Honour and Prestige: The influence of social norms on violence against women and girls in Karnataka, South India

STRIVE_Honour and Prestige paper.pdf

This qualitative paper draws on findings from Samata and Samvedana+, two STRIVE evaluation studies of norms interventions, implemented by the Karnataka Health Promotion Trust (KHPT). These programmes, both set in Karnataka, South India, aim to reduce rates of girl school drop-out and child marriage and to decrease female sex workers’ experience of intimate partner violence (IPV).

The overall evaluations will draw on a broader base of mixed methods data and will shed light on the role of structural drivers. Meanwhile, this paper shares important preliminary insights into the patterns of normative influence contributing to and sustaining child marriage and IPV.


Asked to reflect on their experiences in the two programmes, informants mentioned various positive outcomes of the two projects.


  • More positive parental attitudes towards delaying their girls’ marriage
  • Fewer girls dropping out of school
  • Parents trusting their girls more
  • Less harassment of girls by boys
  • More girl-friendly school facilities
  • More girls re-taking the 10-grade exams after failing


  • Less violence perpetrated by intimate partners
  • Increased capacity among female sex workers (FSW) to seek help in violent situations
  • More support received by FSW from their family and other FSWs in instances of IPV

Informants were also asked about the obstacles to the sustainability of these positive changes. Samata informants said that the honour of their families would be threatened if their girls received boys’ sexual and/or romantic attention. Samvedana+ informants said that an intimate partner’s prestige would be compromised if others knew that he did not beat his wife or lover to discipline her.

One [informant] said his friends would say ‘Are you not a man? If you are not brave enough, go to the bar, drink a couple of beers and go back home and beat her’. Generally, all whole heartedly agreed that their friends would think they were not real men if they told them they did not beat their lovers when ‘necessary’.”


Social norms play an important role in driving violence against women and girls, and in sustaining practices such as early marriage. Understanding how social norms operate will help in the design of better interventions. A norms perspective could be important within strategies to address a range of material, structural, social and individual factors.

Programme implementers should discuss and publicise changes that are taking place within programme activities, in order to create opportunities for others to witness these changes and begin a process of renegotiation of existing norms.

In these ways, interventions that integrate a norms approach can contribute to strengthening the rights of women and girls and reducing the violent practices that affect the health and human rights of hundreds of millions globally.


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