You can’t burn the house down because of one bedbug: a qualitative study of changing gender norms in the prevention of violence against women and girls in an urban informal settlement in India

Nayreen Daruwalla, Ketaki Hate, Preethi Pinto, Gauri Ambavkar, Bhaskar Kakad, David Osrin Wellcome Open Research, 2017; Read the full paper online

The contribution of structural inequalities and social legitimisation to violence against women is widely accepted and there is a consensus that interventions should aim to change gender norms, particularly through community mobilsation.

This qualitative study in a large informal settlement in Mumbai sought to understand whether in trying to change norms, the disjunction between descriptive norms and injunctive norms could be utilised.

Descriptive norms are beliefs about what others actually do

Injunctive norms are beliefs about what others think one ought to do


In this study descriptive and injunctive norms were found to be relatively similar with regard to:

  • femininity
  • masculinity
  • the need for marriage and childbearing
  • resistance to seperation and divorce
  • disapproval of friendships between women and men

There were, however, more substantial differences between descriptive and injunctive norms around:

  • women's education
  • control of income and finances
  • premarital sexual relationships


Programmatically, the areas of mismatch could be exploited with the aim of changing gender norms. One way of doing this could be expanding the reference group to include relatively isolated women and men into broader social groups whose descriptive and injunctive norms do not tolerate violence. 


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