Measuring gender attitudes webinar: three key takeaways

Penelope Neves
4 min readAug 2, 2018


Last week, we held an insightful webinar on measuring gender attitudes, focusing on two pilot projects in Sierra Leone and Cote D’Ivoire with Save the Children’s Jane Leer, and a project in Haryana state, India presented by the CEO of Breakthrough, Sohini Bhattacharya. Many thanks to those who could join. For those of you who missed the webinar, you can watch it here and below.

We wanted to share three key takeaways from the session:

  1. Keep it simple

In order for gender-sensitive programming to be successfully implemented, tools must be easy to use for all teaching staff and communities without much prior experience. Indexes which focus on identifying attitudes and beliefs that contribute to harmful gender norms and school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) combined with observations and key informant interviews using open-ended questions have proven to be most effective in generating meaningful data.

However, to maximise effectiveness, we must ensure that observations are performed discretely so as to reduce the probability of teacher and student behaviour deviating from the norm, which would give a distorted idea of what normally happens in the classroom. Eliminating response bias or the probability of participants adapting their opinions to what interviewers wish to hear is always a challenge when measuring attitudes. However, some of this can be controlled by:

· Building a rapport with participants in a space where they feel at ease

· Ensuring that interview language is straightforward, child-friendly and in the local language(s)

· Including relevant questions relevant to the context

· Using questions on both individual behaviour and gender expectations of others, differentiating norms to individual attitudes

· Phrasing gender norms and behaviour using positive and negative language and comparing responses between participants

2. Examine what constitutes violence in the context

The webinar highlighted the importance of breaking down attitudes and norms that contribute to violence, but aren’t often perceived as harmful. Questionnaires and interviews demonstrated alarming results with regard to attitudes to sexual harassment between both students and teachers, as well as self-efficacy about girls’ learning capabilities and aspirations. It is all too easy to overlook the fact that attitudes to what constitutes violence can vary according to gender, age and cultural background.

The highest predictor of harmful gender attitudes in boys and girls was found to be the experience of violence in the home. 15 per cent of surveyed teachers in Sierra Leone did not think that asking students for sex was violence. 40 per cent of boys and 30 per cent of girls think that a girl’s behaviour determines whether physical or sexual violence towards her is justified. The study in India revealed that boys were more responsive to adopting gender equitable attitudes because of social sanctions, compared to girls who were expected to conform to existing norms.

The contextual understanding of how attitudes and norms influence behaviour and practice is critical to designing interventions. Integrating skills- based learning programmes that deconstruct harmful gender norms within school curricula helps to facilitate dialogue, and can empower girls and boys, and thus the entire community to not only confront norms that no longer serve everyone’s needs but also to act against violence in and around schools.

3. Get everybody involved

For long term transformative change it is crucial to involve entire communities and schools. Tools to measure gender attitudes can be used to identify major challenges. Facilitating discussion and skills based training for students on gender-equity through tools used in the Taro Ki Toli and the Gender Equity Movement in Schools (GEMS) programmes have proven effective in raising awareness about issues of violence both among students and their parents.

Sharing the findings from measuring attitudes to gender using child and teacher assessment with school staff enables them to adapt policies to include gender-sensitive pedagogy and codes of conduct within schools. Working with community groups and women’s organisations to identify women leaders enables girls to have positive role models and take part in decision making processes in school and at home. Girls are more likely to aim higher, and have a stronger self-concept and more confidence to identify and act against violence. These interventions can provide the necessary environment to empower teachers, parents and children, transforming them into catalysts for positive change

Above all, investment of time and resources are needed in order for formative and impact research to be used to design and deliver practical strategies and tools that communities, families, students and education staff can use to establish safe, gender sensitive and inclusive learning environments.