Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

The Civic Origins of Progressive Policy Change: Combating Violence against Women in Global Perspective, 1975–2005

  • MALA HTUN (a1) and S. LAUREL WELDON (a2)

Over the past four decades, violence against women (VAW) has come to be seen as a violation of human rights and an important concern for social policy. Yet government action remains uneven. Some countries have adopted comprehensive policies to combat VAW, whereas others have been slow to address the problem. Using an original dataset of social movements and VAW policies in 70 countries over four decades, we show that feminist mobilization in civil society—not intra-legislative political phenomena such as leftist parties or women in government or economic factors like national wealth—accounts for variation in policy development. In addition, we demonstrate that autonomous movements produce an enduring impact on VAW policy through the institutionalization of feminist ideas in international norms. This study brings national and global civil society into large-n explanations of social policy, arguing that analysis of civil society in general—and of social movements in particular—is critical to understanding progressive social policy change.

Corresponding author
Mala Htun is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of New Mexico, 1915 Roma Street NE, Albuquerque, NM 87131 (
S. Laurel Weldon is Professor of Political Science, Purdue University, 100 N. University Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907 (
Hide All
Kumaralingam Amirthalingam . 2005. “Women's Rights, International Norms, and Domestic Violence: Asian Perspectives.” Human Rights Quarterly 27 (2): 683708.

Edwin Amenta , Bonastia Chris , and Caren Neal . 2001. “US Social Policy in Comparative and Historical Perspective: Concepts, Images, Arguments, and Research Strategies.” Annual Review of Sociology 27: 213–34.

Edwin Amenta , Caren Neal , Chiarello Elizabeth , and Su Yang . 2010. “The Political Consequences of Social Movements.” Annual Review of Sociology 36: 287307.

A. Armstrong Elizabeth , and Bernstein Mary . 2008. “Culture, Power, and Institutions: A Multi-institutional Politics Approach to Social Movements.” Sociological Theory 26 (March): 7499

Olga Avdeyeva . 2007. “When Do States Comply with International Treaties? Policies on Violence against Women in Post-Communist Countries.” International Studies Quarterly 51 (4): 877900.

Olga Avdeyeva . 2009. “Enlarging the Club: When Do States Enforce Gender Equality Laws?Comparative European Politics 7 (1): 158–77.

Lisa Baldez . 2004. “Elected Bodies: Gender Quotas for Female Legislative Candidates in Mexico.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 29 (2): 231–58.

D. Bauer , and C. Ameringer . 2010. “A Framework for Identifying Similarities among Countries to Improve Cross-national Comparisons of Health Systems.” Health Place 16 (6): 1129–35.

Karen Beckwith . 2000. “Beyond Compare? Women's Movements in Comparative Perspective.” European Journal of Political Research 37: 431–68.

Merike Blofield , and Liesl Haas . 2005. “Defining a Democracy: Reforming the Laws on Women's Rights in Chile, 19902002.” Latin American Politics and Society 47 (3): 3568.

David Brady . 2003The Politics of Poverty: Left Political Institutions, the Welfare State and Poverty.” Social Forces 82: 557–88.

David Brady , Jason Beckfield , and Martin Seeleib-Kaiser . 2005. “Economic Globalization and the Welfare State in Affluent Democracies, 1975–2001.American Sociological Review 70: 921–48.

Lisa D. Brush 2011. Poverty, Battered Women, and Work in U.S. Public Policy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Jennifer Chan-Tiberghien . 2004. “Gender-skepticism or Gender Boom: Poststructural Feminisms, Transnational Feminisms, and the World Conference against Racism.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 6 (3): 454–84.

Jeffrey T. Checkel 1997. “International Norms and Domestic Politics: Bridging the Rationalist-Constructivist Divide.” European Journal of International Relations 3 (4): 473–95.

J.A. Cheibub , J. Gandhi , and J.R. Vreeland . 2009. “Democracy and Dictatorship Revisited.” Public Choice 143 (1/2): 67101.

Drude Dahlerup , and Lenita Freidenvall . 2005. “Quotas as a Fast Track to Equal Representation for Women.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 7 (1): 2648.

John Dryzek , David Downes , Christian Hunold , and David Sclosberg (with Hans-Kristian Hernes). 2003. Green States and Social Movements. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

R. Amy Elman . 1993. “Debunking the Social Democrats and the Myth of Equality.” Women's Studies International Forum 16 (5): 513–22.

R. Amy. Elman 2001. “Unprotected by the Swedish Welfare State Revisited: Assessing a Decade of Reforms for Battered Women.” Women's Studies International Forum 24 (1): 3952.

R. Amy. Elman 2007. Sexual Equality in an Integrated Europe: Virtual Equality. Europe in Transition: The NYU European Studies Series. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

R. Amy Elman , and Maud L. Eduards . 1991. “Unprotected by the Swedish Welfare State: A Survey of Battered Women and the Assistance They Received.” Women's Studies International Forum 14 (5): 413–21.

Susan Franceschet . 2010. “Explaining Domestic Violence Policy Outcomes in Chile and Argentina.Latin American Politics and Society 52 (3): 129.

Elisabeth J. Friedman 2003. Gendering the Agenda: The Impact of the Transnational Women's Rights Movement at the UN Conferences of the 1990s. Women's Studies International Forum 26 (4): 313–31.

Joyce Gelb . 2003. Gender Policies in Japan and the United States: Comparing Women's Movements, Rights and Politics. New York: Palgrave.

J. Goodey 2004. “Sex Trafficking in Women from Central and East European Countries: Promoting a ‘Victim-centered’ and ‘Woman-centered’ Approach to Criminal Justice.” Feminist Review 76: 2645.

N. Graham-Kevan , and J. Archer . 2003. Intimate Terrorism and Common Couple Violence: A Test of Johnson's Predictions in Four British Samples. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 18 (11): 1247–70.

Peter Hall . 1993. “Policy Paradigms, Social Learning, and the State: The Case of Economic Policymaking in Britain.” Comparative Politics 25 (3): 275–96.

Lori Heise , Alanagh Raikes , Charlotte H. Watts , and Anthony B. Zwi . 1994. “Violence against Women: A Neglected Public Health Issue in Less Developed Countries.” Social Science and Medicine 39: 1165 –79

Evelyn Huber , and John Stephens . 2001. Development and Crisis of the Welfare State: Parties and Policies in Global Markets. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Robert W. Jackman 1985. “Cross-national Statistical Research and the Study of Comparative Politics.” American Journal of Political Science 29 (1): 161–82.

Jutta Joachim . 2003. “Framing Issues and Seizing Opportunities: The UN, NGOs, and Women's Rights.” International Studies Quarterly 47: 247–74.

Janet Elise Johnson . 2007. “Domestic Violence Politics in Post-Soviet States.” Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State and Society 14 (3): 380–40.

Johanna Kantola . 2006. Feminists Theorize the State. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave MacMillan.

Lane Kenworthy , and Melissa Malami . 1999. “Gender Inequality in Political Representation: A Worldwide Comparative Analysis.” Social Forces 78: 235–69.

Miki Caul Kittilson . 2008. “Representing Women: The Adoption of Family Leave in Comparative Perspective.” Journal of Politics 70: 323–34.

Mona Lena Krook . 2009. Quotas for Women in Politics: Gender and Candidate Selection Worldwide. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mona Lena Krook , and Diana Z. O'Brien . 2010. “The Politics of Group Representation: Quotas for Women and Minorities Worldwide.” Comparative Politics 42 (3): 253–72.

S. Livingstone 2003. “On the Challenges of Cross-national Comparative Media Research.” European Journal of Communication, 18 (4): 477500.

Amy G. Mazur 2002. Theorizing Feminist Policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Doug McAdam , and Yang Su . 2002. “The War at Home: Antiwar Protests and Congressional Voting, 1965 to 1973.” American Sociological Review 67 (October): 696721.

M.B. Nayak , C.A. Byrne , M.K. Martin , and A.G. Abraham . 2003. “Attitudes toward Violence against Women: A Cross-national Study.” Sex Roles 49: 333–42.

Sara Nelson . 1996. “Constructing and Negotiating Gender in Women's Police Stations in Brazil.” Latin American Perspectives 23 (1): 131–48.

A. S. Orloff 1993.“Gender and Social Rights of Citizenship: The Comparative Analysis of Gender Relations and Welfare States.American Sociological Review 58 (June): 303–28.

Vicki Randall and Georgina Waylen , eds. 1998. Gender Politics and the State. New York: Routledge.

Thomas R. Rochon , and Daniel A. Mazmanian . 1993. “Social Movements and the Policy Process.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 528 (July): 7587.

Dani Rodrik , and Richard Zeckhauser . 1988. “The Dilemma of Government Responsiveness.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 7: 601–20.

Leslie Schwindt-Bayer , and William Mishler . 2005. “An Integrated Model of Women's Representation.” Journal of Politics 67 (2): 407–28.

C. Shipan , and C. Volden . 2008. “The Mechanisms of Policy Diffusion.” American Journal of Political Science 52 (4): 840–57.

Theda Skocpol , and Edwin Amenta . 1986. “States and Social Policies.” Annual Review of Sociology 12: 131–57.

Nancy Sternbach , Marysa Navarro-Aranguren , Patricia Chuchryk , and Sonia E. Alvarez . 1992. “Feminisms in Latin America: From Bogotá to San Bernardo.” Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society 17 (3): 393434.

Dara Z. Strolovitch 2006. “Do Interest Groups Represent the Disadvantaged? Advocacy at the Intersections of Race, Class, and Gender.” Journal of Politics 68 (4): 893908.

Duane Swank . 2001. “Mobile Capital, Democratic Institutions, and the Public Economy in Advanced Industrial Societies.” Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis 3 (2): 133–62.

Jacqui True , and Michael Mintrom , 2001. “Transnational Networks and Policy Diffusion: The Case of Gender Mainstreaming.” International Studies Quarterly 45 (1): 2757.

Michael Warner . 2002. “Beyond Gay Marriage.” In Left Legalism/Left Critique, eds. Wendy Brown and Janet Halley . Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 259–89.

S.L. Weldon 2002b. “Beyond Bodies: Institutional Sources of Representation for Women.” Journal of Politics 64 (4): 1153–74.

S.L. Weldon 2004. “The Dimensions and Policy Impact of Feminist Civil Society.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 6 (1): 128.

S.L. Weldon. 2006a. “Women's Movements, Identity Politics and Policy Impact: A Study of Policies on Violence against Women in the 50 United States.” Political Research Quarterly 59 (1): 111–22.

S.L. Weldon. 2011. When Protest Makes Policy: How Social Movements Represent Disadvantaged Groups. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary Materials

Htun and Weldon supplementary material

 Word (55 KB)
55 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 92
Total number of PDF views: 680 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 2651 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 17th October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

A correction has been issued for this article: