Norm-Based Advocacy and Social Change: An Analysis of Advocacy Efforts to End Child Marriage

By Shawki, Noha | Social Alternatives, October 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Norm-Based Advocacy and Social Change: An Analysis of Advocacy Efforts to End Child Marriage


Shawki, Noha, Social Alternatives


Introduction

Child, early, and forced marriage (hereafter child marriage) is an issue that has attracted much attention in recent years because of the far-reaching negative impacts it can have on individuals, families, and communities. Even though there are a number of international treaties that address the minimum age of marriage, the rates of child marriage remain high in many countries and communities around the world. Much momentum has been building around efforts to end child marriage, which mostly affects girls. During the years 2014 and 2015, the international community took a number of steps to address child marriage. These include a resolution by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) as well as a panel discussion at the UNGA that addressed child marriage; a panel discussion at the Human Rights Council (HRC) on the issue as well as a statement by a large number of states declaring their intention to introduce an HRC resolution on the issue in 2015; the adoption of an HRC resolution on child marriage in July of 2015; and the inclusion of the elimination of child marriage in one of the targets of the gender empowerment goal in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In addition, there have been a growing number of commitments made to end child marriage.1 Moreover, at the national and regional levels there have been important gains in 2014 and 2015, including a new African Union campaign to end child marriage2 and a new law in Malawi that raises the minimum legal age for marriage from 15 to 18 years (Teitsworth 2015). These developments are significant as efforts to end child marriage taking place at different levels can interact and create synergies, which can produce the outcomes that the international community seeks.

This article uses the example of child marriage and the progress made in responding to it to illustrate the ways in which civil society groups (CSGs) use social norm-based strategies to advance their agenda of ending the practice of child marriage. The article probes the ways in which CSGs have been generating momentum around ending child marriage and using that momentum to bring about changes in policy and practice at the global, national, and local levels. In discussing these questions, recent theoretical formulations (Raymond et al. 2014) are applied to help in understanding how CSGs can leverage the power of norms to bring about change in formal institutions (i.e. official rules, laws, and policies) and in informal institutions (i.e. social rules that are not put in place officially by a government or other entity). Since norms are a key part of formal and informal institutions, intentional efforts to change norms can be a conduit to institutional reform (Raymond et al. 2014) and to addressing intractable social and policy problems (Raymond and Weldon 2013). This theoretically informed study therefore draws conclusions that are applicable to other areas of civil society advocacy. The case of child marriage is not intended to provide a comprehensive discussion of this social problem and of ways it can be addressed. Rather, it is designed to be illustrative of the norm-based strategies of change through the application of recent theoretical formulations to child marriage.

The article is organised in several sections. The first section introduces the analytical framework that informs this study. The second section provides an overview of child marriage as a social problem. The third and fourth sections use examples of norm-based strategies of change that have been used as tools of advocacy by CSGs at the global, national and local levels respectively. The article concludes with a brief summary of the key points.

Analytical Framework

Recent research has shown that CSGs can use normbased approaches to bring about institutional change. A norm is 'a standard of appropriate behavior for actors with a given identity' (Finnemore and Sikkink 1998: 891). Individuals and groups who seek to introduce new norms or to change an existing norm are norm entrepreneurs (Finnemore and Sikkink 2001: 400). …

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