Broadening the Conversation Around Gender Norms

Monday, March 27, 2017

By Gayle Ober, president and CEO of George Family Foundation, and Lee Roper-Batker, president and CEO of Women's Foundation of Minnesota

Dear Philanthropy Partners,

We’re very pleased to announce the recent publication of “Gender Norms and Youth Development: A Minnesota State Report from the George Family Foundation,” co-funded by the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and produced by TrueChild.

This report emerges out of the George Family Foundation’s multi-year effort – beginning in 2014 – to bring gender norms into the broader conversation among Minnesota’s youth-serving foundations and nonprofits.

Gender norms are the rules, beliefs, and expectations most of us hold for how we should look, act, and dress as women or men. Decades of research tell us that when young women and men internalize narrow feminine and masculine ideals, they have markedly lower life outcomes in a cluster of related areas that include basic well-being, mental and physical health, education, and economic security.

This report details why philanthropies like ours must include gender and gender norms in our intersectional approaches to research, grant making, and community conversations. Emerging best practices in using a gender lens are already standard in many respected international organizations, including CARE, UNAIDS, UNFPA, and WHO. Their evaluations show that when young people learn to think critically about rigid gender norms, they’re likelier to avoid teen pregnancy (or causing it), bullying or being bullied, suffering from eating disorders, inflicting or feeling intimate partner violence, and self-selecting into (and out of) certain classes and career paths.

We believe that every funder working with youth must integrate gender norms into their planning and programming practices. As we all know from our careful considerations of race, place, and class in our programming, individual youth development solutions don’t work unless our approach recognizes and addresses the underlying systemic problems.

This report reminds us of two things: Communal beliefs and practices around gender and gender norms are some of the underlying systemic problems that prevent Minnesota’s young people from thriving. And, collectively, we have the power to change that. We look forward to partnering with you.