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Workings of Social norms and power imbalances

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  • Published
    21st Mar, 2020
  • Social norms held by individuals and their reference groups are values, beliefs, attitudes and practices that assert preferred power dynamics for interactions between individuals and institutions.
  • People’s expectations of individuals’ roles in households, communities, workplaces and societies can determine a group’s functioning.
  • Beliefs about what others do and what others think a person should do, maintained by social approval and disapproval, often guide actions in social settings.
  • Social norms cover several aspects of an individual’s identity—age, gender, ability, ethnicity, religion and so on—that are heterogeneous and multidimensional.
  • Individuals have multiple social identities and behave according to identity-related ideals; they also expect others sharing a common identity to behave according to these ideals.
  • Norms of behaviour related to these ideals affect people’s perception of themselves and others, thus engendering a sense of belonging to particular identity groups, for individuals who transgress.
  • Social norms against women: Women often face strong conventional societal expectations to be caregivers and homemakers; men are expected to be breadwinners. Embedded in these social norms are longstanding patterns of exclusion from household and community decisionmaking that limit women’s opportunities and choices.
    • Discriminatory social norms and stereotypes reinforce gendered identities and determine power relations.
    • Norms influence expectations for masculine and feminine behaviour considered socially acceptable or looked down on.
    • So they directly affect individuals’ choices, freedoms and capabilities, leading to behaviours that lead to inequality.


Gender social norms index—measuring beliefs, biases and prejudices


  • GSNI was introduced in the 2019 Human Development Report for the first time, and comprises of four dimensions—political, educational, economic and physical integrity.
  • It is constructed based on responses to seven questions from the World Values Survey, which are used to create seven indicators.
  • For indicators for which the answer choices are strongly agree, agree, disagree and strongly disagree, the index defines individuals with a bias if they strong agree or disagree.
  • Political indicators represent a bias for choice of ratings of 7 or lower.
  • For each indicator a variable takes the value of 1 when an individual has a bias and 0 when the individual does not.
  • GSNI captures how social beliefs can obstruct gender equality along multiple dimensions.
  • Two methods of aggregation are used in reporting results in the form of an Index.
    • Core GSNI: It is based on “union approach.” It measures the percentage of people with bias(es), independent of the number of biases.
    • GSNI2: This second GSNI is based on “intersection approach.” It measures the percentage of people with at least two biases.
  • Methods are applied to two sets of countries: The first set consists of countries with data for either wave 5 (2005–2009) or wave 6 (2010–2014) of the World Values Survey and uses the latest data available. This set includes 75 countries and territories accounting for 81 percent of the global populatio
    • The second set consists of only countries with data for both wave 5 and wave 6. This set includes 31 countries and territories accounting for 59 percent of the global population.

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