The norms factor: recent research on gender, social norms and women's economic empowerment

Working and discussion papers
November 2018
Maria and her family tend a crop of potatoes. Photo: Scott Wallace/World Bank (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Gender discriminatory social norms are a widely recognized barrier to women’s economic empowerment, affecting both their access to 'decent work' and their experience in workplaces.

The Growth and Women’s Economic Opportunities (GrOW) program, funded by IDRC between 2013 and 2018, generated a wide set of insights on the barriers to and enablers of women’s economic empowerment. This report synthesises insights from the GrOW portfolio of studies concerning social and gender norms, focusing on the role of social and gender norms in facilitating or constraining women’s access to assets, employment and entrepreneurship; the role of economic empowerment programmes in shifting gender norms; the relationship between the policy and institutional environment, social/ gender norms; and women’s economic empowerment. Most of the evidence concerns the impact of social and gender norms on women’s economic opportunities.

These findings help explain stagnation in women’s labour force participation in some contexts, the frequent concentration of women in relatively less lucrative sectors and occupations than men, and gendered barriers and challenges that disproportionately affect women.