Integrating Gender Norm Change in Sexual Violence Prevention

By Krisberg, Kim | The Nation's Health, April 2018 | Go to article overview

Integrating Gender Norm Change in Sexual Violence Prevention


Krisberg, Kim, The Nation's Health


WITH A significant body of research showing restrictive gender norms help increase and normalize sexual violence, many public health advocates and researchers are tapping those norms as key intervention points for curbing violence.

Gender norms are a set of societal expectations or ideas that can govern how men and women behave and present themselves, often perpetuating harmful stereotypes and discrimination.

"One of the important lenses that public health brings is this notion of understanding what the underlying contributors are," said APHA member Rachel Davis, MSW, managing director at the Prevention Institute. "Public health is already in a position to engage multiple sectors, and that lets us move forward in changing norms and environments."

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization call for promoting healthy social norms as a means of preventing violence. In CDC's 2016 report "Stop SV: A Technical Package to Prevention Sexual Violence," the agency noted that "studies show that individuals and communities adhering to restrictive and harmful social norms are more likely to perpetrate physical, sexual and emotional violence against women." Many of the programs and practices that public health workers use to prevent sexual violence, such as bystander training, can also help change and shape gender attitudes that normalize violence.

"Dramatic change is possible," Davis told The Nation's Health. "(Look) at how norms have changed around breastfeeding and family planning."

In 2006, Davis coauthored "Sexual Violence and the Spectrum of Prevention: Towards a Community Solution," a CDC-funded report that identified norms that perpetuate sexual violence risk, such as norms that limit women's opportunities, and highlighted a spectrum of prevention efforts that positively impact norms, from healthy relationship education for youth to programs that engage men and boys in discussions on masculinity and violence.

Davis and her colleague Lisa Fujie Parks, MPH, associate program director at the Prevention Institute and a coauthor of the 2006 report, both noted that public health has decades of experience in the kind of cross-sector partnership-building that leads to widespread norm change. …

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