This chapter analyses the paradoxical nature of change and continuity in the gender norms and practices affecting adolescent girls’ transition to adulthood in rural Uganda, based on findings from qualitative research and available statistics for selected communities in Mayuge district, in the eastern part of the country. Drawing on a broad-based capability framework, we focus on norms and practices around early marriage, reproduction and education, which are seen as pivotal in shaping girls’ opportunities and capabilities. The study identifies changing practices around marriage and reproduction, including trends towards informal cohabitation and rising levels of adolescent pregnancy, as well as change and continuity in household gender roles and expectations. It highlights the strength of social norms around sexual maturation processes, which fuel adolescent pregnancy and early marriage, particularly in the absence of adequate sexual and reproductive health information and services. It also documents the growing value being placed on education for girls.

While some norms and practices affecting adolescent girls’ transitions to adulthood are proving ‘sticky’ (i.e. resistant to change), others are changing in response to broader socioeconomic and cultural transformations. Some changes are positive for girls, but others have more contradictory effects. Progressive national policy thrusts are contributing to shifts in attitudes and practices yet also generating community resistance and face other challenges as they navigate the mediating institutions and individuals through which gendered social norms are either reinforced or challenged. Persistent poverty, lack of employment opportunities and a disconnect between the national policy framework and actual service provision at the local level are critical factors inhibiting truly transformative change. As a result, the transition to adulthood is fraught with risks for adolescent girls who continue to encounter numerous obstacles to the full development of their capabilities. Integrated approaches are needed to address both underlying norms and the broader drivers of change and continuity in such norms to pave the way for positive and lasting transformation.