This chapter examines action for gender norm change within the broader institutional context in Uganda, which has relatively strong national legislative frameworks and policies to support gender equality and adolescent girls. Despite this, change on the ground is slow and in some places appears non-existent. To examine action for change in this context, the chapter considers selected communications initiatives that aim to shift discriminatory norms around adolescent girls in rural communities. The analysis is set against the backdrop of the country’s national legal, policy and programme environment for gender empowerment and adolescent girls, highlighting both the enabling aspects of progressive laws and policies along with some of the ambiguities around adolescent sexual and reproductive health rights and the reform of marriage legislation, as well as significant gaps between policy promises at national level and action on the ground. It reveals a variety of programmes for adolescent girls, but limited consolidated evidence of how communications initiatives contribute to changes in gender norms affecting adolescent girls’ capability development. It also reveals a lack of broader national reflection on some of the limitations or constraints that programmes (of all types) encounter within the specific socioeconomic, cultural and politico-administrative contexts in which they are embedded.
In an attempt to fill such gaps, our case studies offer a lens through which to investigate three interlinked issues: first, the strengths and limitations of project-based action and specific communications-based approaches in facilitating transformative change in contexts marked by pervasive poverty; second, capacity gaps in local government institutions and service structures; and third, community resistance to the introduction of new gender norms and practices. Our analysis identifies some of the complexities involved in efforts to translate national policies into local realities, thereby seeking to highlight broader issues that need to be addressed to support and nurture transformative processes of change in both norms and practices that affect adolescent girls’ lives. Our findings suggest that programmes must be firmly embedded in clear national policy guidelines and frameworks, supported through explicit links from national to local levels, with appropriate investment in local government and community-based structures and ongoing poverty reduction measures.