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The Results Are In! Gender Equality Data for Social Norm Change

Before starting our behavior change and community mobilization work, we at For Families wanted to better understand how our community members think about gender equality, child-rearing, and violence. So we conducted a baseline survey asking community residents how they feel about these issues. Today’s, we’re exploring a sub-set of our survey results as they relate to gender equality. What do community residents believe gender equality is, and do they think it’s important? Do they have gender equality in their lives? If so, in what ways? And finally: how can we use this data to inform our behavior change and community mobilization campaign?

For those interested in learning a more about the methodology of this research, you’ll find a brief overview at the end of this article. For everyone else, here are some of the findings and themes that we’ll be using to shape our work in the coming year:

Women have less of a voice in choosing their spouse than men

Approximately 1 in 5 respondents said that they and their marriage partners did not mutually agree to marry (17% of female and 22% of male respondents). For women, the most common alternative to mutual agreement was that her husband’s family had chosen her (9% of female respondents). For men, the most common alternative was that the man had chosen his wife without her having chosen him (12.5% of male respondents). Thus when two partners had not mutually agreed to marry, it was the woman’s consent that was lacking while either the man or his family had chosen without her input. In-line with these results, 23% of marriages in this community were completed by bride-kidnapping, 11% higher than the national average.

But they tend to share decision-making once married

The majority of both men and women said that they and their spouse shared decision-making authority when it came to women’s health choices, issues related to their children, and spending on children’s clothes and food. Some 60% of women and 80% of men said that these choices were made jointly by themselves and their partners. An additional 20% of women, the majority of whom were single mothers, said they made such choices themselves. Where other family members were involved in making such decisions, it was usually the husband’s mother.

Neither men nor women seem to think women should have equal authority or voice

Overall, both female and male respondents believe that women and men should be treated equally, with 97% of women and 93% of men agreeing. At the same time – and in stark contrast – the vast majority of female and male respondents also believe that women should obey their husbands, that men should have the final say in family matters, and that women’s primary role is to take care of their home and families.

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What it means for women and men to be “treated equally” thus does not mean that they have equal roles, responsibilities, or authority. Further discussion with community members on these points was revealing, with one woman describing:

“Yes, we should treat women and men equally in public and private. But if a woman is smart, she knows to put her husband first. Always tell him he’s great. Even if he comes home drunk, you lay out a cushion for him and say, ‘Come, my love, lie down and rest.’ That way the family stays strong and happy.”  – Woman, July 2018

This and other similar comments gave the impression that while many respondents say that women and men “should” be equal, this is more of an aspirational comment than a prescription for current family relations.

But both women and men think men should choose their parents over their wives and children

In a result that came as a surprise even to our local research team, 75% of female respondents and 56% of male respondents thought that men should choose their parents over their wives and children. That’s not a typo: 3 out of 4 women supported the idea that men (including their own husbands) should choose their parents over their own wives and children. Fewer men than women agreed with this proposition, though still 56% of male respondents either agreed or strongly agreed. Notably, significantly more men disagreed and on stronger terms than women: 40% of men “disagreed” and 5% “strongly disagreed” while only 25% of women “disagreed” and no women “strongly disagreed” that a man should choose his parents over his wife and children.

One theory to explain these results is that female respondents think of their sons rather than their husbands when answering this question, expecting loyalty from their sons when they grow and marry. Indeed, we added this question to our survey in light of widespread socio-cultural narratives that emphasize filial duty and sons’ obligations to their mothers. Was is true, we wondered, that men believed they should choose their parents over their wives? Even more extreme – would men choose their parents over their own children? We asked using the following question: “Do you strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the following statement: ‘If a man has to choose between his obligations to his wife and children and his obligations to his mother and father, he should choose his mother and father.'”

The result that women even more so than men think that men should put their parents first came as a surprise, particularly given the demographics of our survey population: the average age of our female respondents was 33, with a range of 19 to 48 years old. Most of these women were in their mid to late 20’s or early 30’s and had young children. Meanwhile, in-line with local customs of patrilocality (i.e. the norm than women move in with their husbands’ families after marriage), some 40% of female respondents were living with their husband’s relatives at the time of our survey (compared to less than 5% of male respondents living with their wives’ relatives). Our female respondents thus tended to be young mothers who lived with their husbands’ families. Given the extent to which they were embedded within their husbands’ families and responsible for supporting their husbands’ children, their willingness to be chosen last remains difficult to understand. Further research and observation is planned to try to understand these results, verify whether they are indeed representative of women’s and men’s beliefs, and – if so – to strengthen women’s expectations of their husbands’ loyalty to themselves and especially to their mutual children.

There are positive trends to build from for social norm change

While the results above suggest that meaningful progress needs to be made in terms of raising people’s awareness of and belief in gender equality, other results suggest a strong foundation from which to build positive social norm change messages. For example, men and women alike do not think that women should endure violence for the sake of their families – 83% of women respondents and 79% of male respondents, respectively. Similarly high numbers of women and men also believe that men should not endure violence for the sake of their families – 82% of women and 83% of men. Meanwhile, the vast majority of men and women oppose cheating and men’s having multiple marriage partners or lovers (100% of women and 93% of men), and believe that men should provide extra support and help to their wives when they are pregnant (97% of women and 98% of men). For Families will be producing norm change materials emphasizing these positive and widely held beliefs in the community, working to align people’s actions and perceptions of others’ beliefs with the positive outlooks that they already hold.

We’ll have more details on these anti-violence beliefs plus the materials we’re developing around them in the coming weeks.

A quick note on methodology: For those interested in research methodology, the above results come from a survey we conducted with men and women from 80 households in our target community. We visited these households during the last two weeks of July, 2018, with two male researchers conducting interviews with male respondents and two female researchers conducting interviews with female respondents. For ethical reasons, a single respondent was chosen per household – 44 men and 36 women took part in the survey in all. A statistically relevant random sample of our community’s 400 households had been chosen at the outset of the survey. However, during fieldwork numerous residences were found to be abandoned or empty, while many residences lacked either a female or male respondent eligible to participate. As such, our final sample is too small to reach statistical relevance though we believe the results are still informative and meaningful to shape our work.

All respondents gave their informed consent to participate in the research, including being provided with both oral and written descriptions of the research, our goals, and the opportunity to refuse to participate, choose to skip specific questions, or withdraw their consent at any time.

The two quantitative surveys that were used for this survey – one for male respondents and one for female respondents – were originally modeled on the WHO Multi-Country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence and the WHO Multi-Country Study on Men and Violence: Understanding Why Some Men Use Violence Against Women and How We Can Prevent It. Further original research questions and topics were developed by the research team to explore gender beliefs specific to the Kyrgyzstani context (e.g. bride kidnapping and certain pregnancy and SRH beliefs), as well as child-rearing practices and beliefs about them. All research materials were translated from English into both Russian and Kyrgyz and piloted in both languages prior to use in this assessment.

We’ll be posting a more extensive discussion of our research process – including more details on how we devised our quantitative survey, copies of both the Russian and Kyrgyz research materials, and an exploration of the lessons we’ve learned through this research process – in the 2018 fall.