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Political, Social, Cultural and Economic Context
People and Places
Price Tag
Programs and Performance
Gender Lens
Human Rights Lens
Adolescent Lens
Policy Circle Paper

The Political, Social, Cultural and Economic Context

Policymaking takes place within greatly varying settings. Countries have different political systems and forms of government (see Box 1), in addition to various social, cultural, and economic systems and levels of development. For example, Judice notes that “since Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, it is a new democracy characterized by fledgling nongovernmental and private sectors. These characteristics affect how a policy problem is identified and prioritized, the process of its resolution, and the actual policies and programs that result. As NGOs and the private sector become more distinct and truly independent of the government, the dynamics of policy development and implementation will also change” (Judice, 2004).

Gender dynamics vary considerably around the world; for example, policy prescriptions related to girls’ education or access to reproductive health services will vary according to women’s participation in the social domain (Boender et al., 2004; Schuler, 1999). Policymaking differs whether the political situation is stable and the government is working according to business as usual or whether a crisis is precipitating rapid policy change (Thomas and Grindle, 1994). In his model of policy streams, Kingdon defines politics as swings in national mood, vagaries of public opinion, election results, changes in administrations, shifts in partisan or ideological distributions, and interest group pressure (Kingdon, 1984). The international political context is also important in the national policy process, as noted in various sections of this paper.

Social settings and cultural practices can vary not only between countries but also within countries, affecting all components of the Policy Circle, as shown in a recent assessment of the status, issues, policies, and programs related to adolescent and youth reproductive healthcare in 13 countries in Asia and the Near East (ANE) that included countries as diverse of Yemen in the Near East and Cambodia in Southeast Asia. The assessment concluded that “adolescent and youth RH in the ANE region is influenced in great part by the traditional cultural and religious norms and values that pervade and dictate both family communication and national policymaking” (Hardee et al., 2004: 41).