What does the evidence tell us about (a) social norms around the use of family planning/modern contraception (including decision-making, uptake, continuation, methods, and in relation to age/lifecycle, married/unmarried, education, income levels and other social and economic factors) and (b) about interventions that have applied an understanding of social norms in efforts to increase acceptance and uptake of family planning? What has been tried, and what has worked (to increase women’s and girls’ ability to use voluntary modern contraception) and what hasn’t, and why/why not?
Family planning is enabled when individuals and couples are able to control the number of children they have, and the spacing and timing of their births. It is achieved through contraceptive methods and the treatment of involuntary infertility. Social norms are understood broadly as ‘widely shared beliefs and common practices within a particular group’. Interrelated social norms concerning gender, tradition/modernity, religion, social status, age, education and employment status, etc are important factors influencing family planning and contraception use. Modern contraceptives are condoms and hormonal birth control, as opposed to traditional methods.
Social norm interventions focus at the interpersonal and community levels. Social norm approaches at a basic level look at ‘how particular social groups’ shared expectations may be modified to shift behaviour towards socially desired outcomes’. More ambitious social norm approaches can ‘aim to change power relations, economic inequalities and deeply rooted ideologies and cultural values’. Both of these levels can influence contraception and family planning.
This rapid literature review found a large amount of literature in the general area of family planning and contraception use, much of this refers to social norms, and a medium amount of this literature focusses on the relationship between these two broad areas. The literature includes a variety of methodological approaches, and is produced by a broad range of academics, bilateral and multilateral agencies and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). However, despite this medium amount of literature, there is a limited amount that rigorously examines the impact of interventions on social norm changes. This query focusses on literature published since 2010, unless literature published before is referenced in a more recent paper. This query focuses on contraception and family planning within heterosexual relationships.
Herbert, S. Social norms, contraception and family planning (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1249). Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK (2015) 15 pp.