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05 Jan, 2024

Digital Spaces for Norm Shifting among Adolescents

Author: Vineha Tatkar, Program Associate, SA-SNALC, PCI India

While screens have become ubiquitous today, the quality of access to digital spaces is highly unequal. This disparity extends beyond adolescence into reproductive age, as was seen in a study by Scott, Shinde and Ummer et al (2021). As compared to young men surveyed, the range of socially acceptable uses of the mobile phone was restricted for young women, mostly in their 20s. The researchers illustrated a framework of the determinants of digital use (Figure 1) – gender norms affecting access at every level of the eco-system framework.  

Figure 1 – Determinants of Digital Use  

Source: Scott K, Shinde A, Ummer O, et al Freedom within a cage: how patriarchal gender norms limit women’s use of mobile phones in rural central India. BMJ Global Health 2021;6:e005596.   

 Norms deeply entrenched in the patriarchal system need to be broken down and shifted for adolescent girls & women to gain greater access to digital spaces and leverage them for their empowerment. 

SA-SNLC along with C3 India jointly hosted an online panel discussion on Leveraging Digital Spaces for Norm Shifting among Adolescents on 23rd November 2023. The speakers were Arti Shukla from Development Consortium, Vandana Nair from C3 India, and Osama Manzar from Digital Empowerment Foundation. The session was moderated by Dr Aparajita Gogoi from C3 India.  

This blog draws upon key insights from the webinar outlining the nuances of the digital world that impact adolescent’s lives, the need for quality access and best practices to implement digital solutions for facilitating change.  

What are the best practices for designing digital interventions for norm shifting? 

Digital solutions carry the advantage of scalability and high engagement with audiences, and can be crucial in increasing the pace of norm shifting interventions.  

Leveraging platforms such as social media, websites, podcasts, videos and the likes can help in communicating around sensitive topics with adolescents. Questions we can ask to make norms messaging effective for adolescents: 

  • Are the communicated personas relatable? 
  • Do the messages highlight positive norms? 
  • Is the language and medium tailored to the audience? 

  To learn the success of LoveMatters & TeenBook, listen to the insights shared by Arti Shukla in our webinar here. 

How do social and gender norms affect digital access and use? 

It would be misguided to assume digital interventions will reach all adolescents. Programs need to be mindful of the variables that moderate access to digital spaces, especially the gaping gender inequality. Vandana Nair & Osama Manzar highlighted the need for digital literacy & quality access to digital spaces. 

A survey conducted by C3 India and Digital Empowerment Foundation reflected that parental attitudes towards adolescent girls using mobile phones and laptops are still primarily apprehensive: 

  • When parents of adolescent girls were surveyed, a majority were uncomfortable with their girls using mobile phones.  
  • Less than half of the parents were comfortable with them accessing mobiles and/or laptops even for educational purposes.  

How can we direct efforts to shift gender norms and bridge the divide: 

Social and gender norms are driven by perceptions about a behaviour, attitudes of stakeholders and consequences of the action. A multipronged approach to bring a shift in these factors would thus involve 

  1. Promoting digital literacy through guided access points in schools 
  1. Acknowledging the power imbalance to create a gender-equitable access program 
  1. Shifting parental attitudes through community involvement and sensitization 

To learn more about strength of digital interventions to shift norms for adolescents, watch the webinar here. 

South Asia – Social Norms Learning Collaborative (SA-SNLC) aims to learn and share about pathways of empowering communities, especially women and children towards gender egalitarian society. It is hosted by Project Concern International, India along with CSBC in South Asia.  

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Centre for Social and Behaviour Change (CSBC), Ashoka University

The Centre for Social and Behaviour Change is a leading Indian institution that drives behavioural change measures for people and communities in need.

Project Concern International (PCI), India

Project Concern International, India has been working since 1998 to co-create and scale sustainable solutions to complex development problems rooted in community realities .

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