Attitudes towards gender norms (GEM Scale)

Attitudes toward gender norms in intimate relationships or differing social expectations for men and women, boys and girls, using the Gender-Equitable Men (GEM) scale.

The GEM scale includes 24 items in two subscales. The 17 items in Subscale 1 measure ‘inequitable’ gender norms (e.g., ‘It is the man who decides what type of sex to have’) and the 7 items in Subscale 2 measure ‘equitable’ gender norms (e.g.,  ‘A couple should decide together if they want to have children’). Responses are scaled as: Agree =1; Partially Agree =2; and Do Not Agree=3 for the inequitable subscale and scores are inverted for the equitable subscale, resulting in a higher score for greater gender equity.

Scores of the inequitable norm and the equitable norm subscales are calculated separately and can be combined or used individually. The inequitable subscale has been found to be more reliable than the equitable subscale in some circumstances. The combined or individual subscale scores can be used as a continuous variable or categorized as: Low Equity = 1-23;  Moderate Equity = 24-47; and High Equity = 48-72. 

For the GEM scale and other gender scales: 

https://www.c-changeprogram.org/content/gender-scales-compendium/about.html 


Completed GEM questionnaires/interviews. Where the detail is available, disaggregation of the indicator by men’s age, number of children, education, income, urban/rural status and other relevant factors may contribute to interpretation of findings.


Interviews and survey questionnaires using the GEM scale.


Social norms that promote gender inequality, such as those that encourage men to maintain control over the behavior of their female partners, can increase both young men and young women’s risk of STIs, HIV, and partner violence, as well as risk for unplanned pregnancies. Transforming inequitable gender norms (i.e., societal messages that dictate appropriate or expected behavior for males and females) is increasingly recognized as an important strategy to counter the spread of HIV and generally improve reproductive health (Promundo, UNFPA, MenEngage, 2010).

The GEM scale and scoring procedures were developed using formative research by Horizons and Promundo in order to measure attitudes toward “gender-equitable” norms. The scale is designed to provide information about the prevailing gender norms in a community, in addition to the effectiveness of programs that seek to influence them (Barker, 2000, 2001; Instituto Promundo and Instituto Noos 2003).

According to Pulerwitz and Barker (2008), the GEM scale is intended to:

  1. be multi-faceted and measure multiple domains within the construct of gender norms, with a focus on support for equitable or inequitable gender norms;
  2. address program goals related to sexual and intimate relationships, and sexual and reproductive health and disease prevention;
  3. be broadly applicable yet culturally sensitive, so indicators can be applied in and compared across varied settings and be sufficiently relevant for specific cultural contexts; and
  4. be easily administered so that a number of actors—including the organizations that are implementing the interventions—can take on this type of evaluation.

During an intervention study conducted with young men in Brazil in 2003–2004, the full GEM Scale was applied in a baseline survey. Based on the responses of the young men, the inequitable norms subscale showed more variability and was used as the gender norms measure for the intervention.  Respondents with a higher GEM Scale score showing greater support for inequitable gender norms were significantly more likely to report sexually transmitted infection symptoms and physical and sexual violence against a partner than respondents with lower GEM Scale scores (Pulerwitz and Barker, 2008).  The GEM Scale is currently being used to assess the impact of programs in India, Mexico, Kenya, the United States, and elsewhere.


Pulerwitz and Barker (2008) note that additional research to evaluate the validity and reliability of the scale with different populations and in varied contexts will contribute useful information.  Even though the current GEM scale has responded well in a number of ways, it does not explain a substantial portion of the variation in responses given by men. There are additional relevant factors that have not been captured by the items in the scale that could explain men’s responses more completely, and adding items to the scale may be a helpful strategy in the future.

The two groups of scale items (inequitable and equitable) were distributed by the factor analysis into factors largely addressing similar issues (e.g., contraceptive use), but they were positively and negatively worded.  The authors comment on an ongoing debate in the field of psychometrics about the meaningfulness of separating positively and negatively worded items into different factors.


gender, attitude, male engagement

Barker, G. 2000. “Gender equitable boys in a gender inequitable world: reflections from a qualitative research and program development with young men in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,” Sexual and Relationship Therapy 15(3): 263–282.

Barker, Gary. 2001. “Cool your head, man: preventing gender based violence in favelas,” Development 44(3): 94–98.

Instituto Promundo and Instituto Noos. 2003. Men, gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health: A study with men in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio de Janeiro: Insitutito Promundo and Instituto Noos.

Promundo, UNFPA, MenEngage, 2010, Engaging Men and Boys in Gender Equality and Health: A Global Toolkit for Action. http://www.unfpa.org/public/site/global/pid/6815

Pulerwitz, Julie and Gary Barker. 2008. "Measuring attitudes toward gender norms among young men in Brazil: Development and psychometric evaluation of the GEM Scale," Men and Masculinities 10:  322–338.

Compendium of Gender Scales: https://www.c-changeprogram.org/content/gender-scales-compendium/pdfs/4.%20GEM%20Scale,%20Gender%20Scales%20Compendium.pdf

Validation with youth: http://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(16)30376-7/abstract 

Navigation