Towards Transformation: Shifting Social Norms for Transformative WASH

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This guidance note refers to social norm change in, and through, WASH programs. It is not a comprehensive “how to” guide for designing successful social norm initiatives, but the checklists within provide guiding questions and practical examples that can be used to increase understanding of how to implement a social norms initiative as a component of WASH programs.

This guidance primarily draws from the literature on shifting social norms that sustain gender-related harmful and exclusionary practices; there is less documented experience on shifting social norms that perpetuate the exclusion of people with disabilities and people with diverse gender identities and sexual orientations.

Changing social norms in and through WASH programs is a growing field with a small evidence base, and therefore the guidance incorporates first-hand practitioner and researcher reflections. The guidance is based on the accompanying review of concepts, literature and practice and collaborative expert input and review process involving Water for Women’s advisers, academics and program designers.

This guidance reflects Water for Women’s aim to strengthen WASH programmers’ understanding of how to implement social norms interventions for the benefit of those likely to be harmed by certain social norms, and which reduce their access to appropriate WASH services as well as their agency to participate meaningfully in WASH decision-making structures and processes. Vulnerable people include women and girls in all their diversities, people with disabilities, from sexual and gender minority communities, low-income households, people from remote communities and ethnic minorities.

Examples from projects supported by Water for Women in Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Indonesia, Nepal, Bhutan and Vanuatu are presented. They describe interventions that employ different approaches to engaging on social norms and the projects’ successes and challenges.



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Shifting Social Norms for Transformative WASH: Guidance for WASH Actors


Citation: Water for Women (2022). Shifting Social Norms for Transformative WASH: Guidance for WASH Actors.

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Shifting Social Norms for Transformative WASH: Review of Concepts, Literature and Practice


Citation: Water for Women (2022). Shifting Social Norms for Transformative WASH: Review of Concepts, Literature and Practice.

What is this guidance for?

To support water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) actors to implement approaches to shift social norms that underpin WASH behaviours for marginalised and vulnerable groups.

Who should use this guidance?

Program managers and technical advisers working to ensure WASH projects leave no one behind.

Why use this guidance?

It will help to:

  • focus outcomes on harmful WASH behaviours underpinned by social norms
  • assess the opportunities to include a focus on social norms in WASH programs
  • plan new interventions supporting social norms shifts and consider how to scale out, scale up and scale deep existing initiatives.


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Water for Women acknowledges Sue Cavill, as lead author, together with Joanna Mott and Heather Brown (Water for Women) for their leadership of this Learning Agenda initiative and their authorship of this guidance and the associated review of concepts, literature and practice. We also gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Aleisha Carroll (CBM Australia), Melita Grant (University of Technology Sydney, Institute for Sustainable Futures (UTS-ISF), Chelsea Huggett (WaterAid Australia), Lana Woolf (Edge Effect), Sabitra Dhakal and Ami Reza (SNV Nepal) and Stuart Raetz and Kate Orr (Water for Women).

This guidance was also informed by technical advice from Dr Alison Baker, Dr Matthew Bond and Emily Eller (Water for Women) and Tshering Choden (SNV Bhutan). For inputs into the case studies, thanks also go to: Novika Noerdiyanti (Yayasan Plan International Indonesia), Relvie Poilapa, Elis Lee and Chloe Morrison, (World Vision Vanuatu), Rosie Sanderson (International WaterCentre, Griffith University), Godfrey Bongomin (World Vision Papua New Guinea), Sunetra Lala (SNV Nepal), Jen Johnstone (Habitat for Humanity Australia), John Kelleher (Plan International Australia), Diana Gonzalez Botero and Professor Juliet Willetts (UTS-ISF), Chelsea Huggett, (WaterAid Australia), Aleisha Carroll (CBM Australia) and Akhila Sivadas (Centre for Advocacy and Research, India (CFAR)). Finally, special thanks to Bianca Nelson Vatnsdal and Mia Cusack (Water for Women), who led the design of this guidance. 

This work was supported by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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