in achieving key development targets, including the Sustainable Development Goals; the ways in which the gender socialisation process is shaped by this cohort will influence future generations.
  • While evidence suggests that current policy and programming efforts can change gender attitudes and influence norms espoused by adolescents and the communities in which they live in the short term, for sustained change, factors at the individual, social-interactional and structural levels will have to be leveraged simultaneously. 
  • Approaches that target the adolescent in isolation and fail to adequately consider the agents of socialisation, life course factors, changes in economic structures, and the increasingly globalised world, will be less effective than those taking a more holistic approach. 

Recommendations for Policy and programmes

There are a number of areas where policy and programming efforts can take advantage of ongoing structural changes in ways that amplify their potential beneficial effects in terms of promoting more equitable gender norms and the efficacy of existing interventions. These include: 

  • Establishing a legal and policy environment that complements and takes advantage of elements of structural change, which enable broader shifts towards gender equity and equality. 
  • Structuring and designing gender transformative interventions in ways that directly relate to structural changes. 
  • Developing life course approaches that account for the biological and social changes that take place during the gender socialisation process in adolescence. 
Date published
  • 2017
Author(s)
  • John Neetu
  • Kirsten Stoebenau
  • Samantha Ritter
  • Jeffrey Edmeades
  • Nikola Balvin
Published by UNICEF Innocenti
Region
Key quote "Adolescence is a critical period in the development of gender attitudes and behaviours, which have potentially life-long effects.The rapid changes that take place during adolescence provide opportunities for the development and implementation of policies and programmes, which can influence the gender socialization process, in order to maximize positive outcomes."