In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals and the shifting global burden of disease, this systematic review analyses the evidence from rigorously evaluated programmes that seek to transform the gendered social norms undermining the health and wellbeing of children, adolescents, and young adults. The aim of this study was threefold: to describe the landscape of gender-transformative programmes that attempt to influence health-related outcomes; to identify mechanisms through which successful programmes work; and to highlight where gaps might exist in implementation and evaluation.
We systematically reviewed rigorous evaluations published between Jan 1, 2000, and Nov 1, 2018 of programmes that sought to decrease gender inequalities and transform restrictive gender norms to improve the health and wellbeing of 0–24 year olds. We included rigorously evaluated health programmes that met the Interagency Gender Working Group definition of gender-transformative programming, regardless of where in the world they were implemented and what area of health they focused on.
Among 22 993 articles identified by our search, 61 evaluations of 59 programmes met review criteria. Programmes were concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa (25 [42%]), south Asia (13 [22%]), and North America (13 [22%]) and mainly measured health indicators related to reproductive health (29 [48%]), violence (26 [43%]), or HIV (18 [30%]). Programmes most frequently focused on improving the individual power of the beneficiaries, rather than working on broader systems of inequality. 45 (74%) of the evaluations measured significant improvements in health-related and gender-related indicators; however, only ten (16%) showed evidence of, or potential for, broader norm change. These ten programmes worked with sectors beyond health, included multiple stakeholders, implemented diversified strategies, and fostered critical awareness and participation among affected community members.
This review can accelerate efforts to improve global health by leading to more strategic investment in programmes that promote gender equality and target restrictive gender norms among young people. Such programmes can lead to a lifetime of improved health and wellbeing by challenging not only attitudes and behaviours related to gender at an early age, but also the gendered systems that surround them.