Nudging the way towards advancing gender equality

Blog by Shamha Naseer, Rozita Singh and Sneha Pathak

July 19, 2021

A woman entrepreneur supported by Project Code Unnati in Raichur, Karnataka. Photo Credits: Project Code Unnati

51.8 minutes a day. That’s how long men on average spent on unpaid care work in India as compared to 351.9 minutes spent by women. The disproportionate burden of unpaid care work carried out by women and girls remains one of the most persistent barriers preventing women from getting into, remaining, and progressing in the labor force. This unequal distribution of caring responsibilities is linked to discriminatory social institutions and stereotypes on gender roles.

The gender gap in unpaid care work has significant implications for women’s ability to take up employment opportunities as well as the type of employment available to them. It also limits the time available to women and girls to invest in their education and vocational skills.

The pandemic further exacerbated existing gender inequalities including unpaid care work. Measures to mitigate the spread of the virus such as school and day care closures and heightened care needs of elderly led to women and girls having to take up additional unpaid care work.  If we are to prevent a roll back of women economic participation, then addressing the gender gap in unpaid care work must become a priority. Tackling entrenched gender norms and stereotypes is one of the first steps in redistributing responsibilities for unpaid care work between women and men.

So the question before us was: How can we use the pandemic as an opportunity to shift the balance on unpaid care work? The second question was: How can we encourage men and boys to become allies for gender equality? How do we engage men meaningfully to transform gender stereotypes and gender roles? Enter behavioural nudges! We set out on a journey to better understand behavioural barriers preventing men and boys in engaging in unpaid care work and to see what kind of nudges had the potential to dismantle gender norms and create positive behaviour change. Over the last few years, behavourial science and nudges have emerged as a key tool in tackling persistent developmental issues. UNDP globally has become increasingly cognizant of this tool and has been employing it in innovative ways.

We learnt from two case studies:

i)              The Accelerator Lab in Jordan developed a Twitter campaign with the support of Nudge Lebanon and UNDP’s Targeting Men, Transforming Masculinities (TMx2) agenda. The campaign, entitled “Our Home, Our Responsibility” tested whether it could play a role in sustaining discussions and behaviors that emerged online during the COVID-19 lockdown, namely 1) discussions on topics related to masculinities 2) men being more involved in housework and caretaking and sharing their experiences on social media.

ii)             In Lebanon, the lab looked into the results of an influencer campaign targeted at men in Lebanon on the onset of COVID 19 in March 2020, and used those results to draw up an online experiment using Facebook, a quiz and Youtube to understand “What gets Lebanese Men interested in home-care duty?”. 

Young men being introduced to career guidance in Karnataka. Photo Credits: Project Code Unnati

Inspiration into Action

Taking inspiration from these initiative and UNDP’s Transforming Future of Work for Gender Equality regional initiative, UNDP India Country Office and the Asia Pacific regional gender team joined forces to unpack the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work via a new approach. The team designed a digital nudge campaign  better understand the attitudes and behavioural barriers hindering men and boys towards unpaid caregiving. . .

This intervention was tagged to Project Code Unnati, which focuses on economic empowerment of women and youth  in three districts of Karnataka. Why? Because just skilling young women is not enough.  We must consider the power  dynamics at the household and community level that impacts their meaningful participation in labor market . The target group for our pilot intervention comprised of boys (age 13-17) and men (age 18-35) and the goal – nudging them towards behavioural change so they recognize, redistribute and reduce[1] unpaid care work at home.  

Why a digital nudge? Firstly, the pandemic triggered an increased push towards usage of digital platforms for information and e-commerce. To top that, in the targeted geography, men dominate the online space. Approximately half of Karnataka’s male population is online– an estimated 12.3 million men (ages 18-34).

What does the content surrounding women look like on social media platforms?

We found that in Karnataka, visual platforms like Instagram and YouTube lack actual conversations about women, instead we see a lot of objectification of women on these platforms. On the other hand, Facebook and Twitter is where actual discourse takes place, but the conversations vary. In the target districts, Raichur and Yadgir, the analysis revealed that gender stereotypes are deeply embedded in young men and boys


As per conversations around caregiving, domestic tasks and gender roles in online spaces, three distinct categories were identified among boys, single men, married men and fathers:

1) Traditional: those guided by traditional values and beliefs; unreceptive to change.

2) Transitional: those who see a need for change but are uncomfortable with relinquishing norms; receptive to more information.

3) Progressive: those who are at the forefront of change; seek to educate/empower others.

The campaign launched targeted messaging that included informational/factual snippets, celebrity memes, and calls to action.

A screenshot of one of the memes used during the Nudge Pilot. Photo Credits: Nudge Pilot Team

Looking Ahead

While we cannot assume that one campaign can trigger behavioural change, we do believe that one campaign with clear testing parameters and measurable results can shed light on what might resonate with men and boys. For instance, the digital ecosystem analysis, stakeholder consultations and initial nudge pilot run in the two districts have been instrumental in better understanding on how to engage men and boys, at scale, on both wider gender equality issues and unpaid caregiving more specifically. However, the stakeholder consultations demonstrated the necessity for a mixed methods approach, including both digital and physical (on the ground) nudges as well as offline capacity building and training in skills building projects to facilitate behaviour change amongst boys and men as well as include girls and women in this endeavour.

We also gained further insights on the need to integrate BI methods across UNDP skills building program initiatives on the ground. Such approaches will help to engage men and boys towards positive behavior change and dismantle gender norms preventing women’s full participation in the workforce and in all spheres of public life. Further research is needed to identify what are the motivators of barriers for men and boys to take up unpaid care work, and how can that data help us understand who can be an ally? How to gather larger allyship and better target interventions? How can that scale? These are all questions that we hope to address in this journey of engraving BI methods incrementally in our future development programming. Stay tuned!


With special thanks to our UNDP colleagues for their contributions: Koh Miyaoi , Regional Gender Advisor, Swetha Kolluri, Head of Experimentation, UNDP India Accelerator Lab, Dr. Krishnan Srinivasaraghavan, Head of Exploration, UNDP India Accelerator Lab, Amit Kumar, Head, Inclusive Growth and Project Code Unnati led by Govindaraj Jeyachandaran, State Project Head, Karnataka.


Shamha Naseer, Gender Specialist, UNDP Regional Bureau of Asia and the Pacific

Rozita Singh, Head of Solutions Mapping, Accelerator Lab, UNDP India

Sneha Pathak, Programme and Partnerships (Youth) Officer, UNDP India