Unraveling the Role of Social Norms in Gender-Based Violence Trauma: Advocacy Strategies for Change
Gender-based violence (GBV) remains a deeply rooted problem worldwide, affecting individuals of all genders. While it is widely acknowledged that social norms play a significant role in perpetuating GBV, it is equally crucial to recognize how such norms contribute to the trauma experienced by survivors. This article aims to explore the relationship between social norms and GBV trauma while identifying advocacy strategies that can help dismantle these harmful norms.
Social norms are a set of unwritten rules that guide behavior within a particular society or culture . These norms shape how individuals think, act, and interact with others. However, some social norms endorse and perpetuate harmful beliefs and practices that contribute to GBV and the ensuing trauma. This also means that women are at a disadvantage as most social norms are patriarchal.
Patriarchal social norms contribute to the normalization and acceptance of gender-based violence in several ways. These norms often reinforce stereotypes that associate power and control with masculinity and submission with femininity. They may also place value on male dominance and aggression while devaluing female autonomy and independence. By upholding these norms, society may inadvertently enable and reinforce harmful behaviors.
Another norm that perpetuates GBV is victim blaming. Blaming survivors for the violence they experience is a consequence of the prevailing social norm that places accountability on victims rather than perpetrators. One reason victim blaming occurs is because of societal misconceptions and biases around gender roles and expectations. These stereotypes often place the responsibility on women for their own safety and well-being, implying that they should have acted differently to prevent the violence.
People may also struggle to comprehend why a victim did not leave an abusive situation, failing to recognize the complexity of factors that may have prevented them from doing so, such as fear, financial dependence, isolation, and manipulation. Incidents of victim blaming can discourage survivors from coming forward and seeking help or justice. It can perpetuate shame, guilt, and self-blame, making it even more difficult for survivors to heal and recover from their experiences.
Toxic Masculinity: A social norm that places excessive emphasis on traditional notions of masculinity can contribute to gender-based violence. Society often rewards aggressive, dominating, and violent behavior in men, perpetuating the cycle of GBV while causing substantial psychological distress and trauma to survivors.
Cultural Expectations: Cultural norms and expectations can reinforce power imbalances and restrict gender roles, contributing to GBV. Cultural beliefs that perpetuate gender inequality hinder the empowerment of survivors, reinforcing trauma and inhibiting the healing process.
To address the traumatic impact of social norms on GBV survivors, it is essential to implement effective advocacy strategies that challenge these harmful norms and foster both individual and societal transformation. Advocacy efforts must prioritize raising awareness about the negative impact of social norms on GBV trauma. Education programs, public campaigns, and workshops can engage communities in critical conversations, challenging deep-rooted beliefs and encouraging empathy and understanding. Rozaria Memorial Trust has been working with traditional leaders who are custodians of the culture in a bid to challenge the status quo when it comes to social norms that promote different forms of GBV like Child marriages.
Advocacy strategies must also focus on empowering survivors to break the silence and reclaim their agency. Providing safe spaces and support networks where survivors can share their experiences and access services like counseling, legal assistance, and healthcare is crucial. The Nhanga methodology acts as a safe space for girls and women to share experiences, report cases and also for pyschosocial support. The Dendere  also offers essential services such as food, clothing, and medical assistance to meet the basic needs of survivors. The shelter also prioritizes the confidentiality and privacy of survivors. Victims can feel secure in knowing that their personal information and location are protected, which is crucial in situations where the abuser may continue to pose a threat.
Addressing social norms surrounding masculinity is vital for ending GBV. Advocacy initiatives should engage men and boys through educational programs that promote healthy masculinity, empathy, and respect. By challenging traditional gender roles, it help create gender-equitable societies that reduce violence and provide support to survivors.
Advocacy efforts must also target legal and policy changes. Laws and policies should be comprehensive, enforcing strict penalties for perpetrators while protecting survivors' rights. Advocacy groups can work towards advocating for these changes, creating an environment that enables survivors to seek justice and support. Advocacy strategies should address media representation and cultural norms. Promoting diverse and inclusive narratives through media campaigns, TV shows, movies, and advertisements challenges harmful norms, nurturing a society that rejects GBV and supports survivors. In Zimbabwe, we have seen the UNFPA working with the Ministry of Women Affairs, other UN agencies and civil society to tackle GBV.
In conclusion, dealing with GBV trauma requires a multifaceted approach that acknowledges the significant role of social norms in perpetuating violence. By understanding the impact of these norms and implementing advocacy strategies that challenge them, it is possible to create an environment where survivors are supported, perpetrators are held accountable, and a culture of safety, respect, and equality thrives
Written by Michelle R. Mutogo
Michelle Mutogo is a feminist from Zimbabwe who holds a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of the Witwatersrand and is currently doing her Masters of Law in Human rights focusing on Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Africa with University of Pretoria. She is a human rights lawyer focusing mainly in Child rights & Women Rights. She is also the Programmes Coordinator for Rozaria Memorial Trust. She has experience in capacity building, community organizing, creation of citizen agency through movement building, legislative and policy analysis, and evidence based advocacy at local and regional levels.
 Bicchieri, Cristina, Ryan Muldoon, and Alessandro Sontuoso, "Social Norms", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
 RMT has an emergecy shelter in Murewa, Zimbabwe for victims of SGBV.